Last Sunday most Christians probably heard a traditional Easter message. Like “Hope is Back!,” sponsored by the National Council of Churches, produced by Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, and televised on ABC stations. This smoothly orchestrated production featured a hallowed-robed United Methodist minister and pastor of the Church, Rev. Dr. Michael Brown, who presented an eloquently delivered sermon on exclusively individualistic interpretations of oppression and resurrection—his pulpit stage ringing with the inherent purity of white Easter lilies. And at the end, Marble Collegiate Church’s robust choir and Tony Award-winner Ben Vereen sang Phillip Doddridge’s popular gospel song, “Oh Happy Day . . . when Jesus washed . . . my sins away.” It was enough to keep away any awareness of sinful war crimes our government has committed in our name—the latest disclosure of which was made public just two days before Easter.
The Easter message most Christians did not hear– and should have– was delivered on Good Friday, April 22. It, too, was about oppression and crucifixion, however not just of one individual put to death but of hundreds of thousands of people. Two days before Easter, Mohamed ElBaradei, the U.N. former nuclear inspector, provided plenty of relevant and timely material for any Easter sermon. The Associated Press reports that in his newly published memoir, The Age of Deception, ElBaradei indicates “that Bush administration officials should face international criminal investigation for the ‘shame of a needless war’ in Iraq.” The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Egyptian “accuses U.S. leaders of ‘grotesque distortion’ in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, when then-President George W. Bush and his lieutenants claimed Iraq possessed doomsday weapons despite contrary evidence collected by ElBaradei’s and other arms inspectors inside the country.” ( “ElBaradei suggests war crimes probe of Bush team,” Apr. 22, 2011)
Mohamed ElBaradei presented considerable relevant sermon ideas for any clergy person desiring to preach a timely Easter sermon. ElBaradei wrote that he and Hans Blix “led teams of U.N. inspectors looking for signs Saddam Hussein’s government had revived nuclear, chemical or biological weapons programs.” He reports on “an October 2002 meeting he and Blix had with Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and others, at which the Americans sought to convert the U.N. mission into a ‘cover for what would be, in essence, a United States-directed inspection process.’” ElBaradei and Blix “ resisted, and their teams went on to conduct some 700 inspections of scores of potential weapons sites in Iraq, finding no evidence to support the U.S. claims of weapons of mass destruction.” ElBaradei states that “Bush and his aides have never explained why the U.S. position was not changed as on-the-ground U.N. findings came in before the invasion.” (Ibid)
Mohamed ElBaradei offered sermon material for a real Easter message, information that affects the international reputation and personal security of us Americans far more than any individual “life-changing stories of faith.” He writes that he “was aghast at . . . the official U.S. attitude before the March 2003 invasion, which he calls ‘aggression where there is no imminent threat,’ a war in which he accepts estimates that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed” [italics added]. Thus he believes “the World Court should be asked to rule on whether the war was illegal. And, if so, ‘should not the International Criminal Court investigate whether this constitutes a war crime and determine who is accountable?’” (Ibid)
Not surprisingly, three days after Easter former president George W. Bush, and not Mohamed ElBaradei, was featured on ABC television’s Good Morning America show. Ironically, standing next to Bush was a U.S. soldier who had lost a leg in Iraq. The two were taking part in a Wounded Warriors 100 Kilometer bike ride, about which Bush had said days earlier, “I’ll be riding across the deserts of Texas with wounded warriors to show the unbelievable character of our men and women in uniform. . . . It’s a ride to herald people who were dealt a severe blow and said, ‘I’m not going to let it tear me down.’” (“Fmr President Bush Hosts 100km Bike Ride with Wounded Iraq, Afghanistan Veterans,” abc NEWS, Apr. 18, 2011) Bush is the one who dealt them the “severe blow.” There would be no such wounded American veterans—nor over 4400 of them needlessly killed in Iraq—and thus no need for Bush’s “Warrior 100k” bike race if he and key members of his administration had not committed the horrible war crimes of invading and occupying non-threatening Iraq. Sadly, ABC and a fawning George Stephanopoulos, anchor of Good Morning America, allowed the 21st century’s worst international war criminal to continue rehabilitating his public image and hiding in plain sight.—behind the immorality of American exceptionalism.
What kind of an Easter sermon would the historical Jesus have given? The historical Jesus was a Jewish prophet not a Christian saviour. Like other Jewish insurgents of his day, he was seeking to liberate his Jewish people from the Roman Empire’s brutal occupation of their country. His quoted mission was to revive the living, not raise the dead. (Luke 4: 18) He did not die on a Roman cross for “the sins of the world” but to rid the Jewish world of the imperialistic sins of the Roman Empire. He provides a model for the present that is powerfully expressed in the hymn,
O Young and Fearless Prophet of ancient Galilee,
thy life is still a summons to serve humanity;
to make our thoughts and actions
less prone to please the crowd,
to stand with humble courage
for truth with hearts un-cowed.
(Text: S. Ralph Harlow; Music: John B. Dyke)
Mohamed ElBaradei offers truth that could help us Americans begin to wash our national sins away. Sadly, so many Christians are confined to an empty tomb, and Jesus is made a theological prisoner of heaven. The exits of both are blocked by catchy Easter themes, eloquently delivered sanitized sermons, and uplifting diversionary atmospheric trappings.
Easter is not about “streets of gold” in heaven, but about the Golden Rule on earth.
Rev. WILLIAM E. ALBERTS, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain and a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.