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One Bishop's View of Patriotism - John Shelby Spong

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The Yankees, Iraq and Patriotism


Bob Shepherd is the resonant Voice of the New York Yankees, heard over the public address system welcoming fans to Yankee Stations and to the YES Network. He exhorts the faithful at Yankee games to a moment of 7th Inning silence while we remember those who have died in Iraq "to protect our freedom and our way of life." I do not know Mr. Shepherd personally. I do not know whether he is making a political statement or is simply tied up in what I would call tribal, sentimental patriotism. In any event I find myself feeling compromised when I hear these words.


My dis-ease at these words rises not from any lack in my own sense of patriotism. Indeed I am a strange person to many. I love my country in a total way. I do not feel that my taxes are burdensome. I think they are the biggest bargain in my budget. Look at what I get for my taxes: I get my freedom and the willingness of my nation to defend that freedom. I get food inspections so that I can buy with confidence both meats and produce from my local grocer. I get safety at the airports with full inspections. I get highways, bridges and tunnels that allow me to travel to see family, friends and especially our six grandchildren. Tax money gave me the education which has enabled me to pursue dreams far removed from that of my family of origin. I especially appreciated the bargain I received in my degree from a state university which is, by definition, a tax supported institution, for it enabled me to live in a world of thought and ideas that my mother, who did not finish the 9th grade, could never have understood. I am today well served by Medicare and by Social Security to which I certainly contributed during my working life, but which are nonetheless government supported programs providing me with security in the final years of my life. I appreciate my government's role in medical research at such places as the National Institute of Health that may some day save my life or the life of some one near to me. Where else could I purchase such great benefits at so low a premium? My taxes are a bargain. It is my pleasure as an American to pay them. It would not occur to me to lobby to be able "to keep more of my own hard-earned money," as the politicians refer to my taxes. Their responsibility is to maximize the benefits of my taxes, in order to build a just and fair society in this nation of opportunity. I will thrive if they do just that. For the benefits I receive, I do not believe I am over-taxed. My country does far more for me than I do for my country. Citizenship in this land is a cherished responsibility.


I worry when both individual and corporate greed erode the trust upon which our national life rests. I worry about those individuals and corporations that take advantage of our freedom to create tax dodges with offshore headquarters in such places as Bermuda, or who are so quick to outsource production, securing the bottom line of their corporations, but not the jobs of middle income Americans. But even with these abuses of our freedom, this country is still a beacon on the hill among the nations of the world and I take second place to none in my gratitude for the privilege of living here.


This patriotic fervor, however, does not mean that the policies of any particular administration must be supported in the name of patriotism. The cruel attempt on the part of the members of the present Bush Administration to equate opposition to this present war in Iraq with being unpatriotic or with failure to support our troops is a cheap political attempt to curry support for failed policies.


Of course, I support our troops! Of course I want them to have all the equipment and supplies necessary to give them maximum protection and to better their chances of survival! Of course I appreciate their willingness to serve, their courage under fire and their professionalism. Of course I am outraged when my fellow citizens like Daniel Pearl or Nicholas Berg, both Jewish Americans I might add, are beheaded by terrorists attempting to intimidate my country. This commitment is not just empty rhetoric on my part. I have a loved one at risk. Contrary to the Bush family and the vast majority of Senators and Representatives in the Congress of the United States, I have a child in the Armed Services of my country. This person has already served one tour of duty in Iraq in the spring of 2003, leaving only after our Commander and Chief landed on the aircraft carrier to announce, "Our Mission is Accomplished." Because that mission was so clearly not accomplished, this person is now scheduled to return to Iraq for a second tour of duty on August 1. So I do not listen with either patience or toleration when I am told that if I want to support our troops I am required, in the name of patriotism, to support either the decision to go to war in Iraq or the way this war has been conducted.


