- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2002

If the terrorists America is currently fighting were to employ a public relations agency, they could hardly do better than the statements of Protestant clerics and religious bureaucrats.

Consider, for example, Vernon Broyles III, associate director for social justice and associate for corporate witness in the National Ministries Division of the Presbyterian Church USA, the man responsible for theologically framing national and social issues for his denomination.

Four days after September 11, the Rev. Broyles found a moral equivalence between those who attacked the World Trade Center and those they attacked. He questioned whether it was even appropriate to ask whether the incineration of several thousand innocent civilians from dozens of nations was an act of terrorism, a term he puts in dismissive quotes, when the United States once bombed cities in Japan.

The September 11 perpetrators, in fact, were not "terrorists" at all, the Presbyterian official wrote, but "part of a guerrilla fighting force that uses the methods typical of every guerrilla army in history that is fighting against a force far superior to their own."

These guerrillas were motivated by grievances that the Rev. Broyles thought were legitimate. The problem was that "we have ignored many people suffering injustice at the hands of those we support."

In late October of last year, while the ruins of the towers still smoldered, the Justice and Ministries Board of the United Church of Christ charged that the "war on terrorism," again in dismissive quotes, was being used "to justify a rushed legislative agenda in Congress, some of which is irrelevant to the crisis and which includes, for example, fast track authority on trade treaties, authorization for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wilderness Area, expansion of Plan Colombia, and other foreign military investments, promotion of the National Missile Defense System, and tax cuts which ignore the needs of the poor."

Further, "unrestrained federal spending since September 11, focused on military retaliation and anti-terrorism measures, threatens to further weaken economic protection for the poor and elderly, including prescription drug relief for the elderly, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Social Security benefits, health care and other programs." In addition, "Low wage workers, especially immigrants, are losing their jobs by the thousands everyday in industries impacted by the war and the global economic recession."

Like other major American denominations, the United Methodists avoided direct condemnation of those responsible for the September 11 attacks. Barely a month had passed before the Methodist General Board of Church and Society rejected the use of military force to fight "criminal" acts of terror.

Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), to which more than 30 American denominations belong, condemned the U.S. war on terrorism. This should come as no surprise since, in its heyday, the WCC functioned as Soviet lobby and anti-American echo chamber.

With the end of the Cold War, the First Church of Christ Socialist has paled, though Cuba remains its favored regime and model of social justice. The anti-American demonology remains, stronger than ever.

Protestant bureaucracies remain a kind of interlocking directorate of the religious left, for whom anti-Americanism is more theological than political. In these quarters, the sins of America will always receive more attention than those of terrorists.

The rank and file in the pews of America might want to consider how much of their weekly offering goes toward subsidizing anti-American boilerplate. The media might take a break from sex scandals in the Catholic Church and focus on what politicized Protestants call "speaking prophetically."

During the Cold War, this mode of discourse was a fact-free zone that featured a moral equivalence between freedom and un-freedom. Now it features a moral equivalence between terror and its victims. This is loathsome nonsense, and national policy-makers should refuse to give it the slightest credence.


Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley, a journalist based in Sacramento, is author of "From Mainline to Sideline, the Social Witness of the National Council of Churches."


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