Chicago Tribune: Use of Scripture linked to war documents troubles Jewish, Christian leaders

Classified files prepared for Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush reportedly quoted Bible

One passage plucked from the New Testament’s Epistle to the Ephesians instructs believers to “put on the full armor of God.” An excerpt from the Old Testament’s Isaiah directs them to “open the gates that the righteous nation may enter.”

As American soldiers fought in Iraq in 2003, these biblical verses and others reportedly prefaced intelligence reports approved by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Disclosed last week on the Web site of GQ magazine, the hawkish use of Scripture at the nation’s highest levels has prompted many faithful to ask whether Americans lost their lives in Iraq defending democracy or fighting a religious crusade. Meanwhile, some Jewish and Christian leaders are rushing to proclaim that the biblical passages were misused — just as moderate Muslims insisted that Al Qaeda twisted the Quran to justify terrorism on Sept. 11, 2001.

“What is at issue is the possibility that the highest levels of the executive branch took biblical texts out of their proper context to cast the mission of the U.S. military in explicitly religious terms,” said Scott Alexander, director of Catholic-Muslim studies at Catholic Theological Union.

First reported last week by Robert Draper, author of “Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush,” dozens of biblical passages accompanied by images of soldiers knelt in prayer or marching across the desert adorned the covers of classified documents prepared for Rumsfeld and Bush. Although they have strongly defended the decision to go to war in Iraq, neither Bush nor Rumsfeld has commented on the GQ report.

Several clergy members say many of the biblical quotations used to condone war were distorted when taken out of context. Ephesians, for example, makes clear that the armor of God refers to the virtues of truth, justice and peace.

A photograph of soldiers kneeling in prayer features Isaiah 6:8: “Whom shall I send and who will go for us? Here I am, Lord. Send me.”

“As a Christian, I am deeply troubled that a verse such as Isaiah 6:8 — a verse about a great prophet’s call to indict his own people for their infidelity — is being presented as a divine call for the U.S. to invade Iraq,” Alexander said. The disclosure of the intelligence reports added to lingering concerns about the role of religion during the Bush administration. In 2001, Bush called the war on terrorism a “crusade,” sparking fears among some Muslims that the fight against terrorism was actually a battle against Islam.

Marc Gopin, director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., said history demonstrates the danger of mixing religion and violence — even only in rhetoric. He said Jews and Christians are obligated to paint a more accurate picture of what the moderate majority believes.

“It would be perfect for the Christian communities from the most conservative to the most liberal to flag this … and work together on a commitment to Christianity being a force for peace and reconciliation,” he said.

Rev. Alice Hunt, president of Chicago Theological Seminary, agrees that Americans can’t shrug off what happened six years ago. The implications are real today.

“I can only imagine in other parts of the world the one view of America out there is Donald Rumsfeld’s Scripture and pictures,” she said.

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said misused Scripture does not reflect on any faith as a whole. But he hopes people pay attention.

“I do think this is a matter of concern for all Americans,” he said. “These are important revelations of what drove many in the war, missed on most of us during a time when most people were too busy scrutinizing everything Islamic.”

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