AMERICAN CHURCH OFFICIALS pleaded for forgiveness for the sins of the United States last week--from the Iraq War, to Bush's rejection of the Kyoto Accord, to the racism exposed by Hurricane Katrina, to economic exploitation, and for the more general American sin of idolatry.
The clerics were representing 34 Protestant and Orthodox denominations in America at the Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
"Our leaders turned a deaf ear to the voices of church leaders throughout our nation and the world, entering into imperial projects that seek to dominate and control for the sake of our own national interests," lamented the apologetic Americans. "Nations have been demonized and God has been enlisted in national agendas that are nothing short of idolatrous."
The Geneva-based WCC, which includes 340 churches totaling 550 million members, has been governed by leftists for decades. About 25 percent of the world's Christians belong to Protestant or Orthodox communions in the WCC. Thanks largely to leadership by leftist Europeans, the WCC long ago abandoned traditional Christian notions of ecumenism and evangelism in favor of radical liberation theologies that demonized the West, capitalism, and even Christianity. (Perhaps most famously, the WCC grudgingly refused to criticize the Soviet bloc during the final decades of the Cold War, while supporting and sometimes actually funding Soviet backed insurgencies.)
But the WCC's core constituency and primary donors are the waning European Protestant churches. Christians from the Global South, whose "liberation" the WCC advocates, tend to be more interested in the traditional faith than in the WCC's political causes. Maybe this growing dichotomy between the WCC staff and their constituency explains why delegates in attendance responded unenthusiastically to the self-abasement of the U.S. clerics.
Naturally, the WCC staff carefully manages which Global South Christians are allowed positions of leadership. At Porto Allegro, the WCC staff stage managed the schedule, prohibited direct votes by the delegates, and limited participation from outsiders--especially from Brazil's own robust evangelicals.
American participants at the WCC Assembly did not need such managing. Representing the left-wing curia of mainline Protestant denominations, and of some Eastern Orthodox Churches, they were eager to encourage the WCC's traditional hostility to the United States.
AFTER THANKING THE WCC for its "compassion" after 9/11 and Katrina, the U.S. delegates acknowledged ruefully that they are "citizens of a nation that has done much in these years to endanger the human family and to abuse the creation." In response to post-9/11 sympathy, they said, the United States "responded by seeking to reclaim a privileged and secure place in the world, raining down terror on the truly vulnerable among our global neighbors."
The letter to the WCC from the U.S. churches was read to the Assembly by Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, chief ecumenical officer of the Russian Orthodox Church in America and a former president of the U.S. National Council of Churches (NCC).
"We lament with special anguish the war in Iraq, launched in deception and violating global norms of justice and human rights," the letter implored. "We acknowledge with shame abuses carried out in our name . . . Lord have mercy."
The U.S. ecclesiastics are also distraught that the America has "violated" the "rivers, oceans, lakes, rainforests and wetlands that sustain us" and allowed global warming to go "unchecked" while the earth "veers towards destruction." Indeed, the United States has denied "its complicity and rejects multilateral agreements aimed at reversing disastrous trends."
In the face of global poverty, the United States "clings to . . . possessions rather than shares." And at the same time, Hurricane Katrina "revealed to the world those left behind in our own nation by the rupture of our social contract." Naturally, America refuses to recognize its racism at home and the "racism that infects our policies around the world."
The U.S. delegation thanked the WCC for the "hospitality we don't deserve, for companionship we haven't earned, for an embrace we don't merit." Seeking God's forgiveness, they pleaded, "From a place seduced by the lure of empire we come to you in penitence, eager for grace, grace sufficient to transform spirits grown weary from the violence, degradation, and poverty our nation has sown . . ."
AT A PRESS CONFERENCE AFTERWARDS, several of the U.S. representatives continued in the same vein. "The United States is increasingly being seen as a dangerous nation," said United Church of Christ President John Thomas. "To come to a World Council of Churches Assembly is to come to a place of accountability, and this letter is an act of accountability."
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) President Sharon Watkins went further: "We benefit every day from the policies our government undertakes. As beneficiaries, we have to confess."
Some of the U.S. clerics admitted that they did not represent all U.S. churchgoers. "It is entirely possible that, in returning to the U.S., I will be subjected to criticism within my own church," acknowledged Fr. Kishkovsky. When asked if the clerics would share their letter with President Bush, he responded, "Experience has shown that the White House is not welcoming."
The anti-U.S. letter fits neatly with the WCC's theology, which claims that Western greed and capitalism, rather than human sin, are responsible for the world's sufferings. The empty European churches that fund the WCC (German churches along account for 40 percent of WCC membership income) may still buy into this '60s-era revolutionary-religious claptrap. But fortunately, most of the growing Global South churches, many of which still belong to the WCC, have moved on to something else and, hopefully, something better.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.