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The Religious Left Cuddles Ahmadinejad By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, October 06, 2006

How's this for an Unholy Alliance: Evangelicals and Mullahs?

Religious Left activist Jim Wallis organized 100 prominent religionists in the U.S. to demand that the U.S. renounce any possibility of military action to forestall Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The moralists urge instead that the U.S. focus on eliminating its own nuclear weapons program.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad squeezed into his New York visit a 70-minute chit chat with 45 U.S. religious leftists, whose support against the U.S. he had good reason for which to hope. The gathering, organized by the Mennonite Central Committee, offered some church officials a chance to “dialogue” with the Iranian tyrant, while a few did appear to have questioned Ahmadinejad about his plans to destroy Israel.

At least the talk with the Iranian prison warden was a new twist. Wallis’ various anti-war statements all seem fairly redundant. He is an absolute pacifist, and would oppose U.S. military action even if Iran, or any other regime, nuked America’s ten largest cities. All “violence” is wrong, Wallis insists, unwilling to acknowledge traditional Christian moral teachings about just war and self-defense.

In this vein, Wallis’ “Words Not War” statement tut-tuts over Iran’s nuclear weapons program and support for terrorism.  But its real focus is U.S. aggression. It suggests seeking Iran’s help with “stabilizing” Iraq and removing U.S. troops. And it opines that the U.S. would be in a “stronger position” if it eliminated its own nuclear arsenal, which is presumably no less threatening than nukes in the hands of Ahmadinejad. Wallis, et. al., also want a nuclear free zone in the Middle East: that is, Israel should disarm.

Among the signatories of Wallis’ declaration on Iran are “emerging church” guru Brian McLaren, evangelist Tony Campolo, radical nun Joan Chittister, Father Robert Drinan, Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, liberal evangelical activist Ron Sider, liberal United Church of Christ theologian Walter Brueggeman, Glenn Stassen of Fuller Seminary, George Hunsinger of Princeton Theologian Seminary, a number of United Methodist bishops, and officers of the National Council of Churches.   

It is not clear how many of Wallis’ signatories, if any, joined in the September meeting with Ahmadinejad at his hotel. Only the Presbyterians, Mennonites and Quakers publicly reported about their impressions.

The Quakers gushed the most. "This is a beginning for open dialogue," exulted Ellen McNish of the American Friends Service Committee. "The president [Ahmadinejad] was glad to meet." She enthusiastically added, "President Ahmadinejad welcomed a future opportunity for continuing dialogue with faith leaders that would focus on a religious basis for peace and justice."

The Quaker report evenhandedly spoke of the "current political crisis with the United States and the role religious communities can play to resolve it."  It noted "the Iran hostage situation of the '80s,” but said nothing about the terrors of Iran’s Islamist dictatorship and the tens of thousands it has murdered. Instead, it focused on supposed U.S. crimes against Iran: "We fail to see that a flashpoint for the Iranian people is the oppression they suffered under the then-U.S. supported Shah of Iran. Following the Shah's fall, the U.S. then supported Saddam Hussein and Iraq's aggression against their country."

"I was encouraged by the president's spirituality,” gushed the Quaker lady, speaking of the Iranian Islamist theocrat. “Expounding from his own faith tradition, he spoke of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad as prophets and spiritual guides."

Unlike the Quakers, the Mennonites at least admitted to vague but “very real divisions” between Iran and U.S. religious communities. A report from the Mennonites impartially referred to "a mixture of religious and political issues such as the harsh language between the U.S. and Iranian governments, Ahmadinejad's publicly stated position on the Holocaust and the role of religious groups in the nuclear weapons dispute."

Ahmadinejad, according to the Mennonites, was asked about typical Iranian chants of "Death to America." He reassuringly responded: "There was no cause for anger as they [the protests] were not addressed to the American nation but to the aggressive, unjust, warmongering and bullying U.S. policies." No doubt not wanting to appear partial, a Mennonite official also lamented President Bush’s including Iran in the “Axis of Evil.”

According to the Mennonites, the Iranian president asked “why so much attention was being paid to those who died in the Holocaust." A Mennonite official urged more “dialogue” about “the issue,” i.e., the tyrant’s denial that Hitler deliberately murdered 6 million Jews. The Mennonite report observed that “some” of the church officials found Ahmadinejimad’s stance on the Holocaust “less than satisfying."

The Iranian despot denied Iran has nuclear ambitions and hospitably urged the clergy to join in nuclear inspections around the world. A Mennonite official, perhaps eager to begin his global nuclear tour, was upbeat about Ahmadinejad's "helpful suggestions for the role of people of faith in engaging more deeply around the issue of nuclear nonproliferation."

A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) account of the Ahmadinejad encounter was a little less surreal. One Presbyterian recalled: "Specifically we shared our concerns about some of the inflammatory rhetoric and very hostile statements he [Ahmadinejad] has made about Israel and about America.We challenged him on his denial, or his clear misunderstanding, of what happened in the Holocaust."

Another Presbyterian official reported: "We did not want to miss this opportunity to give witness to the Presbyterian Church's support of Israel and to reject the false and disturbing rhetoric of Holocaust denial used in the past by President Ahmadinejad." Reportedly, the Iranian “disagreed with some” of the Presbyterian assertions. But the Presbyterian account ended optimistically: "He seemed open to hearing what we had to say. At the end of the conversation he said that he was willing to continue to talk about matters of faith with religious leaders." 

Apparently, Ahmadinejad graciously invited the religious officials to come visit him in Iran. No doubt, some of them are anxious to accept the invitation. When they visit Iran, they will not find any nuclear weapons program, nor will they tour any of the Islamic police state’s prisons and torture chambers, where thousands of victims languish because they will not fully bend to Ahmadinejad’s brand of repressive Islamic theocracy.

Meanwhile, Jim Wallis and others on the Religious Left will emphasize what is for them the real crisis: potential U.S. aggression against Ahmadinejad’s potentially nuclearized Islamic paradise. Consumed with contempt for their own nation and its leaders, they are blind to the threats and crimes of authentic outlaw regimes.

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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