How Politicized Faith is Like Pathetically Pliant Media

Reacting to claims by former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan that the President misled us about the Iraq War, CNN veteran Bob Franken writes on Huffington Post that, “We (the media) were pathetically pliant, willing to be timid so as not to offend the White House and be denied the crumbs of access that were granted to those of us who didn’t make waves. When are we going to learn?”

Franken’s assessment is sharper and more  blunt than we’ve seen from those who practice newsgathering in contrast to commentators and pundits who offer opinion.

I was reminded of the words of United Methodist Bishop Mel Talbert in 2003 in a TV message challenging the Bush Administration to not go to war:  “No nation under God has that right. It violates international law. It violates God’s law and the teachings of Jesus Christ. War only creates more terrorists and makes a dangerous world for our children.”

His position reveals even greater moral strength and insight after McClellan’s revelations. In an AP report McClellan is quoted: “The Iraq war was not necessary. Waging an unnecessary war is a grave mistake.”

The AP article also claims McClellan is engaging in an act of contrition in order to be true to his Christian faith. According to the AP, McClellan writes, “I fell far short of living up to the kind of public servant I wanted to be.”

His act of confession and contrition will not be understood by political operatives who hold to different values. His claim that the administration never ceased running in campaign mode reveals the contrasting values.  It was a government of continuing self-serving propaganda which resulted in serving the base at the expense of serving all the people. McClellan’s idealism apparently took a beating.

Values can inform political sensibilities, but politics cannot be an adequate vessel for religious faith.  It’s problematic when sectarian religious precepts are ensconced as public policy. That’s theocracy and while a few have recently have seemed to want it, it was rejected in this country early on and the nation is better for it.

While they were unyielding in attempting to advance their religious views, a few on the religious right were pliant in other ways and were rewarded with access and public affirmation by those in high positions in the administration.

But politics requires compromise, compromise that sometimes undermines the claims of faith. The cost of this identification of evangelical religion with politics is still to be determined.

Bishop Talbert staked his opposition to the war on faith claims as well, but he was appealing to a higher value–the well-being of the human community. And his plea was to refrain from doing harm, not to impose a particular religious precept onto others.

He was roundly criticized by those religious partisans who favored war. Unlike them, those religious leaders who did not support the war did not have access to the Administration. They were shut out. Not only was opposition to the war equated with lack of patriotism, it was also equated with unfaithfulness.

Faith got highjacked. I suspect Bishop Talbert understood this from the start. And I also suspect he knew the cost for his stand wasn’t mere criticism, it carried a much deeper risk—compromised integrity and the betrayal of faithfulness to higher values. And that’s what Scott McClellan is discovering now and what some, even after all this time, still don’t understand.

Politically compromised faith is pathetically pliant.

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