Nearly half of the bishops of the United Methodist Church, America’s third largest (though declining) denomination, are demanding that the U.S. withdraw from Afghanistan by next year.
“We believe there is no path to military victory in Afghanistan,” harrumphed the bishops in their November letter to President Obama. But it’s not clear that these bishops ever wanted a “victory” in Afghanistan. After 9-11, the Council of Bishops declined to condemn al Qaeda or the Taliban, preferring only to seek “solidarity with victimized peoples throughout the world” and to intone that that “violence in all of its forms and expressions is contrary to God’s purpose for the world.” In other words, there were no necessarily great moral distinction between Osama bin Laden and those U.S. led military forces that sought his capture.
The bishops also have 4 times denounced U.S. military actions in Iraq while never expressing any special concern about Saddam Hussein’s mass murders or epic torture prisons, much less what even greater horrors might have prevailed to Iraqis had the U.S. withdrawn precipitously. With Iraq now relatively subdued, the bishops are now aiming their outrage at any U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
We “are deeply concerned about the escalating war in Afghanistan,” they bewailed, though they were never publicly concerned about Taliban tyranny or Afghanistan’s sinister role as a nest for international terror by al Qaeda. Urging Obama to “set a timetable for the withdrawal of all coalition forces by the end of 2010,” the bishops lamented the war in Afghanistan has “no end in sight,” as they cited U.S., coalition and Afghan casualty figures.
The bishops promised that their “vision is a world in which people live together in peace and with mutual respect.” Of course, they do not outline how such peace and mutual respect will arise in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. “We believe that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities,’ they banally proclaimed, seemingly indifferent to the consequence of their recommendation, preferring instead the satisfaction of their own moral preening.
“We wanted to get this to Obama before he made his decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan,” explained retired Bishop Marshall L. Meadors, who drafted the Afghanistan decree. “I have struggled with the war in Iraq,” he said. “I held public prayer services when the 3,000th and 4,000th soldier was killed in Iraq.” For left-leaning religionists, concern and political empathy have replaced thoughtful public witness.
Many of these bishops pretend that their church is pacifist, and they insisted that their denomination believes “war is incompatible with the teachings of Christ.“ But The United Methodist Church also acknowledges that “many Christians believe that, when peaceful alternatives have failed, the force of arms may regretfully be preferable to unchecked aggression, tyranny and genocide.” Actually “many” should say “vast majority,” as the pacifist tradition among Methodists and among Christians globally has always been small. Methodist founder John Wesley once offered to help raise troops for his King in case of a French invasion of Britain.
But in the early 20th century, much of Mainline Protestantism’s academic and social elites in America surrendered to pacifism, which only accelerated after World War, and which even Nazi and Japanese militarist aggression did not dissuade. In 1940, Methodism’s governing General Conference adopted a pacifist stance, even as Europe and Asia were being overrun by darkness, saying “The Methodist Church will not officially support, endorse or participate in war.” After Pearl Harbor, the bishops tried to compensate for that stance by insisting, “In this crisis, as in all previous crises in our history, the Methodists of America will support our President and our nation.”
Even at Methodism’s 1944 General Conference, church elites proposed a continued pacifist stance, while 1 million American Methodists were serving in the armed forces. Its primary spokesman explained that we “do not think that a Christian Church should pray for a military victory” because the “God of the Christian Church is the God of all mankind.”
The head of the Methodist Publishing House who later became a bishop, Nolan Harmon, responded to the pacifists by noting: “We have spent more time in calling attention to the plight of the 600 Methodist conscientious objectors than we have to three times that many Methodist boys, dead and buried under crosses on battlefields in the far-flung corners of the earth.” Harmon also insisted: “The ultimate control of moral evil in this world must be by force.” He later explained in his memoir 40 years later: “If we do want to stop crime, or on the world stage, to stop Hitler or evil dictator, it will take force to do it,” declaring that “in principle, the policeman’s club and the ICBM warhead are no different.”
A minority report among the Methodist delegates in 1944 just barely prevailed by asserting: “We are well within the Christian position when we assert the necessity of the use of military forces to resist an aggression which would overthrow every right which is held sacred by civilized men.” In 1952, the Methodist bishops supported U.S. resistance to, in one bishop’s words, the “Russian-planned and dictated invasion of Korea,” with that bishop, Bromley Oxnam, further declaring that a Christian “must courageously resolve that mankind shall not be engulfed in materialism nor shackled by tyranny,” as the Christian is “called upon to live dangerously in the spirit of Jesus and in loyalty to the principles symbolized by the cross.”
Predictably, the 1960’s erased most remnants of traditional Christian Just War teaching among the United Methodists. Some Just War language was restored to the church’s official teaching in 2000, just in time for 9-11. But despite this prescient revival, and the pleas of Virginia’s Methodist bishop, who had personally visited the Pentagon right after the terror strike, the bishops opted for milquetoast pacifism and working towards “alleviating the root causes of poverty and the other social conditions that are exploited by terrorists.”
The repeated Methodist denunciations of Iraq’s liberation from Saddam Hussein never expressed any concern about human rights or a just regime in Iraq; they focused exclusively on condemning the U.S. as the seeming only source of injustice and violence in otherwise peaceable Iraq. The Religious Left’s brand of pacifism is typically only concerned about restraining U.S. military efforts and does not usually quibble with aggression or oppression by tyrants, even when genocidal.
Equating justice with reflexive anti-Americanism is old hat for the Religious Left, including many modern American Methodist bishops, who, unlike their more robust predecessors of 60 years, preside over a dwindling flock that no longer seriously heeds their political posturing.
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