Christians for Peace, Christians For War: An Interview with Jim Winkler
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Mar 04, 2007 at 01:35:08 PM EST
On February 22nd 2007, before a US Christian Peace Delegation* left for Iran to talk with leaders there in hopes of reducing tension between the US and Iran, I interviewed Jim Winkler, one of the delegates and General Secretary to the United Methodist Church's General Board of Church And Society. The United Methodist Church is the largest denomination in the National Council Of Churches, also represented in the peace delegation, a national religious body representing 45 million Americans and headed by an active proponent for peace, The Rev. Bob Edgar. When I asked Jim Winkler about Pastor John Hagee's new national lobby, "Christians United For Israel", that is lobbying for a US nuclear attack on Iran, Winkler said, about CUFI : " I don't even know how they can be referred to even as Christian any longer to be honest with you. It's..... It ought to be put in quotes because they've veered so far off from the teachings of Jesus Christ as to be virtually unrecognizable in terms of historical Christianity and, they're..... they're vehemently pro war and they've lost their moorings in terms of faith in Jesus Christ. " When I mentioned to him that US Senator John McCain had been courting Pastor Hagee, Winkler said : "...his desperation to be President has resulted in his loss of perspective and I can only hope and pray that he comes to his senses because being associated with people like that is really dangerous... these views, of.... literally trying to bring about an apocalyptic end to humanity to fulfill a warped and twisted understanding of the scriptures, is..... these are folks who should be shunned, not courted."
*See here and here for reports and video from the trip
Winkler told me of how the US media had virtually ignored an earlier peace effort, which he and Edgar were active in, to prevent the US war with Iraq, and thinks that media blackout will become known as "one of the most shameful episodes in American media history". Prior to the US invasion of Iraq Winkler said he "regularly met with journalists from England, France, Germany, Brazil, Denmark" who informed him "This is actually news in our country to learn that there are American Christians who support peace.". Winkler mentioned the "unofficial but vigorous censorship within the United States" that created "a marginalization of the voices of religious leaders who opposed the war".

My apologies to peace delegation member Ron Flaming of the Mennonite Central Committee who also, graciously, gave me a great deal of his time in another pre-delegation interview that was a good deal longer than my interview with Jim Winkler. I'll be transcribing that interview shortly.

Interview With Jim Winkler

I just wanted to ask a few questions about the upcoming peace delegation to Iran.  How did it come about ?

Winkler: The roots of it are in the conversation that took place back in September between a number of religious leaders and [ Iranian ] President Ahmadinejad when he was in New York City for the opening of the UN session and actually one of the staff of my agency the United Methodist Board of Church and Society was present at that. Then, it seems like several months ago I was contacted a bout possibly participating and quite frankly the worrisome war talk that was beginning to emerge from the White House made me feel that it was critical to try and be part of any peace effort and unfortunately the last few weeks seem to have only confirmed the  urgency of our delegation to go over there and have dialog with a wide variety of people and I don't know that we can succeed in establishing and achieving peace between our two countries but we certainly want to be a witness for peace.

Wilson: I was interested in, basically.... Ahmadinejad when he was in New York, was talking, there was a dialog there which.... runs counter to the Bush Administration depiction.

Winkler: Well, I'm certainly no expert on him and I find some of his rhetoric especially his denial, or his apparent denial, of the Holocaust to be reprehensible, but I'm not convinced he's against dialog and in fact it seems that he's reasonably open to it. He's sent these open letters to the American people and what have and while it's depicted in our media as somewhat bizarre I have a feeling that there's more to the story than what you read in the New York Times or the Washington Post or hear on CBS or ABC.

Wilson: Oh, sure, and the American Prospect broke a story in the June 2006 issue about the Iranian negotiation overtures that were rebuffed by the Bush Administration.

Winkler: Yeah, well I guess that.... are those the ones that have been brought back to public prominence in the next few days ?

Wilson: Yes

Winkler: Yeah, and I have to say that I missed that article in the Prospect but basically, it almost sounds.... and, again, without having read extensively on it, from what I can gather, it almost sounds as if through the Swiss the Iranians were saying `we will forgo nuclear ambitions, we will recognize Israel, and we'll stop supporting some of the Palestinian groups using violence in return for relations with the US', I gather, and if that's really the terms essentially that were being proposed then it seems that the Bush Administration has managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Wilson: Yes, from my recollection almost everything was on the table, I''m not sure but as I recall the Iranians were willing to submit to a fairly intensive inspection regime and they did, they were willing to recognize Israel, although I'd have to check on that, and they were willing to stop or cut back severely on support for terrorist groups.

