“Forgive Us Our Trespasses, as We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us”

Photo by Jim Mattis | CC BY 2.0

Clergy of all faiths should strongly condemn Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s attempt to prostitute them in the service of US-UK imperialism.  Tillerson went to England to offer America’s condolences and solidarity in response to 22-year-old Libyan immigrant Salman Abedi’s horrific suicide bombing at a Ariana Grande pop concert in Manchester that killed 22 persons and injured dozens more.   Tillerson was welcomed by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who, at their joint press conference, set the stage for Tillerson’s sacrilege by reshuffling reality.  “Around the world,” Johnson said, “you will find the U.S. and the UK facing the same problems together and defending our ideals together.”  The ideals?  “We defend democracy and the rule of law, our values and our freedoms – not just because they are ours, but because they are universal.” (“Press Availability With British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson,” U.S. Department of State, www.state.gov, May 26, 2017)

British Foreign Secretary Johnson’s denial of reality was followed by Secretary of State Tillerson’s arrogant exhortation to all clergy.  After saying that “America’s prayers are with those who have lost loved ones” and the injured, Tillerson stated, “We will drive out the terrorists and the extremists.”  He followed that with, “As President Trump said earlier this week in Saudi Arabia, we must drive the extremists out of our communities, we must drive them out of any country that would provide them safe haven, and we must drive them off the face of the Earth.”  Tillerson then spoke as if he were the Secretary of Faith: “Every priest, every reverend in every church, every rabbi in every temple, every imam in every mosque must condemn the souls of those who carried out these attacks, and any and all who would assist them, and must condemn the soul of any who would consider carrying out such attacks in the future.” (Ibid)

Every faith leader “must condemn the souls” of the Manchester suicide bomber and any who would consider committing “such attacks.”  Violence against any group is to be condemned and prosecuted.  But Tillerson needs to reflect on his own profession of faith.  He is listed as a Protestant Christian, a member of a “small mainline” denomination, “the National Association of Christian Churches.” (“Spiritual Politics: Rex Tillerson, Establishment Protestant secretary of state,” By Mark Silk, Religion News Service, Dec. 14, 2014)

How many times has Secretary of State Tillerson said The Lord’s Prayer at a church service, or other Christian-sponsored event?  One sentence in that prayer reveals Tillerson’s obliviousness to the judgment that could be pronounced upon him– and upon many other Christians.  “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Matthew 6: 9-13)  For Christians, these words express the moral self-awareness that is indispensable in the creation of equitable human relations among individuals and nations.  In praying “Forgive us our trespasses,” Christians recognize and confess the ways in which they – and the state acting in their name – transgress against the rights and wellbeing of other people.  Getting right with their god requires Christians to acknowledge and undo the wrong they have done to others.  Failure to do so leads to blowback violence from people their government has trespassed against.

The aim here is not to condone the Manchester suicide bomber’s heinous crime, but to understand his motivation – and that of others who commit violent blowback attacks against the UK, the US and other Western nations.  To ask why a person — or group — acts destructively is not to be interpreted as overlooking such violence.   Those who, out of hand, dismiss this emphasis on motivation as ignoring the victims of violent behavior are themselves ignoring the victims – and future victims.   They are avoiding an examination  and resolution of predisposing factors that trigger violence: like how their own government’s trespassing against other nations may contribute to blowback violence.

The aim is to understand why people resort to politically-motivated violence, so that the causes, including any nation’s oppressive trespasses, may be uncovered, examined and corrected.  Therein lays the greater security of citizens.  It does not lie in continuing policies of domination that are the breeding ground for blowback violence in the first place.  Nor in reacting by getting “tougher” with more bombings and tighter security when “chickens come home to roost.”   Nor in calling those who commit blowback attacks “losers,” as simplistic-minded President Donald Trump did in response to the Manchester suicide bombing.

Secretary of State Tillerson rightly said to his British audience, ”ISIS’s decision to target a concert full of children shows their intentions are not authored by God.” (“Press Availability With British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson,” Ibid)  But Tillerson conveniently avoids dealing with how ISIS came into being.  This vengeful, brutal group was formed in response to the criminal behavior of another god.  President George W. Bush’s “god” led him to pre-emptively invade defenseless Iraq – under false pretenses.  A horrible criminal transgression that resulted in the deaths of an estimated one million Iraqi civilians, including countless children.  This terrible transgression also resulted in the deaths of almost 5000 American soldiers, with a 100,000 more wounded in body and mind. (See “Casualties in Iraq,” Edited by Margaret Griffis, AntiWar.com)

