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I hate formality, don’t you? Let’s just re-do the invite in good, old fashioned American style.
Hey gang! Hitler’s coming to town and we’re throwing him a party! Want to come?
Let’s start the focus here with some of the American “religious leaders” involved in this dark little soiree “in the presence of” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Their organizations are listed as follows: American Friends Service Committee, Mennonite Central Committee, Quaker United Nations Office, Religions for Peace and the World Council of Churches.
Of those (and the Mennonite Central Committee deserves special mention as a leader in the blame-Israel-first crowd), two groups — Religions for Peace and the World Council of Churches — involve my own denomination, the United Church of Christ. You may have heard of the UCC in this space before. It is the home denomination for Senator Barack Obama’s now ex-church, Trinity UCC in Chicago. For that matter, while Obama has since left Trinity because of his famous dust-up with Trinity’s retired pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, he has given no indication that he has decided to leave the larger UCC denomination. He remains still, until he decides otherwise, a UCC member. Obama has said clearly he will make no decision on his future UCC membership until after the election, sending a clear message that the UCC’s political antics are simply too much baggage for him to worry about during the campaign. And doubtless hopes that no one notices the remaining connection. This is, apparently, the religious version of voting “present” in the Illinois State Senate, for the Senator has said not a critical word of his denomination’s relationship to the Ahmadinejad dinner. Presumably he sees nothing wrong with the dinner just as he saw nothing wrong with his primary pledge to meet with the Iranian leader were he, Obama, to win the White House.
But whether Obama is afraid to step up to the plate with his own denomination or not, someone from the United Church of Christ needs to be directing questions at the UCC’s leadership over the church’s role in this disgraceful event. Specifically, UCC president the Reverend John Thomas should be responding to the fact he has allowed the name of one of America’s oldest and most treasured Protestant faiths — the faith of the Pilgrims and Jonathan Edwards and the abolitionists — to be even remotely associated with the groups staging this dinner.
Let’s be crystal clear. The inability or outright refusal to denounce this gathering and publicly separate the UCC from both the event itself and its organizers is a failure of leadership from the UCC on one of the most important moral issues of our day.
Most troubling, this is not the first time that the United Church of Christ has been trucking in some fashion with the kind of sentiments expressed by one of the world’s leading haters of Jews. As reported here last April, the national leadership of the UCC has come close to completely rupturing the denomination’s relationship with the American Jewish community. Its ties to the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, a radical Palestinian Christian group whose leadership has not only questioned the right of Israel to exist but refers to the creation of the Jewish state as “Al Nakba” or “The Catastrophe,” have caused intense Jewish anger. In 2007 the UCC was the target of a furious statement issued by eight major American Jewish organizations for what was politely termed imbalance towards Israel. One group went so far as to label the UCC “functionally anti-Semitic.”
Particularly puzzling is that way back in October 2005 Thomas and several UCC colleagues reacted sharply and properly to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s now infamous boast that he intended to have Israel “wiped off the map.” The UCC was thus on record that the remark was “hateful,” “violent” and “never acceptable in political discourse.” Yet sentiments freshly expressed by the Iranian leader, repeated as recently as August, that “we will witness dismantling of the corrupt regime in a very near future,” have only added to the portrait of a murderous tyrant determined to achieve two things: the possession of nuclear weapons and the use of those weapons on Israel. Under these circumstances, the reluctance of the UCC leadership to draw the line at being associated in any way, shape, or form with religious groups that are breaking bread with a man who many see as a modern-day Hitler is startling to say the least.
WHY SHOULD UCC MEMBERS be up in arms about all of this? Here’s a snapshot of Mr. Ahmadinejad and life in Iran these days.
* Israel: As mentioned, Mr. Ahmadinejad is on record saying that the State of Israel should be “wiped off the map,” is a “stinking corpse” that should be destroyed and is already “on its way to annihilation.”
* The Holocaust: Ahmadinejad has stated the Holocaust is “the myth of the massacre of Jews.”
* Nuclear weapons: The UN’s nuclear agency has now said its efforts to keep Ahmadinejad’s Iran from achieving a nuclear capability has reached a “dead end.”
* Women’s Rights: According to Paul Marshall and Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom two women in Tehran are “currently due to be stoned to death on allegations of adultery.” This is part of a broader assault on women’s rights that includes beatings, lashings, and imprisonment if caught advocating for women’s issues.
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