Special Report

Music to Cynics’ Ears

The National Council of Churches latches on to the Baker-Hamilton report. But contrast the NCC's tone to, say, that of the well-meaning Catholic bishops.

By 12.7.06

Send to Kindle

Ever in search of relevance, the National Council of Churches (NCC) has latched onto the Iraq Study Group report as a validation of its own chronic anti-war stance.

"The recommendations in the Iraq Study Group Report generally resonate with recommendations made by church leaders through the NCC," insisted a quick NCC news release. "While no set of recommendations can right all of the wrongs evolving from the Iraq war, this report does lay groundwork for an end to the war that all sides can find acceptable."

Well, not quite. Ostensibly, the Iraq Study Group advocates a return to "realism," stepping away from ambitious plans of democracy promotion, drawing down the U.S. troop presence in Iraq in favor of Iraqi forces, and attempting to entice Iran and Syria into negotiations, though admitting they are unlikely to be very helpful.

This is not quite what the NCC, as chief Cassandra of the Religious Left, has long advocated: quick and complete U.S. withdrawal, irrespective of the consequences for Iraq, the region and the U.S. The NCC's chief, former Democratic Congressman Bob Edgar, likes to boast that he served in the same U.S. Congress that refused aid to the drowning South Vietnamese government in 1975 as invading North Vietnamese troops were pouring south.

Congress's refusal ensured that all of Indochina would be Communist. The consequence was the 1.7 million victim genocide in Cambodia, tens of thousands murdered in South Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of refugees, and decades of police states, reeducation camps, and enforced poverty in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

But the war was over! This, for Edgar, and most of the anti-war left, was more important than the horrific consequences of the "peace." That the U.S. was defeated was an added benefit. In similar fashion, Edgar's NCC defines the "war" in Iraq as simply the intrusive U.S. presence. That a precipitous withdrawal may simply enlarge the war and the killing among Iraq's contending sects does not seem to seriously concern the church council.

Just as Edgar and the NCC of 30 years ago did not care about human rights in a Communist Indochina, they do not care today about human rights in Iraq, despite their much vaunted humanitarianism. They were never interested in the atrocities of Saddam Hussein, and they will not be interested in any murder or mayhem wreaked by Islamist forces in a future Iraq.

In its last condemnation of the war, released in November, the NCC portrayed the whole enterprise of overthrowing Saddam's dictatorship and building a democracy as a "lapse in moral leadership," underpinned by a "pattern of deception both in the arguments made by the Administration leading up to the war, as well as during the conduct of the war." It labeled all justifications of the war as "false or ill-considered," fueled by a "pattern of deception." Revealingly, among the NCC's litany of misbegotten rationales for the Iraq operation was the "desirability of planting a new democracy in the Middle East."

The NCC boasted that it had opposed the U.S. "invasion" from the start, along with Roman Catholic and other church leaders. "Our view of this war in Iraq is informed by our belief that war is contrary to the will of God, and an affront to God's creation," the NCC explained. It insisted that the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein violated its member churches "clear ethical norms."

There was no mention by the NCC of any "clear ethical norms" violated by the Saddam regime, or by the insurgents and militias now committing mass murder in Iraq. Instead, it only focused on "what befalls a country that takes the path of arrogance, self-righteousness, and even hubris." The arrogant country in question is, of course, the United States.

THE NCC DRESSED UP ITS LATEST anti-war salvo manifesto as a "pastoral letter" from its General Assembly, striving for an ecclesial dignity that the document does not deserve. In a further reach for legitimacy, it also specifically cited the shared opposition of the Roman Catholic hierarchy to the Iraq war.

But the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops released is own statement on Iraq in November, quite different in tone and substance from the NCC's pretentiously titled "pastoral letter." The bishops called for a "responsible transition" in Iraq, commended the "heroic sacrifices" of U.S. military personnel, supported Iraqi democracy, stressed the importance of religious freedom, expressed specific concern about beleaguered Iraqi Christians, and observed that Iraq had suffered under a "cruel" dictator.

The Catholic bishops offered their prayers, both for the "suffering people" of Iraq, and for "our military personnel (unlike the NCC's studied avoidance of any possessive pronouns when describing the "occupying" troops). The bishops also referenced Iraq's "sectarian strife, civil insurgency and terrorist attacks." This is unlike the NCC, which referenced violence only as caused by the U.S. intervention.

Acknowledging past "miscalculations" in the war, the bishops also recognized "positive advances" such as Iraqi elections. Referring to their own "grave moral concerns" about the U.S. invasion, the bishops recommended that the U.S. military remain only as long as they contribute to a "responsible transition." That transition should include, they said, curbing terrorism and sectarian violence, fostering economic reconstruction, strengthening the rule of law, and further developing political structures that advance "stability, political participation, and respect for religious freedom and basic human rights." The NCC, unlike the bishops, never referenced the last two items.

"We are alarmed by the deteriorating situation of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq," the bishops declared. The NCC never expressed specific concern about Iraqi Christians. The bishops said they are "grateful for [the U.S. military's] "heroic sacrifices on behalf of the Iraqi people." They offered prayers for "those who honorably serve our nation" in Iraq and for all Iraqis, who had "suffered so greatly under a brutal dictator."

In the NCC statement, prayer was unmentioned. Instead, the NCC promised what it prefers over prayer: further "bold and public witness" against the war in "public settings."

Whatever its merits or faults, the Iraq Study Group is not guided by reflexive hostility to the United States. In their statement, the Catholic bishops loftily still express hope for a democratic Iraq. But the NCC, while trying to align itself politically with the bishops and the study group, offers nothing but cynicism and spiteful contempt for its own country.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.