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

“ISIS’s target[ing] of a concert full of children” is certainly not “authored by God.”  But America’s  “God” evidently has a double standard.  On the eve of his pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, President Bush ended his 2003 State of the Union address with, “We do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust them, placing our confidence in the loving god behind all of life and all of history.” (“Bush State of the Union speech,” CNN.com, Jan. 29, 2003)  A year-and-a-half into following “the ways of Providence” in invading Iraq,  Bush said, “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world; it is Almighty God’s gift to every man and woman in the world.” (“Text: President Bush’s Acceptance Speech to the Republican National Convention,” FDCH E-Media, Inc., The Washington Post, Sept. 2, 2004) And at a press conference days before launching — what renowned political analyst Noam Chomsky has called the worst war crime of the 21st century — Bush said, “I pray daily . . . for guidance and wisdom and strength.  . . . If we were to commit our troops, I will pray for their safety.”  He also said for public consumption, “And I would pray for the safety of innocent Iraqi lives as well.” (“Transcript of Bush news conference on Iraq,” CNN.com, Mar. 6, 2003)

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Any god worth worshiping does not “author” the “target[ing” of “a concert full of children” – nor  children anywhere.  So what is one to make of the UN sanctions imposed against Iraq in the 1990s that cut off basic food and medical supplies, resulting in the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five? (“UN Says Sanctions Have Killed Some 500,000 Iraqi Children,  by Reuters, www.commondreams, July 21, 2000)  Sanctions that were supported “most enthusiastically by Britain and the US,” wrote journalist John Pilger.  “Anupama Rao Singh, Unicef’s senior representative in Iraq,” shared with Pilger the disastrous effects of the UN sanctions.  “In 1989, the literacy rate was 95%; and 93% of the population has free access to modern health facilities,” she said.  “Parents were fined for failing to send their children to school.”  The sanctions took their human toll: “the phenomenon of street children or children begging was unheard of.  Iraq,” she stated, “had reached a stage where the basic indicators we use to measure the over-all well-being of human beings, including children, were some of the best in the world.  . . . In 10 years, child mortality has gone from one of the lowest in the world, to the highest.” (“Squeezed to death,”  theguardian, Mar. 3, 2000)

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

When former president George W. Bush attends his United Methodist Church, he like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, no doubt joins in the congregational saying of The Lord’s Prayer.  The “Christ changed my heart”- president, who is responsible for so much destruction and death, would have difficulty with the word “trespasses.”  Bush’s explanation for the horrific 9/11 attacks?  “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon of freedom and opportunity in the world.” (“George W. Bush Address to the Nation,” Sept. 11, 2001, www.brainpop.com)  Trespassing would be the furthest thing from Bush’s mind.  “And make no mistake about it,” he said,  “This is good versus evil.  These are evildoers.  They have no justifications for their actions.  . . . The only motivation is evil.” (“International Campaign Against Terror Grows: Remarks by President Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan in Photo Opportunity,” The White House, Sept. 25, 2001)

Osama bin Laden provides a different explanation for 9/11.  In a “letter to the American people,” he answered the question: “Why are we fighting and opposing you?”  “The answer is very simple,” he said. “Because you attacked us and continue to attack us.”  One of the transgressions is against “Palestine, which the British handed over . . . with your help and support, to the Jews, who have occupied it for more than 50 years; years overflowing with oppression, tyranny, crimes, killing, expulsion, destruction and devastation.”  The other grievances against America bin Laden cited include: setting up puppet governments in “our countries which . . . attack us on a daily basis . . . steal[ing] our wealth and oil at paltry prices . . . occupy[ing] our countries [with] your military bases . . . starv[ing] the Muslims of Iraq, where . . . more than 1.5 million Iraqi children have died as a result of your sanctions.”  Osama bin Laden ends his letter with, “We also call on you to deal with us and interact with us on the basis of mutual interests and benefits, rather than the policies of sub dual, theft and occupation and not to continue your policy of supporting the Jews because this will result in more disasters for you.”  (“Full text: bin Laden’s ‘lettter to America,’ “ theguardian, Nov. 24, 2002)

Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to the American people” contains a sentence that echoes The Lord’s Prayer.  “What we call you to thirdly is to take an honest stance with yourselves – and I doubt you will do so —  to discover that you are a nation without principles or manners, and that the values and principles to you are something which you merely demand from others, not that which you yourself must adhere to.” (Ibid)

Those who dismiss Osama bin Laden’s letter would do well to reflect on the report of the Pentagon’s own Defense Science Board.  The report states that “there is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-US groundswell among Muslim societies – except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so determinedly promotes and defends.”  The report continues: “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies . . . [and] when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.  In the eyes of the Muslim world,” the report goes on, “American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering.” “U.S. Fails to Explain Policies to Muslim World, Panel Says,” By Thom Shanker, The New York Times, Nov. 24, 2004)

