Public Interest George W. Bush is the most self-consciously Christian president in recent history. He routinely invokes God in his speeches, wears his faith in Jesus as a badge of moral and electoral honor and is known to spend time daily either reading evangelical texts or studying the Bible.
Retired Disciples of Christ minister Bill Nottingham: "Bush"s religious affirmations show that religion can be a corrupting influence rather than a transforming one, especially when it leads us to rationalize violence and self-interest. And I don"t think "corrupting" is too strong a word."
On Monday night, this man of faith all but declared a preemptive war against an impoverished nation, and in so doing ignored calls for peace issued from around the globe. Many of the president"s fellow Christians are wondering just what Bible he is reading. "Bush seems to have no feeling for the human cost that this will bring to Iraqis who will be slain by the 3,000 bombs we promise to let loose right away," the Rev. Bill Nottingham says. Nottingham is a retired minister of the Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ, and a board member of the Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center. "He represents a kind of religion in America that has very little concern for social justice and the common needs of people." Nottingham"s message is echoed by the majority of Christian leadership worldwide. Those openly opposed to this war include the Vatican, the ecumenical National Council of Churches and most of the major Christian denominations, sometimes known as the "historical churches." Bush is a Methodist, but 20 U.S. Methodist bishops recently sent him a letter saying that a preemptive attack on Iraq would violate God"s law. Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert told Newsweek, "It"s clear to us that he [Bush] is not following the teachings of his own church or the teachings of churches that believe in a "just war" theory." Heavy Christian involvement strengthened the worldwide protests against the Iraq war plans. Roman Catholic priest Jerry Zawada, an Indiana native, is among several dozen Christian activists so opposed to the upcoming attack that they are staying in Baghdad throughout the coming invasion. In the face of this Bible-thumping outcry, why is a Christian president pursuing war? Likely Bush truly believes the violence is morally justified, but he also knows that peaceful bishops don"t deliver as many votes as their war-supporting flock. The most recent Harris poll says 80 percent of the U.S population identify themselves as Christian, and these Christians are more likely than people of other faiths to favor a war with Iraq. Neither Bush"s conscience nor his re-election plans are significantly bothered by thumbing his nose at what most Christian leaders believe to be Jesus" teachings. Nottingham is well aware of that poll data, and it dismays him. He feels it demonstrates the worst possible application of the Christian faith. "For me, Bush"s religious affirmations are like the prosperity gospel (which holds that God gives special blessings to the wealthy). Both show that religion can be a corrupting influence rather than a transforming one, especially when it leads us to rationalize violence and self-interest. And I don"t think "corrupting" is too strong a word," he says. "I do believe in God"s blessings, but I also believe that God loves disadvantaged people in globalized society as much as He loves us." Nottingham suggests that Bush"s next Bible study include the Beatitudes, particularly Matthew 5:9 ("Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God"). Jane Haldeman, a Quaker and member of the group Christians for Peace in the Middle East, would like the president to read the Ten Commandments (particularly Exodus 20:13, "Thou shalt not kill") and the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31). "I don"t think those parts of the Bible support in any way defending ourselves at the expense of others," she says. In his address to the nation Monday night, Bush"s final words were, "May God continue to bless America." Many of his fellow Christians think it would be a blessing for the president to take a closer look at the teachings he claims to follow. "I feel we are called through our faith to look at peaceful ways to resolve problems," Haldeman says. "And there is plenty of Scripture to back that up."