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Inauguration Day: “The Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever”
By Daniel J. Webster
I am sorry to report that George Bush's second inaugural address did not disappoint me. Our president once again invoked holy scriptures in his speech. He once again used code language for his Christian right-wing power base. He used words of the New Testament, as though they were his, in describing our country.
The president talked about the character of those who govern themselves. In his speech he said, “. . .character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran, and the varied faiths of our people.”
The truths of Sinai are the Ten Commandments – including “Thou shalt not kill.” The Sermon on the Mount are the beatitudes from Jesus – blessed are the peacemakers, it says; not blessed are the peace enforcers. Then he mentions the Koran, which is holy to a religion whose name literally means “peace.”
Well, a lot of people of faith agree with those “holy” words, but they certainly don't agree with the actions of this administration. There are a lot of people of faith who have called this war “unjust and immoral.” Nearly every major religious leader in this country has spoken out against this war.
Our president also continues to use his code language to his conservative Christian audience in a way that at best is plagiarism or at worst is blasphemy.
Our president also continues to use his code language to his conservative Christian audience in a way that at best is plagiarism or at worst is blasphemy. In his speech he said, “Americans move forward in every generation by reaffirming all that is good and true that came before – ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
That last phrase is a speaking tactic he's used before. Any of his fundamentalist Christian supporters would immediately hear the words of the New Testament (Hebrews 13:8), “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.”
If our president really believed that our national “ideals of justice and conduct” equated to the person of Jesus Christ, our country would not be spending billions of dollars killing people in an unjust, immoral war.
Our country would be lifting up the workers who make our clothes in the sweatshops of third world countries freeing them from their economic bondage.
Our country would be working with other nations to protect our island we all inhabit in space . . . this planet earth that cries out for environmental justice.
Our country would be turning its “swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks,” as the prophet Isaiah tells us in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Our country would be working hard at eliminating poverty and hunger as the wealthiest nation on earth. And we certainly would not be a country that tortures human beings in the name of “homeland security,” in violation of international laws and the laws of God.
An Episcopal priest, Matthew Fox, wrote an article about this dangerous blend of government and religion:
Fascism seems to need religion, wrapping itself in religious piety to foster feelings of pious sentiment and self-righteousness. Its God is the God of Authoritarianism. It is in this context that the late theologian Dorothy Soelle wrote of a new “Christofascism” coming to the fore in our day.
Recently a political scientist, Dr. Lawrence Britt, wrote [of] fourteen characteristics of fascism. He based his study on an examination of the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Suharto and Pinochet. (For the record, four of these men were Roman Catholics never excommunicated by their church.)
A summary of Dr. Britt's points follows.
One does not have to be paranoid to see these elements alive and well in the United States. . .
Here's but one example of the controlled mass media. Last October, several Utahns raised a lot of money to place a full-page ad in Salt Lake City's two daily newspapers.
When the local newspaper ad company for the newspapers saw the [“God is not a Republican or a Democrat”] ad, we were told it did not qualify for the nonprofit ad rate. We were told it would cost twice what we were originally quoted.
The ad says, “God is not a Republican or a Democrat.” It was placed in several newspapers around the country by Sojourners, an evangelical Christian group in Washington, D.C., that advocates for the poor. It is a nonprofit organization. When the local newspaper ad company for the newspapers saw the ad, we were told it did not qualify for the nonprofit ad rate. We were told it would cost twice what we were originally quoted. By the way, Sojourners said Salt Lake City was the only city where that happened.
Our challenge as faithful peacemakers is great. We must write or call our elected representatives. We must tell them as people of faith that this war is immoral and does not make us safer. It only provides an illusion of security.
We must consider nonviolent peaceful actions that will get our message to those in power. For some of us it might mean war tax resistance, peace vigils or public demonstrations.
For people of faith, we must always keep in mind the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.
The Rev. Daniel J. Webster is director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. A media veteran and peace activist in the church, he writes a regular online column for The Witness . Dan may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .