White-guy Methodists

A letter to the editor in the Friday New York Times comments on the “white-guy Methodist” self characterization by President Bush while visiting in the UK last week. It is the subject of this commentary. The letter was posted after I wrote the commentary.

If my email is any indication, President Bush’s use of the phrase, “white-guy Methodists” in connection with his foreign policies and his effort to impose “self-government” in Iraq at the business end of a gun has caused something less than a stir in the church. I don’t know if that’s good, bad or a sign of indifference.

Maureen Dowd cited the remark in her column on Wednesday, the Associated Press included it in an article  wrapping up the President’s European visit and it made David Letterman last night. It got notice in Europe and on blogs on the right in the U.S.

If they are not simply bemused at one more gaffe, the few who have written to me are perplexed, offended or angry. No one has questioned the President’s faith but one writer sardonically commented, “Great for branding.” Another asked how Methodist teaching could be attached to the use of force to impose self-governance on another state and third said she was both embarrassed and angry.

It’s puzzling for several reasons. The Bush Administration has maintained a sustained relationship with the evangelical right but has not sought to equally engage the leaders of mainline religious denominations. In fact, the distance and lack of dialogue has been notable.

After having no public relationship with his church’s leaders and courting the evangelical right, it comes as a shock when the President refers to his Methodist heritage as the basis for his “hopeless idealism” and associates it with his war policy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But it’s nigh impossible to parse this phrase. It’s fraught with enough racial and gender undercurrents to pull anyone who uses it into a dark and watery hole. It’s contrary to the sensitivity and self-critique that is common in the United Methodist community about equity and justice for all persons but especially for women and ethnic persons.

torture.jpgIt’s also hard to imagine what the phrase means when values are considered. The church through its Council of Bishops and other entities has not been supportive of the Iraq war. It has not been supportive of the use of torture and it has called for support of social legislation such as health care for children (SCHIP) and many other pieces of social welfare legislation that the Administration has opposed.

And if these were not sufficient reasons to leave it unspoken, the harmful implications of this phrase about a leadership patriarchy of white males is just too much for me to contemplate. And it’s not as if this is a new issue, it’s been a concern in the denomination a long time.

I’ve not been one to make the President’s miscues a laughingstock. On the other hand, implicating the traditions of the church in his policies, when the church has not been of one mind with him, is no laughing matter, either.

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