September 2008


The PCUSA is preparing for one of the high points on its church calendar: United Nations Day, celebrated this year on the Sunday nearest October 24. In anticipation of this great church festival, it has made some resources available to enhance your congregation’s worship (what of is for you to judge). For instance, we have this “Prayer for Peace in our Time,” from Peacemaking Through Worship, Volume 1 (it’s not ascribed to any author, though it might be from Neville Chamberlain):

O God, Our Father, O God, Our Mother:
we pray for all your children on earth,
of every nation and of every race;
that we may be strong to do your work.
We pray for the Church in the world.
Give peace in our time, O God.
For the United Nations, the World Court, and for all governments and their leaders,
give peace in our time, O God.
For worldwide agencies of caring which bind wounds and feed the hungry:
give peace in our time, O God.
For all who seek to transform systems that wound
give peace in our time, O God.
For all who work for justice and peace:
give peace in our time, O God.
Amen.

Then there’s Satish Kumar’s “World Peace Prayer,” which isn’t actually addressed to anyone, and so may be more of a mantra than a prayer:

Lead me from death to life,
From falsehood to truth.
Lead me from despair to hope,
From fear to trust.
Lead me from hate to love,
From war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts,
our world, our universe.

Shannon Parks-Beck of the Seattle Presbytery has a “Prayer for United Nations Day”:

Merciful and life-giving God,

We long for a world where justice and peace thrive
We want to be proud of our communities, our countries, our world
And, we know that we are your instruments in bringing that peace

Ground us in a counter-cultural hope that has power to transform us and our world
For we are a generation prone to skepticism and self-centeredness
We are overwhelmed with our over-scheduled lives

Remind us that we are first humans on this planet
Then nations, tribes, religions, families
Help us to plant and water the seeds of peace
From our personal spirituality to our engagement in civic and political life

We give thanks for those leaders who call us to our best selves,
Who offer a vision of an involved and compassionate world
Who do not run from sacrifice or dismiss the powerless
And who call us lift our gaze to see find you and ourselves in the other

Return the church to our prophet, Jesus, who called us into community
to care for the poor, to welcome the stranger, and to set the oppressed free.

Amen.

There’s more, but you get the point. The interesting thing to me is both how vague all these prayers are, how devoid of any particularly Christian content, and how child-like in their faith in the UN. The UN has, as anyone who actually follows what goes on there knows, become an extraordinarily corrupt institution whose primary purpose, aside from providing perpetual employment for a coterie of international dandies, is to offer a platform for the world’s demagogues, anti-Semites, and haters of freedom. Yet folks like this still act as if all good things will, if we just wish for it hard enough, flow from the largess of Turtle Bay.

Somewhere, George Orwell (author of the epochal essay “Politics and the English Language,” which to judge by the following article is no longer read in Great Britain) is wagging his finger and saying, “I told you so.” The reason is the politically correct manipulation of language described by this article from the London Telegraph:

Publishers and universities are outlawing dozens of seemingly innocuous words in case they cause offence.

Banned phrases on the list, which was originally drawn up by sociologists, include Old Masters, which has been used for centuries to refer to great painters – almost all of whom were in fact male.

It is claimed that the term discriminates against women and should be replaced by “classic artists”.

The list of banned words was written by the British Sociological Association [BSA], whose members include dozens of professors, lecturers and researchers.

None of whom have ever heard of George Orwell, or have any common sense of which they are aware.

Prof Frank Furedi, a sociologist at the University of Kent, said he was shocked when he saw the extent of the list and how readily academics had accepted it.

“I was genuinely taken aback when I discovered that the term ‘Chinese Whisper’ was offensive because of its apparently racist connotations. I was moved to despair when I found out that one of my favourite words, ‘civilised’, ought not be used by a culturally sensitive author because of its alleged racist implications.”

