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Pious Denunciations

An Episcopal bishop sounds more like Martin Sheen than Fulton Sheen.

6:45 AM, Mar 23, 2003 • By FRED BARNES
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NOT LONG AGO, on his fifth anniversary as presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Frank Griswold III had a few thoughts to get off his chest. The United States is "hated and loathed" around the world, and for good reason, he said. "They see us as greedy, self-interested and almost totally unconcerned about poverty, disease and suffering." Not only that, but President Bush speaks in "language so unwisely, so intemperately, so thoughtlessly" that the world can't help being alienated. The phrase Bishop Griswold cited was Bush's reference to Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the "axis of evil."

Then came the kicker. "I'd like to be able to go somewhere in the world and not have to apologize for being from the United States," he said.

The bishop's comment wasn't widely reported, but if you're an Episcopalian, as I am, you probably heard about it and weren't surprised. Sanctimonious left-wing musings by the top bishop are a punishment we're forced to suffer as Episcopalians. The same is true for members of all the mainline Protestant churches, whose national leaders routinely inflict their left-of-center views on the captive audience in the pews.

MY REACTION to Bishop Griswold is pretty simple. I'd like to be able to go somewhere in the world and not have to apologize for belonging to a church whose leader says such embarrassing things. I'd like to hear the bishop speak about saving souls through faith in Jesus Christ instead of presenting his political views as if they grow out of Christian teaching. I'd like the bishop to sound more like Billy Graham than Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, more like Fulton Sheen than Martin Sheen.

And for now, I'd like him to pipe down about the war with Iraq. Bishop Griswold has little to say that's not distressing to most of the 2.5 million Episcopalians in America. "Instead of waging war, our faith calls us to wage reconciliation," he declared last week. It does? With a tyrant like Saddam Hussein? This recalls the silly advice of Mahatma Gandhi to confront Hitler with civil disobedience. I'm glad David didn't try this approach against Goliath.

Bishop Griswold's idea of waging reconciliation consists of "the demanding and difficult challenge of loving our enemies and embracing policies of generosity of spirit that build up the global community." Whatever that means, it's not going to drive Saddam from power and liberate the 24 million Iraqi people. Loving our enemies shouldn't require surrendering to them.

MANY OF Bishop Griswold's thoughts are presented as part of the church's Peace and Justice Ministries. But seeking justice for the Iraqi people doesn't seem to be part of those ministries. "God's care surrounds both our men and women in the military, now in southwest Asia, and the people of Iraq as they face ominous possibilities." In truth, the Iraqis face the glorious possibility of freedom and democracy. But Bishop Griswold treats them solely as potential civilian casualties in war.

So it can be maddening to be an Episcopalian these days. When my wife and I became Christians two decades ago and found a wonderful traditional Episcopal church in Virginia--The Falls Church--we knew the political tendencies of the national church leaders. But we figured all that wouldn't bother us because what mattered was growing in our own personal faith.

When Bishop Griswold's predecessor as presiding bishop, Edmund Browning, met with the first President Bush in 1991 and urged him not to fight the Gulf War, it was actually amusing to watch. Bush turned the tables on Bishop Browning and lectured him on how just-war theory, authored by Augustine and Aquinas, had led Bush to believe the Gulf War was moral and right.

Now it's a different time. There is a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorists. And the advice of Bishop Griswold and other religious leaders is not as saintly as Bishop Browning's. They'd leave Saddam in power and both Iraqis and Americans at risk. Bishop Griswold and other religious leaders are eager to meet with Bush and "share our perspectives with him." That would be a waste of time for Bush--and an embarrassment to Episcopalians like me.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard. This article originally appeared in the March 21, 2003 Wall Street Journal.