By Mark D. Tooley

The chief lobbyist for the church to which President Bush belongs has become one of the angriest critics of the Iraq War, which he blames on Bush’s criminal “lies,” Israel, oil interests and American arrogance.

Jim Winkler of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society has made the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq the special target of his ire over the last three years. Winkler’s agency has a $5 million annual budget and a staff of two dozen people.

From his perch in the prominently placed Methodist Building on Capitol Hill, sitting right across the street from the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. Supreme Court, Winkler routinely denounces Bush and fellow Methodist Vice President Cheney for their “unjust and illegal” war.

Whether making statements in the nation’s capital, or delivering speeches to liberal church activists around the country, Winkler is consistent in his conspiratorial allegations and assumption of the worst motives of the United States.

“High crimes have been committed against the people of the United States and Iraq,” Winkler told a gathering of liberal United Methodists meeting in Kentucky last November. “We were led into war under false premises. The manipulation of intelligence is staggering. The stench is so great; Bush has distanced himself from Vice President Cheney, another United Methodist. So much for unity.”

Winkler told the approving crowd, “The Bush White House systematically ignored the highest levels of Iraqi intelligence, and there are now more than 2000 plus troops dead.”

Repeating the usual canard that a supposedly secular Saddam Hussein would not align with radical Islam, Winkler drew this comparison: “This is like saying Timothy McVeigh [perpetrator of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing], who served in the U.S. Army, was connected to President Clinton.” He also opined, “As bad as Saddam Hussein was, he was not threatening.”

“The war is about oil,” Winkler charged, simplistically. “We would not have gone in there if the chief export was artichokes.” He explained, “If you are an American consumer, you are caught up in a system that perpetuates injustice.”

Last March, Winkler addressed another liberal Methodist caucus group, this time in Portland, Oregon, insisting that the “war in Iraq remains a disaster despite the seemingly good news of the election.”

“To date, I cannot think of a single person who has been held accountable for this illegal war of aggression,” Winkler complained, faulting the U.S. for 100,000 Iraqi war deaths and additional hundreds of thousands of victims under U.S. supported sanctions by the United Nations.

Winkler decried the “numerous atrocities perpetrated by our nation in Iraq.” He told of an ostensible conversation with a “young Marine” who described his unit’s massacring surrendering Iraqis. Faulting the U.S. led occupation for Iraqi suicide bombers, Winkler offered this scenario: “Imagine if such attacks took place very single day across the United States while a foreign military invasion force occupied our major cities, arresting and torturing Americans.”

Winkler faulted Israel and the United States as the causes of strife in the Middle East. “The starting place, the beginning point, the central, undisputable, inescapable, absolutely necessary foundation of a Middle East peace is the end of the twin illegal occupations maintained by the United States and Israel of Iraq, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. All else flows from there.”

In March 2003, immediately before Saddam’s ouster, Winkler shared this scenario with liberal United Methodist activists, in which he compared the impending U.S. led liberation of Iraq with a hypothetical overthrow of the U.S. government:

“Imagine if the most powerful nations in the world concluded that the United States government had to be overthrown by force and replaced with outside rule because we produced and possessed vast quantities of weapons of mass destruction, had an unelected leader, were the greatest destroyers of the global environment, consumed far more of the world’s resources than was our due, engaged in covert actions, resulting in the overthrow and destabilization of sovereign nations, carried out capital punishment against minors, aggressively redistributed our wealth to the rich at the expense of the poor and was a violent, racist society.”

Of course, Winkler never produced such a searing critique of Saddam Hussein’s regime, whose crimes apparently did not equal those of the Bush regime. Through the UN sanctions, Winkler surmised that the United States had “contributed” to the deaths of more Iraqis than Saddam had ever killed.

With typical sophistication, Winkler concluded that the Iraq invasion was about oil, to “avenge George W. Bush’s Daddy,” and in pursuit of “our unquestioning support for Israel” and “schemes cooked up by senior Bush officials in cahoots with Israeli leaders.”

Few of Winkler’s statements provide assurance that he has great affection for his own country. In his Puget Sound speech of February 2004, he uncharitably declared, “the United States was born, in a sense, of war. How can it be otherwise for those of us who live in a land stolen from its native people and built on the backs of slaves?” Indeed, Winkler urged Americans to confess to the myths that guide them: “male superiority; white supremacy, [and] Western, particularly American, exceptionalism.”

Winkler’s insistence that he is not naïve about the world particularly persuasive. In his February 2004 speech, he described the Free World’s decades-long confrontation with the old Soviet bloc this way: “Some $13 trillion dollars was spent on the military and intelligence agencies from 1945 to 1989 in a Cold War against a phantom superpower.”

Winkler’s shrill protests, conspiracy theories, and anti-American bias notwithstanding, he still heads America’s largest church lobby office and is arguably the Religious Left’s chief spokesman in the nation’s capital. Like much of the Religious Left, he seems more preoccupied with building an imaginary human utopia than contributing to the eternal Kingdom of God.