“Around the world you will find the U.S. and the UK . . . defending . . . democracy and the rule of law,” British Foreign Minister Johnson said.  Evidently Johnson did not read the Pentagon’s advisory board’s report.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

President Barack Obama followed in President Bush’s “Providentially”-led  footsteps, continuing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  And Obama did more.  He expanded Bush’s drone warfare, and created a “Kill List” of enemies anywhere, including Americans, to be executed.  These targeted killings, which deny due process for those summarily judged, have resulted in the deaths of countless civilians in various countries, who posed no threat to America.  And the more innocents killed, the more enemies of America.  Which fuels the endless so-called “global war on terrorism.”  And provides endless profits for the military, industrial, intelligence, energy complex.

Two targeted drone strike victims, denied due process, are Americans.  Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, accused of inciting terrorists attacks against America, was killed in Yemen by a CIA drone strike.  Two weeks later, his son, 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was also killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen, along with his teenage friends as they enjoyed a roadside campfire meal.

Why the targeted killing of this non-threatening American teenager and his friends — in distant Yemen?  Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic wrote, “Cornered by reporters,” Robert Gibbs, a senior advisor to President Obama, was confronted with, “ ’It’s an American citizen that is being targeted without due process, without trial.  And he’s under age.  He’s a minor.’ ”  Gibbs replied, “I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children.”  Gibbs added about Abdulrahman’s father: “I don’t think being an al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.” (“How Team Obama Justifies the Killing of a 16-Year-Old American,” Oct. 24, 2012)

Such arrogance!  Where does it come from?  From President Obama himself.  As reported, he “delivered a forceful defense of American exceptionalism at the United Nations . . . saying, ‘I believe America is exceptional . . . in part because we have shown a willingness, to the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up, not only for our own interests, but for the interests of all.” (Obama tells other world leaders: ‘I believe America is exceptional,’ “ By Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post, Sept. 24, 2013)

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

It is hard to imagine Bible-loving, evangelical Christians-supporting President Donald Trump asking for forgiveness.  Only if he is caught in the act.  But between him and his god?  For Trump – and many of his supporters – it is about “America First.”  Which also means, “Get out of the way!”  Not, “Pardon me.”  Symbolic is Trump shoving aside Montenegro’s prime minister, Dusko Markovic, who was inadvertently blocking his way to the front row for a NATO alliance photograph. (“Trump just shoved a NATO leader out of his way,” By Yaron Steinbuch, New York Post, May 25, 2017)  The schoolyard bully, who never grew up emotionally.  And now, as “leader of the free world,” he is shoving prime ministers — and human rights — aside.

President Trump’s recent foreign trip reveals that trespasses and forgiveness are beyond his psychopathic personality.  His reported “first stop” was Saudi Arabia, where he “signed . . . a nearly $110 billion arms deal” with the Saudis, ”effective immediately —  plus another $350 billion over the next 10 years.”  Trump hailed the agreement as generating “hundreds of billions of dollars in investments in the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.” (“U.S.-Saudi Arabia Sign More Than $110B Arms Deal Amid Trump Visit,” by Ali Vitali, NBC News, May 20, 2017)

Both the U.S. and Great Britain supply Saudi Arabia with weaponry, thus sharing responsibility for Saudi Arabia’s war crimes against Yemen.  (For an analysis of the UK’s trespassing against Yemen, see Rasha Mohamed article in The independent, “The UK has made 10 times more in arms sales with Saudi Arabia than it’s given in aid to Yemen.”)

The military equipment the U.S. just sold to Saudi Arabia spells more trespassing in and death for Yemen.  Months ago, journalist Ben Norton wrote in Salon: “Since March 2015, a coalition of Middle Eastern countries led by Saudi Arabia and armed and supported by the U.S. and Britain has bombed Yemen, creating what the United Nations has characterized as one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the world.”  The bombing includes targeting the production of food.  Saudi Arabia also has imposed a blockade, which “has further exacerbated this crisis, pushing hunger-stricken Yemen to the brink of famine.“  These realities did not give President Trump pause regarding the arms deal.  Nor did the fact that “the U.N. and various human rights organizations have accused Saudi-led forces of numerous war crimes, documenting scores of coalition attacks on a wide array of civilian areas, including hospitals, schools, homes and refugee camps.” (“Famine looms in Yemen, as U.S.-backed Saudi bombing intentionally targets food production,” Oct. 27, 2016)

