Where is the United Methodist Church on Iran?

"June is Torture Awareness Month," trumpeted the website of the United Methodist Church's General Board of Church and Society all last month. "United Methodists Do Not Torture."

United Methodists may not torture, but the tyrannical Iranian government certainly made everyone aware of torture in June. Unfortunately, the General Board of Church and Society in particular and the church in general have nothing to say about it. As of July 11, there were no official condemnations on the part of the General Board or the church as a whole of the brutal murder, violence, and suppression of speech conducted by the government of Iran against its own citizens. Journalists have been ejected from Iran, but images of cold-blooded murder in the streets and a man lying on a bed after being wounded by an axe will be emblazoned in the minds of freedom fighters everywhere. So where is the United Methodist Church?

"Torture Awareness Month," quite obviously, was but the church's latest attempt to link up with demagogues and false prophets who completely misrepresent and distort American treatment of detainees captured on the far-flung battlefields of the war against Islamic jihad. Curiously, the litany of "abuse" often cited by those who decry American policy always omits the handling of Korans with gloves, the three square meals a day (from a choice of nine different options) that comply with Islamic preparation requirements, air-conditioned rec rooms, and arrows on the floors helpfully pointing toward Mecca when prayer time arrives.

Throughout its long history, Methodism in the United States has had more than its share of activists for social justice, though the term has come to mean different things to different people. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, social justice within the Methodist denomination at times has seemed to take on and embrace all manner of issues and causes that are often at odds with -- or flagrantly defy -- the basic, democratically-established principles of the church as outlined in the Book of Discipline. Critics of contemporary social crusaders often cite the misinterpretation of John Wesley's stance on war and peace, and official affiliation with pro-abortion groups for the significant decline in membership that has haunted the Methodist denomination for over 40 consecutive years.

Such left-wing activism was evidenced by in the church's behavior during the presidency of George W. Bush. It was clear from letters to the president signed by the bishops of the church and other writings and pronouncements within the several conferences that the moral station of Iraq under the boot of Saddam Hussein was equal to that of the United States. However, public explanations meditating upon the just war teachings of Wesley were rejected. The Council of Bishops declared its neutrality on United States action against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001. A 2005 letter signed by 120 United Methodist officials and several bishops demanded that President Bush "repent from domestic and foreign policies that are incompatible with the teaching and example of Christ."

Of course, George W. Bush was not entitled to the support of the hierarchy of the United Methodist Church merely because of his membership in the church. Yet for eight years that hierarchy went beyond disagreement and further than vociferous disagreement. As to the nature of the enemy we face -- real, substantive, tangible evil that sends children to their death -- the United Methodist Church had nothing to say save for bromides about root causes, tolerance, and the effectiveness of the United Nations. Given a clear choice, however, the church did declare an enemy about in the world: George W. Bush, United Methodist.

Curiously, no such exhortations of repentance or theological scolding were forthcoming from the United Methodist Church when President Bill Clinton ordered air strikes against Iraq in December 1998. That action, it could plausibly be argued, was nothing more than an attempt to divert attention from the House of Representatives voting to impeach President Clinton. On the contrary -- to cite just one example -- the Detroit Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church passed a resolution the following year reading, in part, "Military sanctions are reasonable policy in that they seek to contain the ability to create and use weapons of mass destruction." Apparently it depends on who is calling the shots to raise the ire of official United Methodism.

On the General Board of Church and Society's website, there is a link to something called the "Action Center." Therein, one can find links to information on issues upon which United Methodists are encouraged to act. Such issues include so-called climate change, reuniting immigrant families, and stopping hate crimes. Some of these issues are marked "Urgent" and a helpful window can get you in touch with your elected officials so that opinions can be registered. It is, to say the least, a tad disconcerting that the goings-on in Iran are not yet deemed urgent enough to immediately be posted on the Action Center.

The United Methodist Church and its agencies of "social justice" should bring themselves to oppose the brutality and murder in the streets of Tehran as swiftly and vociferously as it does when lending support to prisoners literally treated with kid gloves or protesting a president they despised. Perhaps the church is awaiting its cue from President Obama before taking meaningful action to condemn the purveyors of terror and death in Iran. The church may wait quite some time for that prompt. But it would do well to loudly exhort the president to be more forceful and bold in exhibiting moral leadership instead of waiting for him since there were no such qualms about "speaking truth to power" when President Bush occupied the Oval Office.

In the meantime, the church and its social justice crusaders might reflect upon the artwork that had been posted on its website (since taken down) which read: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment." Are the protestors in Iran included in that? Or does the church not wish to "meddle"?

Act it must, though it may be too late. The authorities in Iran have reminded the world what torture really looks like. The legitimacy and standing of the United Methodist Church in the eyes of Christians may well continue its long slide toward irrelevancy. Such a decline brought about by inaction when action is truly necessary will be entirely deserved.

