The bishops of the United Methodist Church have long thought it part of their calling to tell the federal government what to do. This week, the subject at hand was the Iraq war, and about how we need to get out:

Whereas, the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church, meeting Nov. 9 at Lake Junaluska, N.C., is committed to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world; and

Whereas, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, calls his followers to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9); and

Whereas, “We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ” (Book of Discipline 2004, Par. 165.C); and

Whereas, the cost of the war in Iraq as of Nov. 7, 2007 has been the lives of 3,843 members of the U.S. military, 171 members of the United Kingdom military, 132 members of the other Coalition military, 28,385 U.S. military wounded, and the lives of at least 76,241 Iraqi civilians; and

Whereas the war in Iraq has displaced 2 million persons and forced another 2 million persons into refugee status;

Whereas, every day the war continues more soldiers and innocent civilians are killed with no end in sight to the violence, bloodshed and carnage;

This is where they start to step in it. Their first two statements are fine, the third is a quote from the Discipline (though by no means the whole story, since the relevant section doesn’t establish pacifism as Methodist doctrine or practice), the fourth and fifth a recitation of information that should have been sourced in the case of the Iraqi numbers, but can be granted. The last is a prudential political judgment that purports to see into the future. The bishops have no special talent for either political judgment or prophecy of the futuristic variety, and in fact their belief is very much open to question, given the gains that have been made on the ground in recent months. At this point, they are simply channeling the Democratic Party’s Congressional leadership.

NOW, THEREFORE, THE COUNCIL OF BISHOPS calls on the President and Congress of the United States and the leaders of all the nations in the Coalition Forces:

•To begin immediately a safe and full withdrawal of all military personnel from Iraq, with no additional troops deployed;

If they’d read the news before writing this, they’d know that withdrawal of troops is scheduled to begin before the end of the year. The “full withdrawal” is their way of saying, “who cares about the Iraqis?”, who have asked for a continued American presence both to help with the internal struggle and to ward off Iran. The “no additional troops deployed” is their way of saying that their ordination gives them insight into the proper use of military forces that the folks in the Pentagon don’t have. Oh, and I think they missed someone–shouldn’t they also have called on the Iranians to pull their Revolutionary Guard personnel and al-Qaeda to pull their foreign jihadis out of Iraq as well? Or are the people who are actually perpetuating the violence to get a free pass, while those who are trying to prevent it are called upon to get out of Dodge? And here I thought people such as the bishops had such pull with Tehran.

• To declare that there will be no permanent military bases in Iraq;

Why? This strikes me as simple isolationism at work, since there’s no accounting either for what Iraqis want or believe they need in the way of American help.

• To increase support for veterans of the Iraq war and all wars;

I’ve got no qualms about this, though it isn’t at all clear what they mean by it–it certainly sounds good, however.

• To initiate and give strong support to a plan for the reconstruction of Iraq, with high priority given to the humanitarian and social needs of the Iraqi                                 people, such as health care, education and housing;

At this point they are channeling Rowan Williams, who also seems to think that we’ve not done anything to rebuild an Iraqi society shattered by 30 years of totalitarianism. We have actually poured almost $30 billion into Iraq, not all of it well-used certainly (this is, after all, the federal government we’re talking about), but hardly a drop in the bucket, and there’s more coming. Of course, one could argue that there hasn’t been much of a plan for the rebuilding, so detailed proposals rather than planks from a political platform might be helpful.

FURTHER, THE COUNCIL OF BISHOPS calls United Methodist people throughout the world:

• To pray for peace and to have regular prayer vigils for congregations and communities;

• To care for all impacted by the war, including combatants and noncombatants by honoring the dead, healing the wounded and calling for the end of             the war;

One doesn’t “honor the dead” by running out on the job before it’s been finished. If the bishops really wanted to honor them, they would not be calling for their sacrifices to have been in vain. Instead, they might be calling for the freedom and safety of the Iraqi people to be secured, their political processes respected, and their country not abandoned to the depredations of Iran and its terrorist allies, as we are in the process of doing.

        • To be peacemakers by word and deed that we may be called the children of God.

And to be peacemakers in a fallen world sometimes requires that arms be taken up by the civil authorities. If the bishops wish to call United Methodists to pacifism, that is certainly their right, and I would support them doing so as a witness to the peace that passes all understanding that is the world’s ultimate hope. But if they want to be Quakers in fancy robes, calling on United Methodists to take up pacifism as a political strategy, I suspect they will be–and should be–awfully lonely in their “prophetic” stance.

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