PASADENA — A group of Fuller Theological Seminary professors, saying they are responding to a “grave moral crisis’ in America, are signing a statement opposing President Bush’s alleged convergence of God, church and nation and what they call his “theology of war.
Glen Stassen, Fuller’s Louis B. Smedes professor of Christian ethics, said Bush’s religious rhetoric confuses the cause of Christianity with that of a nation at war.
For instance, in Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address the president labeled Iran, Iraq and North Korea the “axis of evil,’ Stassen said.
“Calling the three nations the ‘axis of evil’ and refusing to acknowledge any errors that he has made, that sets up a dichotomy between righteous United States and unrighteous ‘axis of evil,’ ‘ Stassen said. “… It leads to a crusade in which Christians think the Christian thing to do is support war-making against an allegedly unrighteous enemy.’
The statement of beliefs, called “Confessing Christ in a World of Violence,’ criticizes Bush’s use of scripture in a speech on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Bush described the hope offered by America by saying, “… the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness will not overcome it.’
The statement began circulating among the faculty Tuesday, Stassen said. Its assertions include the claim that Jesus Christ knows no national boundaries, that Christians should have a strong presumption against war and that Christians should exercise humility, which would temper political disagreements.
About 20 professors have signed it, though it has not made the full rounds at Fuller, Stassen said. Stassen expects that almost all of the seminary’s 80 full-time professors will sign it. Fuller is the largest evangelical seminary in the country.
The current confession is not the first time Fuller professors have publicly objected to Bush. About 40 faculty members signed a September 2002 letter opposing Bush’s statements about a unilateral pre-emptive war in Iraq. Bush is now campaigning on pre-emptive war and using Christian language in the process, Stassen said.
The Fuller educators are part of a national movement of theologians and ethicists who are signing the document. They are being organized by Stassen, George Hunsinger of Princeton Theological Seminary, Richard B. Hays of Duke Divinity School, Richard Pierard of Gordon College and Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine.
The same five leaders endorsed a recent ad campaign in the national media that proclai “God is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat.’
Dan Palm, political science chair at Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical Christian school, said the statement is not something he would sign. Palm said his primary critique of the statement is that it’s a caricature of the Religious Right that seems designed to get politically liberal Christians out to vote.
Palm especially objected to a paragraph that suggested pastors are not preaching about teachings of Jesus such as “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.’
“I think that’s really a low, cheap shot,’ Palm said. “I think there’s room for honest disagreement among Christians for when the right time is for using military force.’
Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, a conservative political organization based in Monrovia, said the movement opposing Bush’s religious rhetoric sounds like it has a left-wing agenda.
“It sounds like these Fuller professors are trying to use religion to their own political end,’ he said.
Spence said that Bush’s use of religious imagery is no different than any other president’s.
Ronald Reagan’s “City on a Hill’ speech was clearly a biblically based vision for the future, he said.
Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton also frequently used religious imagery, he said.
Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, said he won’t sign the statement because he doesn’t want to appear partisan. Mouw said he has critiques of both presidential candidates.
Mouw doesn’t oppose Bush’s claims that God favors freedom, but said “it’s always dangerous for a nation to see itself as God’s appointed agent in the world.’
Mouw, who opposed the war in Iraq, said he doesn’t know Bush’s intentions, but said his language resonates with evangelical Christians, some of whom consider him to be speaking for God.
There’s a danger in the Christian community of people being uncritical in their endorsement of American interests, he said.
According to a recent study on religion and politics from the University of Akron, 68 percent of Americans want a president to have strong religious beliefs and 63 percent are comfortable when candidates discuss their faith.