Because these folks are against civiization, I assume, or think it over-rated. Among the institutions using this guide are the University of Bristol, the University of Leeds, King’s College London, and Napier University in Edinburgh. Policy Press, which publishes “social science” textbooks and journals, has also sent it to prospective authors. The list of forbidden terms included on this leftist Index is amazing:

Immigrants is said to have “racist overtones” because of its association with “immigration legislation”, while developing nations – intended as a more sensitive replacement for Third World – is “prejudical” because it implies a comparison with developed countries.

Although not included on the Policy Press list, the BSA warns authors against using civilisation because of its “racist overtones that derive from a colonialist perception of the world”.

Among the “sexist” terms to be avoided are “seminal” and “disseminate” because they are derived from the word semen and supposedly imply a male-dominated view of the world.

Authors are also told to “avoid using medical labels” when writing about disabled people as this “may promote a view of them as patients”.

In addition, the list says “special needs” should be changed to “additional needs”, “patient” to “person” and “the elderly” to “older people”.

“Able-bodied person” should be replaced with “non-disabled person”, it is claimed.

In response to such twaddle, Orwell’s words are worth remembering:

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

(Via MCJ.)

One organization that was conspicuous by its absence from the dinner with the Iranian president last week was the National Council of Churches. In a statement that NCC General Secretary Michael Kinnimon made at a rally against Ahmadinejad last week, we indirectly find out why:

Provocative, belligerent rhetoric is the enemy of peace!  Therefore, those who claim to be peacemakers must know when to say No! to rhetoric that threatens the neighbor.  Now is such a time.

President Ahmadinejad’s hateful language, denying the Holocaust and apparently calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” must be persistently and forcefully denounced by all who value peace.  The Rev. John Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ and a leader in the National Council of Churches, has put it this way: “Revisionist history of genocide must never be accorded credibility among civilized people of any faith tradition.  Anti-semitic efforts to rewrite evil events—not new in history or unknown even in the United States—endanger the Jewish people, disgrace faith communities who perpetuate them or choose to remain silent in their presence, and degrade the value of human life everywhere.”   Indeed, we must not be silent when others use their voices to incite violence.

Such rhetoric has another consequence: It makes it difficult to trust other things that the person says.  If President Ahmadinejad has so little regard for the verifiable facts of history and the legitimacy of a state created by UN decision, it is hard to believe he means it when he insists that Iran’s nuclear program is only intended for peaceful purposes.  And as he continues that program in defiance of Security Council resolutions, he also shows his contempt for the community of nations.

The National Council of Churches has, throughout its history, been actively committed to dialogue, even with enemies.  But dialogue cannot be built on the basis of truly reprehensible public positions.  Those who would be peacemakers must know when to say No! to rhetoric that threatens the neighbor.  And now is such a time.

There’s stuff I could quibble with in here, and the tone could be stronger. But overall I appreciate Kinnimon’s rejection of Ahmadinejad, and implicitly of meeting with him (the fact that the NCC was not represented at the dinner shows that that’s what this statement was pointing toward). I applaud Kinnimon for it and hope that it represents a turn toward a more realistic view of world affairs for the NCC.

UPDATE: By way of contrast, here’s what the news story from the World Council of Churches, which was one of the sponsors of the event, had to say:

Critical questions of how religions inform human rights and concerns over human rights violations, nuclear arms, religious oppression, and environmental abuse, in countries including the United States, Israel, Palestine and Iran, were all part of the evening’s dialogue.

“While there were points of contention and clear disagreements, the event reaffirmed that religious traditions insist on dialogue, respect and love for peace making,” Ferguson said.

The latter is the Rev. Christopher Ferguson, executive for the WCC UN liason office. He later summed up the evening’s presentations:

Ferguson, who presented the evening’s summation, noted the commonalities presented by the panel – all affirmed the place of dialogue for engagement, the fundamental place of justice to people of faith, and that our religious traditions direct us to love, dialogue and defend the rights of all persons.

