Editor’s Note: Members are preparing petitions for the May General Conference to request President George W. Bush’s resignation from The United Methodist Church. Many Christians are passionately opposed to Bush’s policies initiating preemptive war and legitimizing torture, perceiving these actions as a repudiation of Christ’s radical call to peacemaking. In this article, Reverend Rix presents the case for church accountability: a trial that leads to Bush’s repentance or expulsion from The United Methodist Church.
The United Methodist Church Must Discipline President Bush
“Mother and I were arguing,” recalls George W. Bush. “Not arguing, having a discussion—and discussing who goes to heaven.” This White House conflict occurs when Bush’s father was President.
”I said, Mom, look, all I can tell you is what the New Testament says. And she said, well, surely, God will accept others. And I said, Mom, here’s what the New Testament says.”
Mr. Bush did not reflect on the scriptures. The key to Bush’s understanding, indeed its only basis, is “what the New Testament says.” Words, divorced from their setting, confirm his belief. He must be right. There is no other possibility.
Barbara Bush calls Billy Graham. George Bush chuckles as he remembers this call. Graham says, yes, the New Testament is his guide. He then adds, “Don’t play God. Who are you two to be God?”
Graham immediately grasps the magnitude of the transgression. Rejecting George’s judgmentalism, he debunks narrow-minded word-for-word literalism. Graham examines more than words. He seeks the Spirit of Christ—and he repudiates Bush’s callous conclusion that only Christians go to heaven.
This conversation is revealing. Bush insists on a literal interpretation of the Bible: he points to particular words of scripture and ignores their context. Using the dubious method of prooftexting, he draws the sweeping conclusion that only Christians gain God’s favor. After all, it’s “what the New Testament says.”
Such literalism is dangerous. Devoid of thoughtfulness, this method confirms one’s prejudices. In this case, Bush asserts that all but Christians are excluded from God’s kingdom. This demonstrates a fundamentalist mindset with extraordinary implications for public policy—and suggests the genesis of many of Bush’s disastrous policies.
When asked during the third debate of the 2000 campaign what political philosopher or thinker he most identifies with, Bush responds, “Christ, because he changed my heart.” Like all such assertions, this profession of faith must be accompanied by deeds that demonstrate a heartfelt transformation.
Is Jesus diligently pursued—or distorted and denied?
WHEN CONSIDERING WAR, following Jesus faithfully requires an understanding of the context of his ministry. Most first-century Jews sought a Messiah to overthrow Roman occupation and expand Israel’s territory. Even after his resurrection, the disciples wanted Jesus to immediately “restore the Kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6)
During his ministry, the disciples sought holy war. When some Samaritans rejected them because they were traveling toward Jerusalem, James and John asked, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). Jesus rebuked his disciples.
Would two billion Christians now worship Jesus if he had annihilated Samaritans in the name of God?
Throughout his ministry, Jesus refuses all pleas for violence. The same disciples who advocated violent destruction learned firsthand the shocking reality of Jesus’ teaching. They responded, passing on these teachings so effectively that virtually all Christians rejected military service for the next three centuries.
Jesus directs his followers to love enemies and pray for persecutors. If we listen to extremist “Christians,” however, Jesus asks us to loathe enemies and prey on persecutors. President George W. Bush exceeds even this enmity. His doctrine preempts enemies. We must attack them before they attack us. Is he listening to Jesus?
“Shock and awe” should be a response to God’s grace, not Bush’s bombings. Even the devil could not have devised a more devastating liberation. Moreover, Bush often emphasizes we must fight the terrorists “over there” so we do not have to face them here. If true, Iraqi suffering secures our comfort.
Is this the standard for peacemaking that Jesus envisions and exemplifies?
A land of 26 million people endures unimaginable devastation. Hundreds of thousands of civilians suffer violent deaths. Ninety percent of hospitals need basic medical supplies to assist the sick and those suffering the mutilating injuries of war. The people of Iraq suffer the world’s greatest refugee crisis—double the number displaced by the genocide in Darfur—as four million flee their homes. In addition, eight million lack adequate water, sanitation, food and shelter. Oxfam International also reports this shocker: a multitude of Iraqis now live in absolute poverty. 43% earn less than a dollar a day!
