April 24, 2003
News media contact: Joretta Purdue (202) 546-8722 Washington
A one-page advertisement in The Christian Century magazine, signed by more than 100 United Methodists, has called on U.S. President George Bush to “repent” of certain domestic and foreign policies, including the use of violence in dealing with Iraq.
The ad, titled, “A Prophetic Epistle from United Methodists Calling Our Brother George W. Bush to Repent,” appeared in the magazine’s April 5 issue.
The message was written and signed before U.S.-led forces began military action against Iraq on March 19, explained the Rev. Jennifer Kimball Casto, a signer and pastor of New Life United Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio.
“It was our hope that it would be a prophetic word to our nation’s leaders to consider other options – other than going to war,” she said. “Unfortunately, it came out after we had already engaged in war in Iraq.”
Casto said she believed the ad’s signers share the belief from Scripture that “we don’t overcome evil with more evil, but we overcome evil with good.”
The Rev. Eric A. Stone, the chaplain-director of the Wesley Foundation at Central Michigan University, wrote the document as a petition to his annual conference. Someone suggested that he make it an ad, “and I felt that a distinctly United Methodist voice (among the other ads and online petitions) would be appropriate in challenging one of our own” members. President Bush is a United Methodist.
“Since we do not excommunicate people in our denomination, I ruminated on possible ways I might respond to someone who I feel should be held accountable,” Stone said.
He felt that the best step “would be to call brother George to repent,” he explained. His friend, the Rev. Thomas E. Sagendorf, circulated the document and asked the signers to help pay the cost of running the ad. Sagendorf told United Methodist News Service that he began circulating the document in the last week of February, and the ad cost $1,565.
Using the language of religion, the document called Bush “to repent from domestic and foreign policies that are incompatible with the teaching and example of Christ.”
“It is our judgment that some policies advanced by your administration give evidence of the spiritual forces of wickedness that exist in our world today,” the ad stated. It called the notion of “pre-emptive violence” incompatible with Christ and his teaching.
“Violence is not the way of Christ, and yet you threaten the very earth and all its inhabitants with open discussion of the use of nuclear weapons,” the ad stated. “As Christians we are convinced that weapons of mass destruction are not justifiable for any leader or nation.”
The ad also challenged the president’s domestic policy and urged a Christ-like focus on “justice for the poor and oppressed, not (on) making the rich richer.”
“I wanted this call to repentance to reflect the prophetic role of our heritage,” Stone recalled. “… The one who is ultimately responsible must be called to turn away – to turn away from the myth of redemptive violence, to turn away from war without end, to turn away from the idolatry of placing trust in weapons of mass destruction (and) to turn away from policies that increase the wealth of the wealthiest while ignoring the needs of the poor and hungry.”
The Rev. Scot H. Ocke, senior pastor at Marysville (Ohio) First United Methodist Church and a member of the board of the Evangelical Fellowship of West Ohio, disagreed with the ad’s message. “The United Methodist Church has had a longstanding opposition to slavery, injustice and terrorism. The church has also declared its support for those in the armed forces.
“President Bush’s decision on Iraq has not been quick tempered, but a firm and measured response to free the innocent people of Iraq from a brutal regime, economic poverty and to protect neighboring nations from a historically legitimate threat of weapons of mass destruction,” Ocke said.
“The signing and release of the mentioned document does not support the armed forces called there, or their families, and brings no viable solutions or hope to the injustices there that have long been ignored by our church under the disguise of peace and justice,” he said. More than half the people who signed the ad, which was clearly labeled “paid advertisement” in the magazine, were clergy. The seven bishops were Melvin H. Wheatley Jr., Judith Craig, Melvin G. Talbert, Joseph H. Yeakel, James S. Thomas, Jesse R. DeWitt and C. Joseph Sprague.