Ferguson also noted that the evening was an example of the place of religion in dialogue and peace building. “In the midst of the current international crisis and tensions it became clear that religious leaders have much to contribute in peace making,” he noted.

This, of course, was two days after Ahmadinejad spewed Protocols of the Elders of Zion-type nonsense all over the UN General Assembly about “Zionist” designs on dominating the world. The story ended with this:

The WCC has a long history of dialogue and relationship building with religious, cultural and political leaders in Iran.

Just as it did with the Soviet Union and every other anti-democratic, anti-Western, anti-Christian regime that it could fawn on. Some things never change.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a group whose work I usually appreciate, organized an effort by several dozen pastors to defy the Internal Revenue Service regulations prohibiting political candidate endorsement from the pulpit. This was presented by the ADF as an initiative to secure freedom of speech for the pulpit, but I think it a foolhardy move on the part of the pastors.

Earlier this week, ADF senior lawyer Erik Stanley said this:

Pastors have a right to speak about Biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of punishment. No one should be able to use the government to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights. If you have a concern about pastors speaking about electoral candidates from the pulpit, ask yourself this: should the church decide that question, or should the IRS?”

ADF is not trying to get politics into the pulpit. Churches can decide for themselves that they either do or don’t want their pastors to speak about electoral candidates. The point of the Pulpit Initiative is very simple: the IRS should not be the one making the decision by threatening to revoke a church’s tax-exempt status. We need to get the government out of the pulpit.

Churches were completely free to preach about candidates from the day that the Constitution was ratified in 1788 until 1954. That’s when the unconstitutional rule known as the “Johnson Amendment” was enacted. Churches are exempt from taxation under the principle that there is no surer way to destroy religion than to begin taxing it. As the U.S. Supreme Court has noted, the power to tax involves the power to destroy. The real effect of the Johnson Amendment is that pastors are muzzled for fear of investigation by the IRS.

Stanley is right about the constitutional history, and the story surrounding the Johnson Amendment (named for author Lyndon Johnson, who wrote it while in the Senate as a way of muzzling non-profits giving him fits back in Texas) is more than a little sordid, and it should be repealed if for no other reason than for being a blight on the freedom of speech. He’s also right about the tax exemption for churches, which isn’t a gift from the government for good social works, but a protection for religious freedom.

All that said, pastors should not have gotten involved in this. It’s true that you can’t bring a court case on an abstract question, but have to have real people with real interests involved, but that’s ADF’s problem. Pastors who are getting into partisan politics in the pulpit are abusing their office and their calling. Preach about moral issues in light of Scripture and theology all you want, but when you get partisan you wind up portraying God as a mere politician. You also, incidentally, buy into the fallacy of the religious left (which contends that they have some kind of mandate to stamp God’s imprimatur on to prudential political, social, and economic measures), since choosing between political candidates is by its very nature a matter of prudential judgment. That’s something that all Christians are called to do as they live as citizens of a democratic polity, but it has no place in the proclamation of God’s eternal Word. By helping the ADF pursue their legal crusade, these pastors are doing an enormous disservice to their congregations, and the ADF is doing one to the churches that it is supposed to be dedicated to serve.

While Quakers, Mennonites, and World Council of Churches reps were yakking with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Thursday, some of the latter’s friends were getting ready to celebrate Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran. According to Agence France-Presse:

Iranians chanted “Death to Israel” on Friday as Islamist students unveiled a book mocking the Holocaust in an Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day annual parade to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

The book “Holocaust,” published by members of Iran’s Islamist Basij militia, features dozens of cartoons and sarcastic commentary.

The cover shows a Jew with a crooked nose and dressed in traditional garb drawing outlines of dead bodies on the ground.

Inside, bearded Jews are shown leaving and re-entering a gas chamber with a counter that reads the number 5,999,999.