In recent months, with U.S. and Iraqi casualties reduced to levels seen in 2005, the media has downplayed the war in Iraq. While Bush’s “surge” of troops is often credited for reduced violence, ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods was virtually completed in the fall of 2007 by Sunni and Shia alike. Still, political reconciliation remains a pipedream. While some refugees have returned to their homes, many others cannot return because of sectarian death threats. Iraq remains a nightmare: Death and disfigurement from this war persist and the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure demands far more resources than currently available.
Bush’s Afghan war is also failing. Taliban tactics now include suicide bombings. Guerilla training in Iraq is far more disastrous than al Qaeda’s former camps. Dr. Martin Luther King’s aphorism applies to both Iraq and Afghanistan: “Violence begets violence.”
BUSH’S EXTREME VISION of Christian Zionism is evidenced by his extraordinary first meeting in the Situation Room just ten days after his 2001 inauguration. As Ron Suskind reports, Bush focuses on Iraq while dismissing any concern for Palestinians. Without seeking input from the intelligence community, Bush discontinues the Israeli/Palestinian peace process.
Colin Powell warned “the consequences of that could be dire, especially for the Palestinians.” Bush replied, “Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things.” Powell was right: Six years of disengagement has proven disastrous. This callousness was a catalyst for catastrophic hardship, prompting popular support for Hamas and Hezbollah.
Did Jesus abandon peacemaking efforts or encourage violence against the oppressed?
Still, the litany of lamentations caused by these conflicts cannot satisfy Bush’s apocalyptic vision. The Bush Administration’s original war resolution encompassed far more than Iraq. “It said the whole region!” exclaimed an astonished Republican Senator, Chuck Hagel. “They could go into Greece or anywhere…Sure as hell it was clear they meant the whole Middle East. It was anything they wanted.”
Does the Prince of Peace inspire such myopic militarism?
Bush frequently consults with extreme right-wing “Christian” leaders who advocate both war and torture. While he shuns United Methodist and other mainstream religious leaders, Bush welcomes the views of Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Ted Haggard and Christian Zionist John Hagee. The late Jerry Falwell, mimicking his theocratic enemies, publicly and perhaps privately advised Bush to be a crusader: “Blow them all away,” said Falwell, “in the name of the Lord.”
Recall Bush’s fundamentalist argument about those excluded from heaven. Is it any wonder he confers with and champions the political and religious views of zealots? Their ideology is based on a false theology: unbelievers are certain to experience everlasting torture in hell. So if God approves violence and torture in the afterlife, surely violence and torture can be instruments of the good and great nation of the U.S.A.
The church recognized Manichaean dualism as heresy when it arose in the third century. The notion that ultimate goodness resides in some (us) and ultimate evil in others (them) is a convenient justification for both war and torture. Christian Zionism favors the misperception that Jesus is the violent conqueror of Revelation. Unfortunately, Bush’s pronouncements, policies and actions are consistent with these views that portray Jesus as a savage warrior.
CHRISTIANS MUST REPUDIATE the false gospel declaring Jesus a bloodthirsty avenger. Has the Christ who declared “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” now become the Military Messiah, a role he repeatedly rejected?
If wielding a sword, would you place it in your mouth? This image is ridiculous, but Revelation depicts this provenance for Jesus’ sword. It is not an instrument of violence in his hand that is sharp, but the power of his Word proceeding from his mouth. Still, many evangelists and the popular Left Behind series misinterpret this metaphorical sword, portraying Jesus as the Messiah who mutilates. This is obscene and absurd.
Is the Lamb who was slain actually the Slayer who conquers by war, violence and torture? To the contrary, Jesus incarnates love for enemies, prayer for persecutors and forgiveness for offenders. Revelation continues this tradition of the Gospels by repeatedly declaring Jesus the Lamb, a reminder of his martyrdom. Christ conquers through patient suffering, not the violence of the Roman Empire.
Those identifying themselves as Christians must make a choice: We can follow the brutality of the beast or the self-sacrificing love of the Lamb.