My long memory, instead, recalls administration officials promising that the people of Iraq would welcome us as liberators, but so disastrously has this war been conducted that current polls indicate that among the Iraqi people today we are overwhelmingly regarded not as liberators, but as occupiers. I remember the promise from Secretary Rumsfeld, that by the end of 2003 we would have only 30,000 troops in Iraq. That projection is off by only 500 per cent as we have at this moment close to 150,000 troops and most military leaders do not feel that even that number is sufficient. I remember that the justification for the Iraq adventure was to remove the weapons of mass destruction, which included chemical, biological and nuclear warheads, for which we are still searching one year after victory was proclaimed. I also recall that it was our noble purpose to stop the abuse of prisoners carried out by the regime of Saddam Hussein, only to discover that this administration has allowed, perhaps encouraged, a flagrant violation of human rights in Saddam's former torture prisons, but this time perpetrated by American troops. I find it pitifully inept when this administration, which in so many instances from Guantanamo Bay to the Patriot Act, has indicated major disdain for civil liberties, now tries to suggest that these incredible acts of abuse and degradation are an isolated episode carried out only by a few enlisted personnel who were improperly trained. One knows instinctively that this is not so. It is a face-saving attempt to perfume embarrassment and it will fail. The real culprits will be identified and it will reach to the very top of this administration. As that investigation grows more intense Republican congressional leaders complain that it is diverting our military leaders from the war effort, a well-known cover-up technique. Even current Bush supporters like the drug-compromised Rush Limbaugh who thinks this abuse is to be likened to "fraternity hazing," or the strange rhetoric of James Imhof, the Republican Senator from Oklahoma who seems to believe that American outrage over these scandals is simply politically motivated, will not be able to make this blot on our national character go away.


So when I listen to Bob Shepherd of the New York Yankees urge his stadium audiences to observe a moment of silence while we honor those who died in Iraq "to protect our freedom and our way of life," I want to untangle his rhetoric. Yes, I honor those who died in Iraq. I live in dread that some one I love very dearly might some day be numbered in that honor role. I grieve every time I watch the silent pictorial salute on Jim Lehrer's News Hour of those who have died in action serving their country in Iraq. I look at their ages 18, 19, 20, 21. They are barely grown. They have made a sacrifice that is ultimate. But they did not die in Iraq "to protect our freedom and our way of life." That is to propagandize this war. They were asked to die to enable this administration to rewrite history and to overcome the ultimate failure of the first George Bush to topple the cruel Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein when he had him on his knees. They were asked to die as a part of a personal vendetta because as our President once stated: "That man tried to kill my DADDY!" They were asked to die because the ruling oligarchy of Saudi Arabia informed the Bush Administration after 9/11 that they could not survive politically unless American military bases and personnel were removed from Saudi Arabia. This nation, therefore, needed a Middle Eastern outpost in which to house this military presence, and so we conquered Iraq. All of our military bases and personnel were removed from Saudi Arabia to Iraq before Mr. Bush declared that our mission was accomplished. They were asked to die in the service of the interests of big oil, that poured millions of dollars into the Bush campaign and to make possible very profitable contracts for Halliburton, where Vice President Cheney was formerly CEO. Is that the way our freedom and our way of life is protected? I don't think so.


As I view history both our freedom and our way of life are far more vulnerable today than they were before the Iraqi war began. The threat of terrorist attacks is heightened. The sacrifice of some of our cherished freedoms has been the price of increased security. Outside of John Howard in Australia and Tony Blair in the United Kingdom, there are few other heads of state in the world that are supportive of this war and both the Australian and British voters might well topple those two leaders for their willingness to support the "Bush War" which is overwhelmingly unpopular in both lands. The United States is more hated throughout the world today than it has ever been in my lifetime. America is also more alone.


No Mr. Shepherd, I will honor our troops, support them in any way I can, grieve when they die and appreciate their service. But I do not believe they have died in Iraq to protect our freedom and our way of life. They have died rather in the service of a misguided and inept administration. There is a vast difference.


-- John Shelby Spong

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>Thanx Bucky but could you please provide a source for this?

>I have no idea who Bishop John Shelby Spong is. Thanx


>Barry :)





Try johnshelbyspong.com


The article came from the subscriber section of his website.


He is a retired bishop in the Episcopal Church and the chief voice in liberal Christianity these days. He has been a tireless advocate for women, gays, and others in the church and the society at large. He's one of the "good guys".

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Unless I have the name mixed up, and I doubt it, he is the author of a book on ending, in his words, "Bible abuse." And was the first one I read to point out that Jesus is not directly quoted as saying one word about homosexuality, one way or the other.

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>Unless I have the name mixed up, and I doubt it, he is the

>author of a book on ending, in his words, "Bible abuse." And

>was the first one I read to point out that Jesus is not

>directly quoted as saying one word about homosexuality, one

>way or the other.



Bilbo, you are correct. He has written many books; I have read most of them, and I believe the book you are referring to is called "Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism". I highly recommend it.