Winkler: Yeah, it was really quite extensive it appeared, so I.... and also,frankly, that confirms for me the importance of our going because I haven't seen an intransigence on the part of the Iranians, certainly not as it is portrayed in the US, and so it seems like there's ample reason the hope for real dialogue and I'm looking forward to that prospect.

Wilson: Sure, I was encouraged.... interested to see the participation of the National Council Of Churches. I don't recall whether the NCC was involved in peace efforts prior to the invasion of Iraq or not.

Winkler: Oh, extensively, yeah, in fact I participated... in April of 2002, Bob Edgar and I and  some others went all across the region and then in August of 2002 we began speaking out against the prospect of war, in September [ 2002 ]  we organized here in Washington a meeting of church leaders and peace groups to begin working against the war, then in.... over New Year's 2002 and 2003 Bob and I and some others went to Baghdad, and following that we sent delegations of church leaders to meet with the Pope, and Tony Blair, and Bob and I went to meet with Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin, we sent other delegations to meet with senior aides to Putin and Chirac, the only people we couldn't talk to were our own government leaders. And, so the National Council - I'm glad they're going too - but I think it's consistent with their work to stop the Iraq war from ever taking place and to try to bring it to an end. So I think there's some good credentials there, of the people and organizations that are on the delegation.

Wilson: Sure, do you have a sense that  it was really... that the effort prior to the Iraq war was covered proportionately ? In other words, did it really get much media ?

Winkler: No, no.... obviously there was media hysteria in this country in favor of the war and I think it will be dissected by historians and by media experts over the years as one of the most shameful episodes in American media history, in my opinion. Ironically, we received extensive media coverage outside the United States. I remember... and when I say "I", you know, our denomination is the largest member denomination of the the National Council Of Churches. I regularly met with journalists from England, France, Germany, Brazil, Denmark.... and I'm not even giving you a comprehensive list..... who came here to Washington to film interviews with me because they said, "In our country, the belief among our people is that all American Christians are in favor of war." And so, they said, "This is actually news in our country to learn that there are American Christians who support peace.".... which is really just an astonishing and shameful situation. But, yeah, there was extensive coverage outside the United States but there was, I would say, unofficial but vigorous censorship within the United States against any contrary - almost any - contrary voice and, certainly there was a marginalization of the voices of religious leaders who opposed the war because after all the fanatical religious right leaders such as Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson, and other kooks not only supported the war with great vehemence but they attacked in the most ruthless and unethical ways church people who opposed it.

Wilson:  There's, if anything... the theological position seems more extreme now given that, say, Pastor John Hagee of the Cornerstone Church in Texas has organized a lobby to lobby for..... it''s ostensibly pro-Israel but it also is lobbying for - explicitly for - war. It strikes me that might be a.... it may be a first, a Christian lobby that has been formed to lobby for preemptive war and indeed preemptive nuclear war.

Winkler: I don't even know how they can be referred to even as Christian any longer to be honest with you. It's..... It ought to be put in quotes because they've veered so far off from the teachings of Jesus Christ as to be virtually unrecognizable in terms of historical Christianity and, they're..... they're vehemently pro war and they've lost their moorings in terms of faith in Jesus Christ. OK, Bruce, I've got time for one more.

Wilson: I noticed that some political candidates including Senator John McCain have been very aggressively courting this -  with this lobby -  and it's interesting because Pastor John Hagee has said explicitly that a preemptive attack on Iran will in his opinion lead to an apocalyptic war which he believes may also include a nuclear attack on the United States that will destroy the East and West Coasts. It seems odd for a politician of Mr. McCain's stature to be meeting with a man who wants to trigger such an expected course of events.

Winkler: Well, all I can figure is that his desperation to be President has resulted in his loss of perspective and I can only hope and pray that he comes to his senses because being associated with people like that is really dangerous, frankly, because as you say these views, of.... literally trying to bring about an apocalyptic end to humanity to fulfill a warped and twisted understanding of the scriptures, is uh..... these are folks who should be shunned, not courted. And.... when I see that Senator McCain and others are at their doorsteps, it's beyond my understanding, it really is.


In my opinion the McCain-Hagee connection should have legs.  Has it been reported in any more depth by anyone here?

I think it shows McCain is actually clueless about religion and that the staffer charged with setting his calendar for "religious-interface" is probably a mole for the religious right.

Thanks for the interview.

God bless the whole world - - No Exceptions
by John Anngeister on Mon Mar 05, 2007 at 10:23:01 AM EST

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