The mythic language of Revelation states the saints overcome the dragon “by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (12:11). The latter phrase refers to court witnesses (Greek, martyria). As Barbara Rossing explains in The Rapture Exposed, “we conquer by putting the empire on trial and telling the truth about it.” The heroes of Revelation are indeed martyrs who oppose the wickedness of nations because, as verse 11 concludes, “they did not cling to life even in the face of death.”
The crucified Christ is our model: Jesus sacrifices his own blood rather than inflict a bloodbath. Sometimes we must ask the question, “What wouldn’t Jesus do?” One answer is clear: Jesus did not and would not torture. Rather than inflicting such wicked torment, Jesus endured the pain of torture.
PRESIDENT BUSH APPROVES TORTURE and has made the unequivocal statement: “[T]his government does not torture and…we adhere to the international convention on torture, whether at home or abroad.” Let us be candid: these claims are deceitful, a ruse to project an aura of goodness while perpetrating evil. Despite Bush’s rhetoric, the record indicates he is the instigator of U.S. torture policy.
Bush issued no less than four Executive Orders that pillage protections against torture. On September 17, 2001, Bush approved CIA rendition of prisoners to foreign countries. On November 17, he authorized the Secretary of Defense to establish military commissions. Secretary Rumsfeld stated, “Technically, unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention.” Bush then endorsed “black sites” in rogue nations—where torture is routine—on December 17. Bush also explicitly eliminates Geneva protections for prisoners, on February 7, 2002, whenever “military necessity” is invoked.
Bush’s subsequent memo to senior staff states “common article 3 of Geneva does not apply to Al Qaeda or Taliban detainees.” Thus, Bush personally abrogates six decades of Geneva protections against “cruel treatment and torture.” Moreover, he opposes the McCain anti-torture amendments to the 2005 Defense Appropriation Bill. When overwhelmingly passed, Bush’s signing statement asserts “the constitutional authority of the President” supersedes congressional restrictions on torture.
Contrary to Bush’s assertions, compelling evidence indicates our government tortures prisoners as well as using proxy governments to inflict torture. In addition, at least 108 detainees died in U.S. custody from 2002 to 2005, 28 by homicide. Here are a few of many examples demonstrating torture is an instrument of U.S. policy:
Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen returning from Pakistan, was suspended by hooks on a wall and electrocuted repeatedly until he fainted. Rendered to Egypt for six months before transfer to Guantánamo, a variety of tortures were used until he “confessed.” Habib was released in 2005 without explanation (Joseph Margulies, Guantánamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power, pp. 182-200).
The CIA rendered an innocent Canadian, Maher Arar, to Syria for torture. A 1996 State Department report details Syria’s techniques: “electrical shocks, pulling out fingernails, the forced insertion of objects into the rectum, beatings, sometimes while the victim is suspended from the ceiling, hyperextension of the spine, and the use of a chair that bends backwards to asphyxiate the victim or fracture the spine” (Bob Herbert, “Our Friends, the Torturers,” New York Times, Feb. 18, 2005)
An Iraqi, Manadel al-Jamadi, walked into Abu Ghraib and 45 minutes later was dead. Ruled a homicide by military pathologists, he had been stripped naked, hooded and—though already handcuffed and shackled—was tortured with a “Palestinian Hanging” position. Soldiers stated “we heard a lot of screaming.” Never registered, this “ghosted” detainee was packed in ice and removed with an I.V. in his arm to cover up his death (Jane Mayer, “A Deadly Interrogation,” The New Yorker, Nov. 14, 2005).
A British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, reports the U.S. rendered at least three suspects “that almost certainly would have been tortured.” He stated “partial boiling of a hand or an arm is quite common” and two prisoners had been boiled to death (Jane Mayer, “Outsourcing Torture,” The New Yorker, February 14, 2005).
A Chicago Navy veteran in Iraq, Donald Vance, was “arrested and held for 97 days—shackled and blindfolded, prevented from sleeping by blaring music and round-the-clock lights…. Even after the military learned who Mr. Vance was, they continued to hold him in these abusive conditions for weeks more” (Editorial, “Only the Jailers Are Safe,” New York Times, December 20, 2006)
In addition, Seymour Hersh reports Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was informed in May, 2005 the United States has “800-900 Pakistani boys 13-15 years of age in custody.” Brigadier General Janis Karpinski said a weeping eleven-year old boy imprisoned at Abu Ghraib “really wanted to see his mother.” The Pentagon responded, “Age is not a determining factor in detention” (“The Unknown Unknowns of the Abu Ghraib Scandal,” The Guardian, May 21, 2005).