And if you ever get the opportunity to hear him lecture, don't pass it up. He's one of the most interesting public speakers I've heard in many years......articulate, scholarly, earthy,and quite humorous.

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Thanks for that, Bucky, I had been afraid he was more like my beloved Reverend Ralph L. here at RMCC in Houston. He is all of those things, too. But for years it didn't show on those rare occaisions when our main pastor lets him do the sermon. His dry humor lead to too quiet and almost monotone a delivery. But he's gotten so much better now! I wish Dwayne would relinquish the pulpit to him more often. Good to hear that Spong is a good bit easier to listen to, though.

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Guest rohale

>I really enjoyed reading this piece. The article is very articulate and comes off as very meaningful. It's nice to know that there are still reasonable voices in the world of religion who make useful observations about the political world. I remember a time when going to church was only about studying the Holy Bible and how to implement the ten commandments in everyday living. Now those were the days.


However I do slightly disagree with Mr Spong's views on his opinion the Iraq war will be the major downfalls for both Prime Minister Howard and Prime Minister Blair. Mr Howard will most likely lose the election over two issues. The first issue is the issue of the Aborigines and their claim to lost land taken away from them over one hundred years ago. Mr Howards government is still grappling over the issue of land reparations. The other issue is over agriculture and the competion coming from Far Eastern countries and the continued subsidisation of farming. To Mr Howard's credit, he's a clever tactician. Whenever he sees his numbers drop in the polls, Mr Howard always starts a trade war with Japan or he accuses the Tories of political corruption and always keeps the inquiry open to the general public.


As for Mr Blair, the Labour Party will most probably not lose the next election over Iraq. It will be on domestic issues. The National Health Service is absolutely appalling to the say the least. He raised taxes by making a promise that the waiting lists to see a specialist will take much less time than in previous years. In the last couple of years many union groups have gone on strike for better wages. Most notably, teachers, nurses, dust bin ( trash pick up ), lorry drivers who went on strike just over two years ago and brought the country to an economic standstill. Lord Hutton's report over whether the dosier over Iraq's weopans of mass destruction was sexed up by the the government. An accusation made by the BBC. The chairman of BBC resigned and in the process Mr Blair looked embarrased. His biggest rival the mayor of London, Mr Ken Livingston threatened to sue the Labour Government when they bowed down to pressure by the Bush Administration to close the finacial district on Mr Bush's last official visit to the U.K. It caused an uproar within the country because it would have forced about seven thousand workers to stay at home for three days without any financial compensation. Mr Livingston won that battle. So in essence these are the issues that will most likely hurt these two leaders in their respective elections.


Speaking about Mr Blair and Mr Bush, the only aspect that Mr Spong seemed to forget is these two leaders have reputation of being devout christians. So I don't exactly think that these two leaders see themselves as misleading their respective countries. When it comes to the Iraq war, we as people speculate what the motives are. Mr Spong in a way uses the Trojan Horse analogy as to why the current President Bush decided to deal with Iraq over what his father couldn't do at the end of Feruary 1991. Mr Spong stated that he has family members stationed in Iraq and he's very worried for their safety. Mr Spong like many others across the globe have expressed feelings and opinions as to the situation in Iraq unfolds. At the end of the day when all is said and done, the general public will never really know the true nature of the Iraq war because when the President speaks, some believe and some don't. It's those presidential papers that will forever remain sealed once Mr Bush leaves office and that's where it all began and will end. Still let's not discount Mr Spong has to say. I hope he speaks or writes more often.



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Another humane voice in the wilderness is the Rev. William Sloane Coffin.


Rev. Coffin, how important is it to you that George W. Bush not serve a second term as President?


"Since 9/11 he has squandered the solidarity we had with the people of the world. The French said on 9/11 that “we are all Americans.” Our wonderful relationship with so many nations has been squandered.

He has turned enormous profit and surplus in the United States into deficits and cutbacks for programs for the poor.


"I can’t say he gets high marks on security because the effect of his policies is that terrorism has spread and not receded.


"When he calls himself a Christian, I think he should remember that it was the devil who tempted Jesus with unparalleled wealth and power. What does that say about Bush’s dreams about wealth and power? He has reversed Biblical priorities by making our economic policies be about helping the wealthy to acquire more wealth while abandoning the poor."


More at http://chuckcurrie.blogs.com/chuck_currie/2004/04/william_sloane_.html

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