A group of theologians and ethicists is collecting signatures nationwide on a statement criticizing President Bush for what they call his “theology of war.”

The document, titled “Confessing Christ in a World of Violence,” warns against use of religious rhetoric in the U.S.-led war on terror, including the language of “righteous empire” and America’s mission to “rid the world of evil.”

Citing “a grave moral crisis in our nation,” the scholars propose a five-point “new confession of Christ” to safeguard against Jesus’ teachings on peacemaking and loving others being “co-opted by militarism and nationalism.”

The statement affirms that Jesus Christ “knows no national boundaries” and that allegiance to Christ “takes priority over national identity.”

“We reject the false teaching that any nation-state can ever be described with the words, ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it,'” the statement says, referring to a 2002 speech by President Bush on the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

“These words, used in Scripture, apply only to Christ,” the statement says. “No political leader has the right to twist them in the service of war.”

The statement also cites “a strong presumption against war” in Christian teaching, while rejecting “the false teaching that a war on terrorism takes precedence over ethical and legal norms.”

It rejects “the false teaching that America is a ‘Christian nation,’ representing only virtue, while its adversaries are nothing but vicious.”

It decries “the demonization of perceived enemies, which only paves the way to abuse” and rejects the mistreatment of prisoners, “regardless of supposed benefits to their captors.”

“We reject the false teaching that those who are not for our nation politically are against it or that those who fundamentally question American policies must be with the ‘evil-doers,'” the statement says. “Such crude distinctions, especially when used by Christians, are expressions of the Manichaean heresy, in which the world is divided into forces of absolute good and absolute evil.”

“The Lord Jesus Christ is either authoritative for Christians, or he is not,” the statement concludes. “His Lordship cannot be set aside by any earthly power. His words may not be distorted for propagandistic purposes. No nation-state may usurp the place of God.”

Spearheading the effort are Glenn Stassen, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary; Richard Pierard of Gordon College; Richard Hays at Duke; George Hunzinger at Princeton and Sojourners Editor Jim Wallis.

Stassen is a Baptist who formerly taught Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Pierard is an American Baptist currently affiliated with Northshore Community Baptist Church in Beverly, Mass.

The five previously signed a petition titled “God is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat,” which has appeared in newspapers and been signed by more than 82,000 individuals.

Sojourners is collecting signatures among academic theologians and will publicize its formal announcement. It is undergoing final editing and could be released as early as next week. An advance copy of the statement appeared Saturday in the Pasadena (Calif.) Star-News.

While the American theologians don’t mention President Bush by name in their criticisms, a Methodist Church leader in Argentina is more direct, appealing to Bush in a Sept. 23 open letter decrying “imperialistic arrogance” and “colonialist policies” by the United States.

“Some of us are only simple spectators in the so-called ‘Third World,'” wrote Frederico J. Pagura, bishop emeritus of the Argentine Evangelical Methodist Church, “while others, like you, have placed yourselves as protagonists of some of the most sad, embarrassing and bloodiest pages of … history.”

Pagura accused Bush, a fellow Methodist, of leading an administration characterized by “an invariable arrogance, an unlimited ambition and a marked religious fundamentalism.”

The letter says those attitudes have led Bush to surround himself with false prophets and ignore prophetic voices in his own country, including filmmaker Michael Moore and authorized voices within the church to which he belongs.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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