by Chuck Gutenson
This is a longer version of this post on the Huffington Post. We would be delighted to hear your comments.
What Would It Take?
In recent posts, I have been writing about the captivity of our imaginations, how the tyranny of current perceptions creates boundaries around our ability to imagine that things could be significantly different. Note that I say “current perceptions” rather than “current realities,” because those who would seek to keep our imaginations bound often do so by trying to create a false reality that serves their interests. Over time, we may come to embrace these perceptions of reality, and we become increasingly bound by them as if drawn irresistibly into their orbit. They become “our reality,” and we can easily become the supporters and defenders of things that we should know better than to support or defend. When this happens, the question becomes how bad things will have to get before we awaken.
A form of this question is the one I have for my evangelical sisters and brothers: how long will the support for the Bush administration continue in light of its increasingly significant betrayal of the core commitments of Jesus? What will it take to demand either that they stop wrapping themselves in the mantle of Christian faith or that they begin to live up to the obligations that attend that mantle? Frankly, while I have at least a passing grasp of church history, I am speechless pretty much on a daily basis due to the audacity of this administration and the deafening silence of so many evangelical leaders. Consider:
With regard to the Iraq war:
+We now know that this president had contemplated the benefits of serving as a “war president,” even prior to his election. Does this mean he went into office set on going to war? No, but we often find evidences to support our predispositions.
+We now know that the president and other members of his administration were moving toward war with Iraq from even before the attacks of 9/11.
+The administration, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, continues to claim there is a link between 9/11 and Iraq.
+We now know the intelligence regarding Iraqi WMDs was wrong and that we should have known this at the time. In fact, Wolfowitz has admitted that the WMD argument was settled upon because it was most persuasive to the public.
+15,000 plus American and coalition soldiers have been killed or maimed, and latest estimates put the loss of Iraqi non-combatants at over 100,000–many of whom have been children. Isn't it a rather inconsistent pro-life position to remain quiet over the loss of these lives? A careful read of Scripture would not lead us to think we are to care only for our own lives.
+We now have good reason to suspect the integrity of the various arguments and much of the documentary evidence that the administration put forward in defense of the war. The Downing Street Memo and various other documents have painted a pretty dismal picture of the dishonesty and lack of responsibility that attended this administration's run up to the war.
+With the administration’s agreement to an Islamic state, the final pretense for the war (spreading democracy) has been stripped away.
In spite of outright mistakes, highly suspect motivations, incompetent planning and execution, and intentionally misleading “pr,” evangelical Christians who claim to follow the Prince of Peace continue to be among the strongest supporters of this administration in general and of the Iraq war in particular. How bad will things have to get, what additional facts do we need before we stand to proclaim this war immoral and to refuse to support this administration’s warmaking?
With regard to defense of the poor:
+This administration has used the popularity generally gained for wartime administrations to push through massive tax cuts that have disproportionately benefitted the well-to-do. The OT prophets railed against slanting the economic playing field against the poor.
+This administration has led the charge in shredding the social safety net which has provided a minimal level of support for those who need it most.
+Military spending has grown remarkably–especially when one adds in related costs (say, Homeland Security). Virtually every other aspect of societal spending has gone begging. Our money has "In God we Trust" written on it, but our actions say our trust is elsewhere.
+This administration has supported activities and legislation that has fueled economic instability, which inevitably damages the poorest in society most.
+Opportunities for those already on the margins have been crushed by this administration’s support of out-sourcing and by its failure to counter the diminishing supply of good jobs.
In spite of the fact that few topics receive as much attention in the bible as the treatment of the poor and marginalized, many evangelicals have continued to provide support for this administration. Have our evangelical leaders become so insulated from the poor? Or, have they forgotten that God has expectations on these matters, yes, even from governments?
With regard to honesty and integrity:
+.“Clean Water Act” and “Clean Skies Act” are names given to legislation which increases pollutants allowed. “No Child Left Behind”is touted, then underfunded.
+The scientific community has frequently objected to this administration’s misuse of scientific data. This has often taken the form of simply removing parts of reports that they did not like.
+To promote the prescription drug plan added to Medicare, the administration withheld data about its true cost and threatened to fire any who revealed it.
+This administration has repudiated the need to be minimally responsible for its planning by operating with an unprecedented level of secrecy. It is the openess of our society that most provides protections against lack of accountability.