Another illustration depicts Jewish prisoners entering a furnace in a Nazi extermination camp and leaving from the other side as gun-wielding “terrorists.”

Yet another shows a patient draped in an Israeli flag and on life support breathing Zyklon-B, the poisonous gas used in the extermination chambers.

The commentary inside the book includes anti-Semitic stereotypes and revisionist arguments, casting doubt that the massacre of Jews took place and mocking Holocaust survivors who claimed reparations after World War II.

One comment, in a question-and-answer format, reads: “How did the Germans emit gas into chambers while there were no holes on the ceiling?” Answer: “Shut up, you criminal anti-Semite. How dare you ask this question?”

So what, you say? This is vile, to be sure, but it’s just a bunch of pin-headed students. The government doesn’t have anything to do with this, does it? Well, here’s the punch line:

Education Minister Alireza Ali-Ahmadi attended the official launch of the book in Tehran’s Palestine Square.

(Via Little Green Footballs.)

I haven’t been able to find anything about last night’s dinner between the Iranian president and various Christian types and others in the mainstream press yet, so I’ll have to go with a story from the Mennonite Central Committee:

Arli Klassen, executive director of Mennonite Central Committee, gave welcoming remarks on behalf of the sponsoring organizations. She lit an oil lamp as a symbol of faith and invited participants to reflect on peacemaking from their own faith perspectives.

“As a Christian, I believe that we are following Jesus Christ’s example and his teaching as we eat together and hold this dialogue despite our many differences,” Klassen said.

Klassen noted several areas of high tension in relations between Iran, the United States and other nations. Addressing President Ahmadinejad, Klassen raised concerns about his statements on the Holocaust and Israel, Iran’s nuclear program and religious freedom in Iran.

“We ask you to find a way within your own country to allow for religious diversity, and to allow people to make their own choices as to which religion they will follow,” Klassen said.

Ahmadinejad will no doubt respond, “you didn’t say ‘please’.” Given recent developments in Iran regarding religious freedom, or rather the lack thereof, this seems like a pretty lame request.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, a leader in the Jewish Renewal movement, spoke about Jewish traditions of peacemaking and nonviolence and drew upon her work for reconciliation between Muslims and Jews and Palestinians and Israelis. She also spoke about the significance of mourning the deaths of all victims of war, including the millions of people killed in the Holocaust, World War II and wars in Iran and Iraq.

“Because of the Holocaust, I learned from the rabbis who ordained and guide me, to be active in preventing further suffering of all human beings as a primary religious call to action,” Gottlieb said.

Rabbi Gottlieb is making the questionable assumption that Iran’s leading anti-Semite believes that the Holocaust took place, or, if it did, that it was a bad thing. As for “preventing further suffering of all human beings,” once again, that’s a meaningless response to the tyranny of Ahmadinejad and his buddies.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, spoke about Islamic principles for alleviating poverty, caring for the environment and working for peace and justice. He encouraged his interreligious audience to cooperate more closely toward these goals.

“Has not God created us?” Awad said. “Yes — and he wants us to work together.”

One can always count on CAIR to try to help others understand and appreciate Islamic fundamentalist dictators.

Although Klassen, the Rev. [Kjell] Bondevik [former prime minister of Norway] and others raised concerns about religious freedoms and human rights in Iran, President Ahmadinejad did not address these issues directly.

Gee, what a surprise.

President Ahmadinejad spoke at length about theological issues, such as monotheism, justice and commonalities among religions.

“All divine prophets have spoken of one truth,” the president said. “The religion of Islam is the same as that offered by Moses.”

Which would be a big surprise to Moses, I suspect.

President Ahmadinejad spoke in broad terms about “challenges facing the human community,” including poverty, declining morality and a lack of religion in public life. He decried the humanitarian costs of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon and spoke extensively about the hardships suffered by Palestinians. He criticized nations such as the United States for maintaining nuclear weapons and did not deviate from his previous statements that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Look! Over there! A bunny!

