Political Hay

Fellow Methodist Demands Bush Impeachment

The chief political spokesman for President Bush's denomination has unfriendly words for Methodism's most prominent parishioner.

By 5.30.06

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WASHINGTON -- "Impeach President Bush!" urged Jim Winkler, head of the Capitol Hill-based United Methodist Board of Church and Society. Winkler was speaking earlier this spring here in town to an "Ecumenical Advocacy Days" rally for liberal religious activists, organized by the National Council of Churches, mainline denominations, several left-wing Catholic orders, and Jim Wallis's Sojourners group.

Winkler, ostensibly a spokesman for 8 million United Methodists, whose numbers include both Bush and Vice President Cheney, said impeachment is the correct response to an "illegal war of aggression" that was "sold on lies." He also cited the NSA's "spy program," which he insisted is "unconstitutional."

"These are actions far more serious than a failed land deal on the White River or a sexual indiscretion with a White House intern," Winkler said, comparing Bush to Clinton, whose impeachment was never urged by Winkler's agency. Had the Iraq war been led by John Kerry or Al Gore, Winkler surmised, the "Limbaughs and Gingriches of the world would be screaming for their impeachment."

Winkler insisted that Bush's removal was a religious imperative: "When I speak it is my desire to bring about the transformation of people and systems in order to advance the Kingdom of God even when it is painful."

It is not clear how many church members Winkler actually speaks for. Polls show that most church going mainline Protestants voted for Bush, though his sagging poll numbers undoubtedly have affected his overall support. Still, it is doubtful that most United Methodists, two-thirds of whom call themselves conservative, want their church funding a liberal lobby office on Capitol Hill.

THE UNITED METHODIST BUILDING, which is run by Winkler's agency, sits prominently across the U.S. Capitol and U.S. Supreme Court. It was built 85 years ago to advocate temperance and Methodist-style clean living When the last of the old temperance activists were fading away in the early 1960s, the building was transferred over to the current liberal lobby group, with the stipulation that it be devoted to fighting alcohol abuse.

Energized by the radicalism of the 1960s, the church's new lobby office had little interest in temperance. Instead, the United Methodist Building became the headquarters of the Religious Left in the nation's capital. The Methodist lobby group, along with other liberal religious lobby agencies, pushes for an ever larger welfare and regulatory state, ultra-environmentalist causes, abortion rights, and opposition to a vigorous U.S. foreign and military policy.

Winkler's $5 million agency, staffed by two dozen people, strives to be "prophetic" rather than actually represent the still largely conservative church membership. Very unlike most of his fellow Methodists, Winkler insists on an absolutist form of pacifism and portrays the United States as the world's main villain.

"Now, we are widely hated and despised," Winkler noted, probably with some pleasure. "Despite the President's insistence he was placed in office by God for this moment, there was nothing Christian in his response to September 11."

According to Winkler in his impeachment speech, the "war on terror...has brought disaster." He cited the usual litany of complaints about "secret prisons" and "widespread spying," but remarkably omitted a few positives: the Taliban and Saddam Hussein are gone, Afghanistan and Iraq have elected governments, and the United States has gone five years without a second major domestic attack.

STRAINING TO MAKE HIS CASE that the U.S. is evil, Winkler repeated the old canard that even though it was the Khmer Rouge who killed millions of their fellow Cambodians in a communist holocaust in the 1970s, it was actually America's fault. "The terror they unleashed would likely not ever have taken place if not for the terror the U.S. unleashed on Cambodia," Winkler smugly asserted. Yes, the U.S. struck at communist Vietnamese who had invaded Cambodia to exploit it as a refuge for attacking U.S. and South Vietnamese forces. According to left-wing folklore, this action so enraged the Khmer Rouge that they went genocidal after seizing power several years later, deposing a government that the U.S. supported.

Winkler would prefer not to mention that the Religious Left, like the secular Left, denounced the U.S. for helping the resistance to a Khmer Rouge take-over, and for many years refused to acknowledge the Khmer Rouge's horrendous crimes. But that would disrupt his anti-U.S. thesis.

"Not only has our nation failed to accept responsibility for the consequences of many of our actions -- invasions, coups, assassinations, and slaughters -- we deny our guilt or complicity," Winkler complained. He suggested that "our denominations," i.e. the Religious Left, should lead a "truth and reconciliation commission" to reveal the "past half-century of mistakes." In contrast, most Americans recall that over the last 50 years, America rebuilt Europe and Japan while successfully leading the Free World to success against the Soviet Empire, and helped to create a global economy that has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. But Winkler ignored that bit of good news.

The "real" axis of evil is not Iran, Saddam's old Iraq and North Korea, Winkler mentioned, but rather "environmental degradation, pandemic poverty, and a world awash in weapons." Alas, President Bush "denies global warming, refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol, takes from the poor and gives to the rich, and does nothing to halt the arms trade." So he must be impeached!

Winkler derided the "many intelligence agencies" in the U.S. that are actually "the secret police." He also urged an 80 percent cut in U.S. military spending and insisted on nuclear disarmament. "When was the last time you heard a president of the United States or other major elected leaders express this vision?" he asked sarcastically. Well, actually President Reagan expressed exactly that vision of a world free of nuclear weapons when he promoted the Strategic Defense Initiative. But undoubtedly Reagan is not a hero to Winkler.

AT THE END OF HIS speech, Winkler got theological. "Jesus Christ, if not a pacifist himself, would certainly resemble Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King in terms of his political strategies," Winkler declared. "Like Gandhi and King, Jesus understood power and like them he built a power base. That's why the Romans executed him."

There, in a capsule, is the Religious Left notion of Jesus: a savvy organizer who had "political strategies," "understood power," and "built a power base," for which he suffered capital punishment by the regime of His day. This notion of Jesus more resembles Salvador Allende than the Savior of the world recognizable to most Christians, who recall that Jesus, who carefully avoided political statements, was killed for His audacity in claiming deity for Himself.

"The war ON terror is a war OF terror," Winkler cleverly concluded his Bush impeachment talk. It would be tempting to call the ostensibly "prophetic" Winkler a false prophet, but false prophets at least had audiences. The President may indeed have many worries ahead, but denunciations from bureaucrats of his own denomination should not number among them.

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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.