Two prominent leaders from the world of mainline Protestantism in the United States took Mahmoud Ahmadinejads calls for the destruction of Israel seriously. One condemned his violent rhetoric and another refused to break bread with the man for fear that doing so would only serve to legitimize the Iranian president.
Rev. Dr. Kinnamon
Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches condemned Ahmadinejad in a letter that was read at the protest rally in New York City on September 22, 2008. The statement reads in part, as follows:
Provocative, belligerent rhetoric is the enemy of peace! Therefore, those who claim to be peacemakers must know when to say No! to rhetoric that threatens the neighbor. Now is such a time.
President Ahmadinejads hateful language, denying the Holocaust and apparently calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, must be persistently and forcefully denounced by all who value peace. The Rev. John Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ and a leader in the National Council of Churches, has put it this way: Revisionist history of genocide must never be accorded credibility among civilized people of any faith tradition. Anti-semitic efforts to rewrite evil eventsnot new in history or unknown even in the United Statesendanger the Jewish people, disgrace faith communities who perpetuate them or choose to remain silent in their presence, and degrade the value of human life everywhere. Indeed, we must not be silent when others use their voices to incite violence.
Such rhetoric has another consequence: It makes it difficult to trust other things that the person says. If President Ahmadinejad has so little regard for the verifiable facts of history and the legitimacy of a state created by UN decision, it is hard to believe he means it when he insists that Irans nuclear program is only intended for peaceful purposes. And as he continues that program in defiance of Security Council resolutions, he also shows his contempt for the community of nations.
Rev. Dr. Kinnamons ringing condemnation of Ahmadinejad is a welcome change from the NCCs previous willingness to carry water for the Iranian president. After meeting with him in 200,7 Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, associate general secretary for interfaith relations at the NCC, unquestioningly relayed the Iranian presidents propagandistic line. Ahmadinejad insists that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon, he explained. Indeed, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni, under whose authority the nuclear program rests, has issued a fatwa (edict) that making or using nuclear weapons goes against Islamic teaching.
Apparently, Rev. Dr. Kinnamon, a pastor in the Disciples of Christ, is taking a more responsible approach to the Iranian President's hostility.
In a carefully worded statement issued on Sept. 25, 2008, Rev. John Thomas, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ announced that he had declined an invitation to attend a dinner with Ahmadinejad co-sponsored by a number of groups including the Mennonite Central Committee and the World Council of Churches. Rev. Thomas, who has previously condemned Mahmoud Ahmadinejads denial of the Holocaust, said in part:
In previous public statements I have objected strongly to the rhetoric of President Ahmadinejad, rhetoric regarding the State of Israel and the historicity of the Holocaust that is deeply disturbing to all who believe in Israel's right to exist and who acknowledge the on-going pain that the Holocaust and its memory still evokes. While the organizers of this event certainly hope to raise their concern over this rhetoric with President Ahmadinejad, I am not convinced this will be effective. To the contrary, I fear the occasion can and will be used by President Ahmadinejad to claim legitimacy and support for himself by an association with respected United States religious leaders. I respect the sponsoring organizations' intent for dialogue, but fear that the more likely outcome is sowing confusion and disappointment among our own members and, in particular, the American Jewish community.
Rev. Thomas did not condemn those who participated in the dinner, but he did reveal that the World Council of Churches co-sponsored the meal without consulting its member churches in the United States. He also indicated that this is not the first time he has raised concerns about the WCCs interactions with Ahmadinejad.