Bush criticised for claiming God made him go to war
US President George W. Bush has been criticised for 'making a mockery of Christianity' after it was revealed last night that he directly claimed he was on a 'mission from God' when he launched the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr Bush, an evangelical Christian since 1985, is alleged to have declared his conviction that the wars were God's will in a meeting with the Palestinian delegation at a summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in 2003.
But the UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia says that linking the peacemaking faith of Jesus Christ with policies responsible for death and destruction is 'a political abuse of religion' which may further inflame Muslim sentiment and should be renounced by church leaders.
A senior Palestinian official will make the claim about President Bush's belief in his own divine mission in an interview to be broadcast on BBC2 as part of its ëElusive Peace' three-part TV documentary on Israel-Palestine diplomacy, which begins on Monday 10 October.
Palestinian Authority minister Nabil Sha'ath declares: 'President Bush said to all of us, ëI'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ëGeorge, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, ëGeorge, go and end the tyranny in Iraq Ö' And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, ëGo get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.' And, by God, I'm gonna do it.''
According to prime minister Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen), who was at the same meeting, the US leader described talked about his sense of 'moral and religious obligation' in the region.
Bush's comments were originally disclosed two years ago through an Israeli intelligence transcript of the Palestinian account of the meeting reported in the newspaper Haaretz, but those involved were reluctant to go public. The BBC programme is the first time they have spoken to camera.
Reacting to the allegations about President Bush's religious sanctioning of the Iraq and Afghan invasions, a spokesperson for Ekklesia, the UK think tank on religion and public life, said such views were 'extremely damaging to the reputation of both the president and of thoughtful Christian belief' and that 'in the eyes of many, they make a mockery of Christianity.'
Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow continued: 'At a time when political and faith leaders are rightly concerned about the misuse of religious zeal to justify acts of terror, it is hardly encouraging to hear that the leader of the world's most powerful nation shares this simplistic approach from the opposite angle.'
He continued: 'At the heart of Christianity is Jesus' call on his followers to be peacemakers. Outside the counsel of fanatics, there are few who believe this readily translates into divine enthusiasm for policies based on bombing and killing. Even the pragmatic ëjust war' tradition is about limiting not sanctioning conflict.'
Ekklesia is also concerned that Mr Bush's extreme religious views will 'further encourage Muslims to believe that there is a ëcrusade' against them', says Mr Barrow. The think tank is encouraging Western church leaders to repudiate and correct the alleged presidential remarks.
The Bush administration is now likely to come under strong pressure to distance itself from what some are calling the 'personal views' of the president, and others are likely to claim as a misrepresentation.
In last November's presidential election, Mr Bush was accused of "playing the God card". When he was brought to Christian faith by famous evangelist Billy Graham, the preacher told him: 'Never play God.' But his backers on the Christian right have consistently urged him towards a vote-winning religiously expressed ideological agenda.
The president's apparent idea that in attacking Iraq he was on 'a mission from God' is one shared by hard-line evangelist Pat Robertson, who said it was fought 'with Christian principles'. Mr Robertson recently had to apologise for an outburst in which he publicly called for the assassination of Venezuelan leader Victor Chavez.
However, Mr Bush's ëtheology of war' has been denounced by a wide range of Christian ministers and scholars, including a number of prominent evangelicals. They condemn his 'axis of evil' approach.
Last year Joseph Martos, a retired theology professor, published a book (May God Bless America: George W. Bush and Biblical Morality) which said that for someone who wears his religion on his sleeves, the president was doing a bad job of living out Christian principles.
And at a recent anti-war demonstration, veteran MP Tony Benn declared: 'I do not believe that Jesus Christ ordered [President] Bush to go into Iraq. I do not believe that Mohammed wanted people to die in buses and on the [London] underground.'
The president is also at loggerheads with senior Church of England bishops, who last month published a 100-page report on ëCountering Terrorism: Power, Violence and Democracy Post 9/11' which pointed to the damaging influence of the false theology of the religious right in the USA.
'Mr Bush's remarks show how painfully easy a political misuse of faith is,' comments Ekklesia's Simon Barrow. 'People of many religious convictions and none may be pleased at the removal of Saddam Hussein and committed to Middle East peace. But at a time when both the moral and legal legitimacy of the Iraq war is questioned by experts the world over, it is deeply worrying to discover that the man at the centre of it all is shaped by such uncomplicated righteous zeal.'
According to a March 2003 Times newspaper report, President Bush gets his early morning inspiration from a Scottish evangelist from the last century, Oswald Chambers, whose book My Utmost for His Highest 'now fills Mr Bush with the conviction that an Iraqi war would simply be a battle between good and evil.'
In February 2005, a former presidential aide, Doug Wead, lifted the lid on other controversial religious and political views held by the US president - including drugs, the United Nations and gay sex.
Palestinian Authority minister Nabil Sha'ath, whose testimony is central to the latest Bush revelations, has been a bridge-builder in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In August 2004 the Jenin Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees, threatened to kill him for participating in a conference in Italy attended by the Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom.
[Also of relevance on Ekklesia: Christians explore links between doctrine and violence; Of bishops, bombs and ballast and Keeping the wrong kind of religion out of politics]