Matthew May is a United Methodist layman and welcomes comments at matthewtmay@yahoo.com
"June is Torture Awareness Month," trumpeted the website of the United Methodist Church's General Board of Church and Society all last month. "United Methodists Do Not Torture."

United Methodists may not torture, but the tyrannical Iranian government certainly made everyone aware of torture in June. Unfortunately, the General Board of Church and Society in particular and the church in general have nothing to say about it. As of July 11, there were no official condemnations on the part of the General Board or the church as a whole of the brutal murder, violence, and suppression of speech conducted by the government of Iran against its own citizens. Journalists have been ejected from Iran, but images of cold-blooded murder in the streets and a man lying on a bed after being wounded by an axe will be emblazoned in the minds of freedom fighters everywhere. So where is the United Methodist Church?

"Torture Awareness Month," quite obviously, was but the church's latest attempt to link up with demagogues and false prophets who completely misrepresent and distort American treatment of detainees captured on the far-flung battlefields of the war against Islamic jihad. Curiously, the litany of "abuse" often cited by those who decry American policy always omits the handling of Korans with gloves, the three square meals a day (from a choice of nine different options) that comply with Islamic preparation requirements, air-conditioned rec rooms, and arrows on the floors helpfully pointing toward Mecca when prayer time arrives.

Throughout its long history, Methodism in the United States has had more than its share of activists for social justice, though the term has come to mean different things to different people. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, social justice within the Methodist denomination at times has seemed to take on and embrace all manner of issues and causes that are often at odds with -- or flagrantly defy -- the basic, democratically-established principles of the church as outlined in the Book of Discipline. Critics of contemporary social crusaders often cite the misinterpretation of John Wesley's stance on war and peace, and official affiliation with pro-abortion groups for the significant decline in membership that has haunted the Methodist denomination for over 40 consecutive years.

Such left-wing activism was evidenced by in the church's behavior during the presidency of George W. Bush. It was clear from letters to the president signed by the bishops of the church and other writings and pronouncements within the several conferences that the moral station of Iraq under the boot of Saddam Hussein was equal to that of the United States. However, public explanations meditating upon the just war teachings of Wesley were rejected. The Council of Bishops declared its neutrality on United States action against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001. A 2005 letter signed by 120 United Methodist officials and several bishops demanded that President Bush "repent from domestic and foreign policies that are incompatible with the teaching and example of Christ."

Of course, George W. Bush was not entitled to the support of the hierarchy of the United Methodist Church merely because of his membership in the church. Yet for eight years that hierarchy went beyond disagreement and further than vociferous disagreement. As to the nature of the enemy we face -- real, substantive, tangible evil that sends children to their death -- the United Methodist Church had nothing to say save for bromides about root causes, tolerance, and the effectiveness of the United Nations. Given a clear choice, however, the church did declare an enemy about in the world: George W. Bush, United Methodist.

Curiously, no such exhortations of repentance or theological scolding were forthcoming from the United Methodist Church when President Bill Clinton ordered air strikes against Iraq in December 1998. That action, it could plausibly be argued, was nothing more than an attempt to divert attention from the House of Representatives voting to impeach President Clinton. On the contrary -- to cite just one example -- the Detroit Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church passed a resolution the following year reading, in part, "Military sanctions are reasonable policy in that they seek to contain the ability to create and use weapons of mass destruction." Apparently it depends on who is calling the shots to raise the ire of official United Methodism.

On the General Board of Church and Society's website, there is a link to something called the "Action Center." Therein, one can find links to information on issues upon which United Methodists are encouraged to act. Such issues include so-called climate change, reuniting immigrant families, and stopping hate crimes. Some of these issues are marked "Urgent" and a helpful window can get you in touch with your elected officials so that opinions can be registered. It is, to say the least, a tad disconcerting that the goings-on in Iran are not yet deemed urgent enough to immediately be posted on the Action Center.

The United Methodist Church and its agencies of "social justice" should bring themselves to oppose the brutality and murder in the streets of Tehran as swiftly and vociferously as it does when lending support to prisoners literally treated with kid gloves or protesting a president they despised. Perhaps the church is awaiting its cue from President Obama before taking meaningful action to condemn the purveyors of terror and death in Iran. The church may wait quite some time for that prompt. But it would do well to loudly exhort the president to be more forceful and bold in exhibiting moral leadership instead of waiting for him since there were no such qualms about "speaking truth to power" when President Bush occupied the Oval Office.

In the meantime, the church and its social justice crusaders might reflect upon the artwork that had been posted on its website (since taken down) which read: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment." Are the protestors in Iran included in that? Or does the church not wish to "meddle"?

Act it must, though it may be too late. The authorities in Iran have reminded the world what torture really looks like. The legitimacy and standing of the United Methodist Church in the eyes of Christians may well continue its long slide toward irrelevancy. Such a decline brought about by inaction when action is truly necessary will be entirely deserved.

Matthew May is a United Methodist layman and welcomes comments at matthewtmay@yahoo.com