Sep 282005
 

I have, several times in the past, called on the U.S. Bishops of the United Methodist Church, to write George Bush and denounce the practice of government sponsored torture. To the best of my knowledge, only five have done so. In light of the recent revelations, I am, again, calling on these Christian leaders to denounce toture. I will be much aggressive this time in that I plan to make a phone call to each.

I have previously posted the contact information for the fifty U.S. Bishops in PDF and Excel format. I ask you to join me in calling on them to write the White House, and take a stand against torture.

Dear Bishop:

Most Americans agree that torture should not be permitted. Few seem aware, though, that although President George W. Bush says he is against torture, he has openly declared that our military and other interrogators may engage in torture “consistent with military necessity.”

Are we, as Methodist charged by our founding principles to be socially responsible, going to continue to close our eyes – even as this behavior continues to be exposed?

We have come a long way since Virginia patriot Patrick Henry loudly insisted that the rack and the screw were barbaric practices that must be left behind in the Old World, “or we are lost and undone.” Can the leaders of Methodism consult their own consciences with respect to what Justice may require of them in denouncing torture as passionately as the patriots who founded our nation?

On September 24, The New York Times ran a detailed report regarding the kinds of “routine” torture that US servicemen and women have been ordered to carry out (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/24/politics/24abuse.html). This week’s Time also has an article on the use of torture by US forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. Those two articles are based on a new report from Human Rights Watch, a report that relies heavily on the testimony of a West Point graduate, an Army Captain who has had the courage to speak out. A Pentagon spokesman has dismissed the report as “another predictable report by an organization trying to advance an agenda through the use of distortion and errors of fact.” Judge for yourselves; the report can be found at (http://hrw.org/reports/2005/us0905/). Grim but required reading.

See if you can guess the author of the following:

“In this land that has inherited through our forebears the noblest understandings of the rule of law, our government has deliberately chosen the way of barbarism…

There is a price to be paid for the right to be called a civilized nation. That price can be paid in only one currency – the currency of human rights…When this currency is devalued a nation chooses the company of the world’s dictatorships and banana republics. I indict this government for the crime of taking us into that shady fellowship.

The rule of law says that cruel and inhuman punishment is beneath the dignity of a civilized state. But to prisoners we say, ‘We will hold you where no one can hear your screams.’ When I used the word ‘barbarism,’ this is what I meant. The entire policy stands condemned by the methods used to pursue it.

We send a message to the jailers, interrogators, and those who make such practices possible and permissible: ‘Power is a fleeting thing. One day your souls will be required of you.”

– Bishop Peter Storey, Central Methodist Mission, Johannesburg, June 1981

The various rationalizations for torture do not bear close scrutiny. Intelligence specialists concede that the information acquired by torture cannot be considered reliable. Our own troops are brutalized when they follow orders to brutalize. And they are exposed to much greater risk when captured. Our country becomes a pariah among nations. Above all, torture is simply wrong. It falls into the same category of evil as slavery and rape. Torture is inhuman and immoral, whether or not our bishops and rabbis can summon the courage to name it so.

You forfeit your moral authority when you keep your heads down and eyes averted to this behavior. The question is this: Are we up to the challenge of confronting the evil of torture, or shall we prove Patrick Henry right? Is our country about to be “lost and undone?”

I once again call on each of you to decry the government sponsored torture that is clearly taking place. We, as Christians and Methodists can do no less. It is, as a leader of the Church, your obligation to speak up loudly and denounce these activities. As Bishop Story noted, one day too, our souls will be required of us.

Yours in Peace,
John Masters

Jun 162005
 

I felt compelled to write another letter to the U.S. Methodist Bishops. My friend Glenda chastised me, saying I was going to cause them to just start deleting my messages. Indeed, at least two already do that (I request a read receipt). But as I told her, I can’t stop them from doing that, but I feel an obligation to try to move them. I can only do what I can do, and they will only do what they feel compelled to do.

Dear Bishop:

I’d like to call to your attention two items that are, while seemingly unrelated, actually are very much related in an important way to Christians.

First is another report by members of the FBI about torture at Guantanamo Bay Prison and delivered on the Senate Floor by Sen. Durbin:

When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here [at Guantanamo Bay]–I almost hesitate to put them in the [Congressional] Record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:

“On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.”

In a different story the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that, Fred Phelps and members of the congregation of his Westboro Baptist Church will picket the funeral of an Idaho National Guard soldier killed in Iraq. The church has been picketing the funerals of other soldiers as well.

According to a flier on the Church’s website, they are picketing to point out that God killed Cpl. Carrie French with an improvised explosive device in retaliation against the United States for a bombing at Phelps’ church six years ago.  “Our attitude toward what’s happening with the war is the Lord is punishing this evil nation for abandoning all moral imperatives that are worth a dime,” Phelps said.

So how are these two stories related? Both stories are receiving a decent amount of media coverage. Notice how the second story refers over and over again to “Church.” People, this is the face of Christianity that is being presented to us and the World. At the same time, Christian Leaders, and this includes you all, are standing by while the first story unfolds with nary a peep. Only one of your number has the courage to contact me and tell that he will write the President and remind him of the Methodist stance on torture. Another of you wants to have a committee consider it, and others of you insist on referring me to one of our Boards. Like it or not, Wesley demands that we be involved in our world as it is, and that we defend the “least of these” among us. And he was not referring to committees. John Wesley expected each of us to be part of the world.

Our Church has indeed spoken on this topic in fairly clear terms. A professed Methodist is the person in charge of the government committing these crimes against humanity, and you all stand quietly on the sidelines. All the while, Fred Phelps, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson present their face as the face of Christianity in America.

I daresay that many of your churches used the great old hymn “The Church Is One Foundation” on Pentecost. Have you listened to words lately? One of the last verses is, “Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war, she waits the consummation of peace forevermore. Til, with the vision glorious, her longing eyes are blest, and the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.

The problem I have is that you are very busy with working groups trying to figure out why people are un-churched. Duhh! (As they say nowadays.) Look around at what you all are concerned with. The only headlines the Methodist Church have been receiving of late relate to the witch hunt being conducted to rid the pastorate of (ohmygosh) gays and lesbians, and a Methodist in the White House is allowing, nay, encouraging, the torture of other human beings. That is not, “The vision glorious” talked of in the hymn.

You all are supposed to be leaders in the faith. Demand better. If you are at a loss for words, cut and paste the appropriate sections of the Discipline. Remind our Commander and Chief of his obligations as a Christian and a Methodist. What are you afraid of? Lead or get out of the way. Show this world and this country that Methodist care, and try to live out the call of Jesus Christ in this world.

You all have, as a group, presented a couple of Bibles to the President. Call on him to read and study the book you provided. Live up to the call of John Wesley. Care about the world and the rest of humanity. Quit sitting on your hands and hiding behind Boards and Committees, and start worrying about what is really important. Some of you don’t even care enough to read my messages. I know you don’t like them, but it’s just rude when I get back a read receipt saying it was deleted without being read. How low have you sunk, that you are afraid to even read the truth when it comes to you?

As another verse of the hymn says, “Their cry goes up, how long!” How long indeed will the leaders of the Methodist Church standby and allow the Fred Phelps’ of this world to be the face of Christianity. How long will you ignore the torture of fellow human-beings? I weep for all of Christendom, and for our Church.

Yours in Peace,
John

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