The evening’s program ran later than scheduled, and President Ahmadinejad departed shortly after concluding his remarks without taking questions from the audience as had been planned.

Again, what a surprise. I can’t help but think that his hosts breathed a heavy sigh of relief when he left, knowing that they were spared the necessity of actually questioning any of his nonsense. I’m sure this evening will soon be trumpeted as a triumph of good-will and dialogue, even if there wasn’t actually any of the latter.

UPDATE: The Layman Online reports that in addition to the sponsors, the PCUSA sent three representatives to the dinner. Joel Hanisek of the PCUSA’s UN office, said that a primary reason for going “revolved around the arrest of an Irani minister who has close ties to the Outreach Foundation, an evangelical mission-sending agency:”

“We will raise the issue of Rev. Soodmand,” Hanisek said, adding that he did not know the minister’s first name. “Rev. Soodman is being detained and is imprisoned by the Iranian government. We are aware that the constitution of Iran grants freedom of religion.”

I hope that Hanisek was able to talk to Ahmadinejad about Pastor Soodmand and win his freedom. Given what we know about the dinner, I’m afraid it was a forlorn hope.

Faith MacDonnell of the Institute on Religion and Democracy writes at FrontPage magazine about the dinner this evening between the president of Iran and his American Christian friends:

Arranging the Iftar at Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt Hotel, accompanied by obsequious verbiage about “the significance of religious contributions to peace,” and “building mutual understanding between our peoples, nations, and religious traditions,” the event’s sponsoring committee is just the latest example of the pattern of Western behavior towards Islam that has been so well described and foretold in the work of Bat Ye’or and others. In some cases, these mainline Christian leaders are toadies, hoping to avert a jihad-level catastrophe by assuming the position as submissive “People of the Book.” In other cases, mainline Christian leaders have reached the point where the doctrines of the Christian faith (for which many Iranian Christians have been willing to die) have no meaning anymore, and all religions are equivalent.

Perhaps it would be worth it to hold your nose and dine with the devil if it meant an opportunity to speak out about Iran’s repression and persecution, to be a voice for those who are suffering, and to demand that Islam offer reciprocity for the freedom of religion and decency of treatment that Muslims have received from Christians, Jews, and Baha’is. With Iran on the verge of a new level of repression, and religious minorities in Iran facing a new level of siege because of the proposed apostasy penal code, an American Christian leader is needed to speak with courage and forthrightness over a dinner plate. To use the phrase that mainline liberal church leaders are so fond of when it comes to attacking George Bush, a prophetic voice to speak truth to power. Ahmadinejad will hear such voices, but he will not hear them in the posh dining rooms of the U.S. mainline church leaders. He will hear them in the prison cells and court rooms of Iran.

Meanwhile, in the Washington Post,

Thursday’s dinner is framed as an “international dialogue” on the topic, “Has Not One God Created Us? The Significance of Religious Contributions to Peace.” President Ahmadinejad has manipulated such dialogues repeatedly into a platform for spreading intolerance, and there is no reason to think that this event will be any different.

It is disturbing enough that a leader who has worked so ruthlessly to close off channels for free expression at home should be given an opening to expound his views here. But the invitation to President Ahmadinejad comes amid a rapidly accelerating deterioration of religious freedom and other human rights in Iran, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions often based on the religion of the accused.

Gaer and Cromartie then recount some of the latest depredations in the Islamic Republic, including religious repression, suppression of political dissent, jailing of journalist, and Holocaust-denial support. They then conclude:

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is convinced that inviting the New York community, UN officials and the media to join him in a dialogue undermines the legitimacy and seriousness of religious contributions to peace. Worse, the invitation offers President Ahmadinejad a new, prestigious podium for espousing his ideology of intolerance.

Another way to put this is to say that the Christian leaders are being as tools, unwitting dupes of a tyrannical regime. Way to go, folks.

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