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* Gay Rights: The UCC has made much of its stand at the national level supporting same-sex marriage and gay rights in America. Yet In Ahmadinejad’s Iran homosexuality is a crime punishable by death, with frequent documented reports of the execution of gays.
* Freedom of Religion: The Christian Post reports that on September 9 — which is to say barely two weeks ago — the Iranian parliament has approved a bill that makes “apostasy” a crime punishable by death. The Post also reports that six Protestant pastors have been assassinated, with one executed under the pretense that he was an “American spy.”
* State Sponsor of Terrorism: The U.S. State Department terms Iran as the “central banker for terrorism in important regions like Lebanon through Hezbollah in the Middle East, in the Palestinian Territories.”
In short, other than the fact he has repeatedly expressed an urge to mass murder Jews, denies the Holocaust, is scheming to get nuclear weapons to accomplish that murder, shrugs at the stoning of women, gives his blessing to hanging gays, thinks non-believers should be executed and bankrolls homicidal maniacs throughout the Middle East, what’s the problem with breaking bread with Mr. Ahmadinejad? Did we mention the role of Iran in killing American soldiers in Iraq?
A CALL TO RELIGIONS OF PEACE was greeted with the news that the group would not be releasing the names of attendees for “security reasons,” a somewhat odd problem to have for participants if they are simply chowing down with the leader of a country who is passionately devoted to the same ideals. It is very disturbing that repeated requests to the leadership offices of the United Church of Christ to inquire whether there would be personal participation in this dinner by UCC president Thomas, listed as a member of the group’s “Council of Presidents” and/or the UCC’s Dr. Margaret Blamberg, who is listed as a member of the group’s Executive Council, or for that matter any other UCC official, was met with the Nixon-like stonewall.
To be frank, that the leadership of the United Church of Christ would even hesitate to condemn this dinner, to disassociate itself from its sponsors or even question20what kind of company it is keeping is and should be very, very troubling. At a minimum this kind of thing gives the impression to the world that the UCC is OK with the annihilation of Israel, believes Holocaust denying is acceptable conduct for a head of state, believes the rights of women and the lives of gays are just not that big a deal outside the cozy confines of a General Synod meeting in America and that those who quite deliberately are serving as “the central banker” for terrorism — which is to say the bag man for all manner of Middle Eastern murderers and thugs — are, well, not the business of a respectable Mainline Protestant church. It also sends a message to members of the UCC who have sons and daughters serving in Iraq. The message? That the national leadership is unconcerned at the idea of either sitting down for a religious meal with the man who is actively trying to kill their sons and daughters — or of lending the prestige name of the church to those that do.
The spiritual heirs of abolitionists will not be found here.
In the words of one of my church’s favorite theologians, Reinhold Niebuhr, who was troubled enough to write in 1940 of the appeasement approach of many liberals to the original Hitler, it is a seriously bad idea not to understand “what it means to meet a resolute foe who is intent upon either your annihilation or enslavement.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad has made his intentions clear. Even as this is written Iran is being thrust down a path that can only lead to horror. Whatever the response of the United States government, of the Bush administration or a potential Obama or McCain administration, the role of the United Church of Christ is to be, as Martin Luther King once said, a “drum major for justice.”
There is neither justice nor peace in Mr. Ahmadinejad’s quest for a second mass murder of the Jews. There is no peace in his relentless quest for nuclear weapons. There is no justice in his brutal treatment of Iranian women or gays. This evening, as the tyrant glides up to the Grand Hyatt, he will be greeted by a protest from men and women of all faiths. Beth Gilinsky, the leader of Women United, has quite remarkably brought under one tent a force of unlikely allies who will be carrying that drum major’s baton together. From Iranian women to American Catholics, from Jews to Southern Baptists, from defenders of Traditional Values to the gay Log Cabin Republicans, from Arabs to a member of the Israeli Knesset to members of America’s 911 families.
But not, it appears, a single leader representing the United Church of Christ.
And in that, there is shame.
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. A newly elected member of the UCC’s Penn Central Conference Board of Directors and a UCC church Council president, he writes from Pennsylvania.
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