Reject the warrior God-on-our-side, say US church leaders

Two senior United States church leaders have sent out a clear message to the White House and the religious right that God cannot be co-opted as a ‘warrior divinity’ serving national or sectional interests.

"God takes no side in war," declared the Rev Dr Bob Edgar, head of the National Council of Churches USA, and distinguished retired United Methodist Bishop Felton May. "Do not let anyone tell you differently."

President George W. Bush, who has used religious language to justify his militaristic foreign policy, comes from the Methodist tradition – though he refused to meet his own bishops before invading Iraq, annoyed that they opposed him on this.

Writing in yesterday's edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May and Edgar looked at the words of Jesus against the images painted in the news media on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

"A central tenet of the Christian faith is that Jesus is the Son of God… and that in the Bible he speaks for God. There are 'red-letter' editions of the Bible with the words of Jesus printed in red. In one of those red letter paragraphs Jesus says, 'love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...' (Matthew 5.44)," wrote May and Edgar, who is author of Middle Church, Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right.

"A lot of people stop at that verse. But right after that, Jesus continues; ' that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.' (Matthew 5.45)," they wrote.

Those words of Jesus stand in stark contrast to images transmitted around the world on the September 11 remembrances, they pointed out.

"The images of the president praying on that day of remembrance are reinforced by five years of rhetoric claiming God is on the side of America because liberty is God's gift to every human being on the earth. He has positioned America and its military as God's arm in making that gift a reality in Iraq," wrote Edgar and May, who is dean of the Harry R. Kendall Science and Health Mission Centre at Philander Smith College in Little Rock.

The writers point to movements in recent memory where religious leaders took important roles. The Solidarity movement in Poland, anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa, and United States civil rights movement are all cited as examples where churches played significant roles in their success.

"But President Bush's campaign of God-given liberty - as viewed through his lens - is not the way many church leaders view God's role in the world. He may be joined by a faith leader now and then, such as during his visit to the St. Paul's Chapel at Ground Zero but there is no groundswell of support among church leaders to join this campaign," wrote Edgar and May.

The co-authors suggest an admonition borrowed from a candidate for US Senate: "It's time we start reading the Bible instead of knocking people over the head with it. Good advice. And since the words of Jesus tells us we are all 'children of the Father' it might not be a bad idea to start reading and studying the [Qur’an], the Torah, and the Upanishads."

For this reason, the two church leaders conclude, "God takes no side in war. Do not let anyone tell you differently."