+Obfuscation has become an art form. When opposing arguments are too strong, they simply create confusion by finding someone outside the consensus who will support their position. The goal? To create the sense that "no one really knows," so bad decisions do not look quite so bad.
The general public has begun to catch on to this administration’s problems with truth telling–polls are showing a drop in the president’s perceived honesty. Yet, evangelicals tend to be the polling group that most supports this administration.
On Valerie Plame:
+Notwithstanding protestations to the contrary, it is now pretty clear that the Bush team (specifically, Karl Rove) outed Valerie Plame in attempt to discredit Joe Wilson.
+With no serious challenge to the substance of Wilson’s report, they have left no stone unturned in trying to further discredit Wilson himself.
+The president has been quite slippery in his attempts to avoid living up to his commitment to dismiss leakers.
On the environment:
+I mentioned the so-called “Clean Skies” and “Clean Water” acts above, but they have to be added here as yet another sacrifice of the environment to corporate interests.
+The debate on global warming–both as to its reality and the basic underlying causes–is over... Well, for everyone but this administration and some of its supporters.
+This administration has led push to open the Arctic reserve for oil drilling–often, with the most dishonest of arguments. For example, they claim to limit drilling to only a small percent of the refuge, but the limits only apply to the actual drilling rigs--not access roads, anciliary equipment, etc.
+The president instructed the withdrawal of American support for the Kyoto protocols aimed at improving green house gas emissions–unilaterally.
+Notwithstanding the biblical injunction to engage in acts of self-denial, no serious attempt to undertake conservation steps are even considered. Can we claim to live up to the biblical injunction to put the interest of others above ourselves if we continue to constitute less than 5 percent of the world's population, but use more than 40 percent of its resources?
In an article earlier this year, one prominent evangelical columnist argued that evangelicals ought not be distracted from saving souls by such matters as environmental concerns. However, Christians are called to be disciples of Christ, and it would be an odd read of the bible indeed that suggested that being a disciple has no implications for environmental concerns. As a colleague of mine points out, being a Christian impacts everything, even how we throw out our trash. There does seem to be indication of growing interest here among evangelicals, but not yet enough to broadly take on this administration's policies.
+This administration has continually underplayed the extent to which it has empowered torture and detainee abuse. For Christians to remain silent to the torture of guilty persons is unbelievable enough, but to tolerate it when guilt has not been determined is unfathomable. It is hard to see how this lives up to the command to love our enemies.
+This administration has unilaterally withdrawn from treaties aimed at curtailing nuclear proliferation and has put the use of nuclear weapons back on the table. They are unwilling even to commit to no first use, and they have re-opened the nuclear race by proposing a new generation of nuclear devices.
+This president’s policy of “pre-emptive war,” surely unwise, simply does not meet the just war criteria (the basis Christians use to determine whether a given war is just). Hence, the war with Iraq cannot be judged to be a just war. I suppose one could argue that just war theory needs to be re-thought, but precious little dialogue within the evangelical community has occurred. Have we not abdicated our responsiblity to be a voice for morality to the culture at large?
+This administration has caused remarkable damage to international good will due to its unilateralist foreign policy. Again, as persons called to put the interest of others above our own, how can Christians tolerate this?
+Why has there been no outrage over the war profiteering by so many so close to this administration?
+The recently signed energy bill, as admitted by even its supporters, does nothing to provide solutions to our long term energy needs. Further, the bill was an example of this administration's policy of "leaving no giant corporation behind," in that it granted billions of dollars to oil companies already seeing profits at historic levels. Can you imagine an Amos quiet at this?
+At the core of all these concerns are fundamental issues of character. The president has exhibited nothing of that virtue we Christians claim to prize so highly–humility.
At any point in this sad story, we should have arrived at the point where all Christians would demand accountability. Yet, here we are facing all of these outrageous circumstances, and evangelicals remain the strongest supporters of this administration. What will it take? My guess is that the answer is just this: as long as this administration talks up its opposition to abortion and homosexuality, then they can do whatever else they please and too many will remain quiet. I can only give thanks that the One we claim to follow did not have such a stilted view of morality! An interesting passage in the letter to the church at Colossae indicates that the cross of Christ laid bare the powers that opposed him. How so? Well, the powers ordained by God (societal structures, for one) to order human life together were revealed for their perversity in that they killed the One who lived a life of perfect love. I wonder if our support of this administration has not shined a light deep into our souls and revealed our own bankruptcy. We have decided that we like political power too much, and the status of "resident aliens" too little. Do we even have the will to see and repent?