Bush Library Meets Pacifist Aggression

The Religious Left tries to prevent Southern Methodist University from enjoying the research benefits of a presidential library.

Despite fervid efforts by mainly old leftist United Methodist clergy and faculty, the George W. Bush Library now is under construction at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas. In March, the George W. Bush Presidential Center hosted a conference on campus to spotlight the plight, and advance, of women in Afghanistan. More recently, an SMU student wrote an open letter to the president in the SMU online newspaper, declaring: “Mr. President, SMU loves you!”  He cited many SMU students who had waited 6 hours in line at a local bookstore for a signing of Bush’s recent book.

The leftist voices who wanted to prevent SMU from enjoying the research benefits of a presidential library primarily pointed at Bush’s War on Terror and the Iraqi War as chief reasons why faithful Methodists must distastefully reject any association with the former president.  What Religious Leftists usually fail openly to admit is that they are usually pacifists who reject any military defense for America.   Earlier this year, SMU’s United Methodist seminary hosted a conference on Christian Just War teaching that mostly espoused pacifism.  Somewhat ironically, almost the only strong Just War voice was former Bill Clinton pastor and counselor J. Philip Wogaman, who reminded a seemingly reluctant audience that some evils must be violently repressed.

Like many of America’s churches, Methodism embraced pacifism after World War I, briefly if reluctantly acknowledged the justice of World War II, and then during the Cold War slowly slid back into pacifism.  The exception, of course, was during the 1970s and 1980s, when many church leftists tacitly supported the violence of Marxist revolution under the aegis of Liberation Theology.  Creating a Marxist police state merited force, they surmised.  But more recently, they have insisted that defending Americans, or anybody else, even from Islamist terror violates the teachings of Jesus, despite nearly 2 millennia of continuous Christian Just War teaching.

Methodist philosophy professor Nicole Johnson of the University of Mount Union in Ohio fretted that the denomination’s mixed record over war had frustrated many consciences over the decades.   (See my assistant Eric LeMasters’ onsite report.)  She complained that the church officially affirms both persons who “oppose all war” and persons who “conscientiously choose to serve in the armed forces,” while asserting that “neither the way of military action, nor the way of inaction is always righteous before God.”

Johnson preferred a more absolute pacifist approach, explaining:  “I’m not convinced we necessarily need to use military action to pursue justice.” She complained that clergy could not be defrocked for advocating war in the same way they can be defrocked for sexual misdeeds.  “And I don’t recall an outcry in winter of 2003 calling for President Bush, a Methodist, to have his membership revoked because he initiated the war in Iraq,” she exclaimed.

Another Methodist pacifist ethicist, Stephen Long from Marquette University in Wisconsin, complained that support for national loyalty and war was disloyal to the “transnational church.”  He insisted:  “The real problem in the Christian churches today, is quite frankly, we subordinate ourselves to the nation. I think it’s a tremendous problem on the Left and the Right. We simply don’t have that conviction that our first loyalty is precisely to this transnational community.”

Leftist hardliner Miguel De La Torre of Methodism’s Iliff School of Theology in Colorado still seemed to cleave to oldline Liberation Theology.  He decried U.S. interventionism in Latin America and bemoaned that America’s “church of privilege” hypocritically urges peace while the U.S. holds the world captive economically.  De La Torre complained that only “once the Pax Americana is established, once we have the vast majority of world’s resources flowing to the U.S., at that point we can then begin to talk about [how] nobody else should do violence.”  He wondered:  “Is all this talk about nonviolence a way to keep certain people in check?’”  And he provocatively asked:  “Is our interest in nonviolence a way of making sure ‘they,’ from whom we have taken so much, don’t rebel against us?”  An advocate of open borders immigration, De La Torre sees illegal immigration as a neat way for exploited people simply to take back what the U.S. ostensibly has stolen from their native nations.

Evangelical Left ethicist Glen Stassen of Fuller Seminary in California tried to argue that neither pacifism nor Just War teachings were sufficient to prevent war.  He dreamily urged strengthening the United Nations and abolishing all nuclear weapons.

Almost alone in arguing for Christian realism, Methodist ethicist J. Philip Wogaman surmised that pacifism was ultimately unrealistic.  Most remembered as pastor to the Clintons during their White House years, and especially as a counselor to President Clinton post Monicagate, Wogaman is a steadfast liberal but realizes nations cannot function without some level of force.  Citing the threat of genocide as one justification for war, Wogaman argued:  “If sin is real, and it must occasionally be resisted forcibly, then it must be by people – especially people who are responsive to God’s purposes.”

It seems like an obvious point, and one that Christianity has nearly always taught, that civil authorities are divinely ordained to protect the innocent from aggressors.  But the mostly utopian Religious Left, amplified by anti-Americanism, is loath to admit that any evil exists outside of the U.S., much less bless forceful resistance to America’s enemies.

Like any chief magistrate, George W. Bush waged war in defense of his nation.  His SMU critics were so outraged that they opposed even a presidential library on their campus.  Religious Left pacifists will continue to vent and tout their fantasies.  But most Methodists and most Christians choose to live in the real world.