Op-Ed submitted to the Charleston (WV)Gazette
A Caution Against Blasphemy
William Boyd Grove

Webster defines blasphemy as “profane or contemptuous speech, writing, or
action concerning God or anything held as divine.” To commit blasphemy is to
trivialize holy things for unholy purpose.  It is, for instance, to violate the
second commandment which states “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of
the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his
name."(Exodus 20:7-NRSV). I write this column not as a political partisan, although
as a citizen I have a political point of view, but as a bishop of the church
who is compelled by my consecration to caution against blasphemy, in defense of
the Bible and biblical faith.

Blasphemy is running rampant in our country as this election campaign
proceeds, trivializing holy things as it moves on.  The latest instance of it was the
distribution by the Republican National Committee, in West Virginia and
Arkansas, of a brochure with a picture of a Bible with the word banned across it,
and another with the hands of two men with a wedding ring with the word
allowed across it.  The implication is that the election of Senator Kerry would
lead to the banning of the Bible and the approval of same-sex marriage.  Those
who distributed the brochure know that the claim is not true and not possible.
The first amendment to the United States Constitution would not allow it, and
Senator Kerry’s election would not lead to it.  The brochure is not only
insulting to the intelligence of West Virginians, targeted to the stereotype of
Appalachians as “dumb hillbillies,” it is blasphemous; it is “ profane and
contemptuous writing concerning God and the Bible.”

Clergy usually do not take public, partisan positions in an election.  I
have never before done so in more than fifty years of ministry as a pastor and a
bishop.  But in this election, the use of false teaching concerning scripture
and the Christian faith by a political campaign demands response from
religious leaders. Bishops in our church are charged to “guard, transmit, teach, and
proclaim ...the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and
tradition....” My goal in this column is to “guard the apostolic faith as it is
expressed in Scripture” against those who are distorting and manipulating its
teachings for political gain.

It is now widely believed that, of course, nearly all persons of religious
faith will vote for President Bush.  That “conventional wisdom” has originated
in the Republican party and been advanced by an uncritical media.  The claim
is not correct, and the statistics supporting it have been distorted and
oversimplified.  The “religious right” is not the only voice of religious faith in
this country!

The issues on which the religious right has focused in this campaign are
almost solely abortion and same- sex marriage.  While those are important issues
which need and deserve discussion, they are not the only, or even the
primary, issues to which the Bible is relevant.  On the other issues in the
campaign, the President’s policies are not in accord with Biblical teaching, or with
the teaching of his own church.

The media has made much of the fact that Senator Kerry’s position on abortion
contradicts the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, and as a result, some
bishops may deny him the Eucharist.  Why does the media not investigate
whether or not President Bush’s policies are consistent with the teachings of his
church, the United Methodist Church?` Such an investigation would reveal that
the President’s policies are contrary to the Social Principles of his church
(official church teaching), and to the broad consensus of ecumenical church
teaching on many significant issues.  I will name only three.

+ War and Peace.  The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, and
the dominant position among the churches of the world is that war is always a
last resort.  Last resort is the first of seven criteria of Just War doctrine,
which is the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.  Preemptive war,
now a part of official US government policy, can never be justified by
church doctrine.

+Care of the environment, or, to use biblical /theological language,
“stewardship of creation.” According to Genesis 2:15, the human was made responsible
for the creation “to till it and to keep it.” The Social Principles of the
President’s church declares “All creation is the Lord’s and we are responsible
for the ways in which we use and abuse it.  Water, air, minerals, energy
resources, plants, animal life are to be valued and conserved because they are
God’s creation, and not solely because they are useful to human beings.” In
violation of this teaching, the policies of the administration have rolled back
legislation protecting the environment that has been in force for many years
under presidents of both parties, and our government has refused to sign
international treaties on global warming and other threats to the environment.

+Concern for the poor.  According to Luke 4:16 Jesus, quoting the prophet
Isaiah, said “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has sent me to bring
good news to the poor.” The teaching of the President’s church seeks
fulfillment of that promise to “bring good news to the poor.” However, these last
years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of persons living in poverty in
the United States and millions have been added to the number without health
care. The gap between the wealthy on the one hand, and the middle class and the
poor on the other, has increased each year, under the policies of the
government which has brought good news only to the wealthy.

Not only are the policies of this government in conflict with scripture and
the teachings of the President’s church, but President Bush has been unwilling
to listen to the counsel of religious leaders unless he knows in advance that
they agree with him.  Being open to other points of view within the Christian
community is one of the marks of mature Christian life.  The bishops of the
President’s church have repeatedly and unsuccessfully sought a meeting with the
President. He is only the second President since Washington who has refused to
have a discussion with Methodist bishops.  In the run-up to the invasion of
Iraq, the National Council of Churches sent small delegations of Catholic,
Orthodox and Protestant leaders to meet with the leaders of Great Britain,
France, Germany, Russia, the Vatican and the United States of America.  In nearly
all of those visits the delegation met with the head of state.  Of those
governments, only the President of the United States and his administration refused
to receive a delegation.  Tony Blair, despite his support of the war, spent
over an hour with the delegation, listening to its point of view.

I do not question President Bush’s personal faith.  But he has not studied
the scriptures in relation to issues of justice and peace, or else he has
ignored those teachings. The result, in my judgment, is that he has allowed his
religious beliefs, dominated by his political ideology, to make him absolutely
certain that he is right, and unwilling to listen to other voices.  He is slow
to admit a mistake on any issue of substance, because he believes his
decisions are just and righteous.  The dogged determination and “staying on message,”
that some so admire, is self righteous and very dangerous.  It casts the
current struggle against terrorism in “holy war” terms as a conflict between
absolute good on one side and absolute evil on the other, the same perspective held
by the terrorists.  The issues are between good and evil.  The methods of
the terrorists are evil.  But it is very dangerous for us to see ourselves as
totally righteous.  A mature understanding of scripture could help the President
to avoid the arrogance and hubris that have so offended the rest of the
world.  And in such a situation, to exploit, distort and manipulate religion for
political advantage is blasphemous.  It is to trivialize the holy for self
serving purpose.

Religious talk can be very cheap.  Jesus said “Not everyone who says to me ‚Äò
Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the
will of my father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) What is the will of “my father
in heaven?” That is a huge question.  The President and his campaign would do
well to reflect on that question, and to avoid the tendency to believe that
they already know the answers.  They might also consult with others who have
studied the question who might have a different point of view.  And meanwhile,
they should be careful to avoid the sin of blasphemy.

William Boyd Grove is a retired bishop of the United Methodist Church living in Charleston

Posted by Nuttshell on 10/22 at 06:07 PM in Religion / Sprituality

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