In addition to detaining children, the U.S. also tortures children: “The International Red Cross, Amnesty International, and the Pentagon have gathered substantial testimony of torture of children, confirmed by soldiers who witnessed or participated in the abuse” (Jimmy Carter, Our Endangered Values, p. 119).
The evidence is overwhelming: Bush instigates torture; he fights for the right to torture; and when Congress passes anti-torture amendments, Bush nevertheless reserves the right to torture in violation of the law of the land.
PRESIDENT BUSH MUST REPENT of these immoral and egregious offenses, a direct result of his policies on war and torture. Failure to do so is an offense to the Gospel and maintains a gross and grievous misrepresentation of the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
With regard to basic freedoms and human rights, The United Methodist Church’s Social Principles are unequivocal: “[T]he mistreatment or torture of persons by governments for any purpose violates Christian teaching and must be condemned and/or opposed by Christians and churches wherever and whenever it occurs.”
Church discipline for torture cannot be limited to individuals whose hands commit these heinous crimes. Surely, such discipline also applies to the President and senior officials, especially when their decisions actuate the systematic torture of prisoners.
These Social Principles also speak boldly to the moral obligations of nations: “We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as a usual instrument of national foreign policy and insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them.”
The Bush Doctrine of preemptive war violates Christ’s precepts for peacemaking. Bush’s imperious vision necessitates a grotesque “global war” against terror. Ironically, this disastrous dogma opposes Christ’s teachings by proliferating terror.
Indeed, Bush arrogantly attributes his war policies to God. When Bob Woodward asked Bush if he ever consulted with his father about invading Iraq, he replied, “There is a higher Father that I appeal to.”
Furthermore, Bush told Palestinian leaders at a meeting, “God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam Hussein, which I did.” A translation of an Arabic transcript confirms Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas’ recollection with the specific variant, God “inspired” me (rather than “told” me) to strike Al Qaeda and Hussein.
DOES BUSH FOLLOW JESUS? Judge for yourself: Jesus endures torture; Bush inflicts torture. Jesus rejects his disciples’ call for fire from heaven on Samaritans; Bush instigates such a bonfire over Baghdad and calls it “shock and awe.” Jesus declares the liberating power of truth; Bush promotes ungodly destruction and unending detention through deception.
Does Bush honor Jesus by preaching the propriety of war and promoting torture? If so, we must rip from the Bible the many pages of the Gospels portraying the Prince of Peace together with all 29 references to the Lamb in Revelation.
Bush’s policies emulate the beast of Rome rather than the Lamb of God. The peace of Rome, Pax Romana, brutalized people subjected to Caesar’s military occupation. Similarly, Pax Americana brutalizes people subject to Bush’s military occupation. Both Bush and Caesar claim divine inspiration for the violence of Empire.
Bush’s attribution of his war policies to the Almighty is blasphemous. His crusade mentality is a blatant betrayal of Pax Christos. His destructive doctrine is deluded: the God of Peace does not serve our nation’s interests by instructing Bush to initiate cruel and calamitous suffering on other nations.
Churches must discipline members whose misdeeds denigrate Christ. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church specifies lay members may be charged with and choose a trial for:
disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church;
dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church…
The Kingdom of God cannot serve the myth of Empire. The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church surely require that President Bush be charged for his unconscionable offenses. Upon conviction, he must repent or resign his membership. If Bush refuses, he should be expelled—lest we permit the apocalyptic policies and impieties of Bush to desecrate the powerful witness of the cross of Christ.
The United Methodist Church must not neglect the essential function of church discipline. As The Book of Discipline states, “a church lacking the courage to act decisively on personal and social issues loses its claim to moral authority.” If Bush is not held accountable for these abominations, Christ becomes whatever any member desires—even the Sadistic Savior who glorifies war and blesses torture.
©2011 Harry Rix. All rights reserved.