President Trump, as reported, went to Saudi Arabia not to preach to the Saudis about “human rights,” but to “challenge Muslim leaders to step up their efforts to counter a ‘wicked ideology’ and purge the ‘foot soldiers of evil’ from their societies.  . . . ‘This is a battle between good and evil.’ ” (“Trump Softens Tome on Islam but calls for purge of ‘Foot Soldiers of Evil,’ “By Peter Baker and Michael D. Shear, The New York Times, May 22, 2017)

“The battle between good and evil?”  Human Rights Watch’s “World Report 2017” on Saudi Arabia begins, “Through 2016 the Saudi Arabia-led coalition continued an aerial campaign against Houthi forces in Yemen that included numerous unlawful airstrikes that killed and injured thousands of civilians.”  The report continues, “Saudi authorities also continued their arbitrary arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents.”  Also, “dozens of human rights defenders and activists continued to serve long prison sentences for criticizing authorities or advocating political and rights reforms.”  And “authorities continued to discriminate against women and religious minorities.”

In a New York Times op ed piece, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, provides his own version of the reconciling message found in The Lord’s Prayer.  He writes, “What President Trump called ‘lots of beautiful military equipment’ won’t drain the swamps in which terrorism and extremist militancy fester.  Neither,” he continues, “will golden chains or glowing orbs provide a magical solution to the socioeconomic and political challenges that drive radicalization.  What will work,” he says, “is a genuine effort to forge inclusive engagement among the regional powers based on a policy of coexistence and acceptance that military solutions are futile.” (“‘Beautiful Military Equipment’ Can’t But Middle East Peace,” May 26, 2017)

Veteran foreign policy consultant William R. Polk warned that Western invasions and bombings, and retaliatory military strikes in reaction to blowback violence are “self-defeating,” because they kill and injure “uncommitted” civilians who are then drawn to support ISIS.  Polk said, “Some prevention of ISIS violence can be accomplished, perhaps, with increased security measures, but I suggest that a multinational, welfare-oriented and psychologically satisfying program could be designed that would make the hatred that ISIS relies upon less virulent.”  He stated, “Inadvertently, ISIS has identified the elements for us: meeting communal needs, compensation for previous transgressions, and calls for a new beginning.  Such a program need not be massive,” he added, “and could be limited, for example, just to children by establishing public health measures, vitamins and food supplements.” (“Falling into the ISIS Trap,” Consortiumnews.com, Nov. 17, 2015)

Professor Polk then went to the heart of trespassing and forgiveness.  “The adjustment is mainly in psychology, the unwillingness for nations to admit wrongdoing as we have seen in the German “apology” for the Holocaust and the failure of the Japanese to apologize for the Rape of Nanking.  It would cost little and do much,” Polk concluded, “but, in these times, it is almost certainly a non-starter.  So sadly, I fear we are beginning to move toward a decade or more of fear, anger, misery and loss of basic freedoms.” (Ibid)

Professor Polk’s words are prophetic.  The terrorist attack in Manchester has been followed by a van running over people on the London Bridge, the three attackers then fleeing the van and stabbing people in nearby bars and restaurants, killed seven people and wounding dozens more.  Prime Minister Theresa May’s reported response?  She “called for tougher measures to fight Islamic extremism.  Evidently referring to the Manchester attack, she said, “‘Terrorism breeds terrorism’ and attackers copy one another.” (“British PM calls for tougher measures to contain Islamic Extremism,” CBS NEWS, June 4, 2017

Prime Minister May is right in saying that “terrorism breeds terrorism” and one attack can inspire a similar attack.  But she – and much of mainstream media – conveniently avoid the reality of US-UK state terrorism that creates the breeding ground for ISIS and similar groups and motivates their blowback violence.  Journalist John Pilger provides a reality check here:

There is much about the coverage of the Manchester atrocity that is profane.  Unctuous platitudes that offend the self-effacing dignity and grieving of people emit from windbags who police the political boundaries.  They ensure that Britain’s bloody adventures in the Middle East and 60-year partnership with so-called radical Islam are never mentioned.

They ensure that Britain’s major role in the destruction of Libya in 2011 – the biggest single cause of jihadism after the invasion of Iraq – is of no interest.  Leaving out the obvious is a common variety of anti-journalism. (Email to Media Lens, May 25, 2017) (‘BLOWBACK – MANCHESTER AND THE LIBYA CONNECTION,’ By Editor, Media Lens, June 2, 2017)

John Pilger exposes Great Britain’s own “partnership with so-called radical Islam.”  He states that “the alleged suicide bomber, Salam Abedi, was part of an extremist group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, that thrived in Manchester and was cultivated and used by M15,” Britain’s secret service.  He says that Britain itself had designated “the LIFG . . . as a terrorist organisation which seeks a ‘hardline Islamic state’ in Libya and ‘is part of the wider global Islamist extremist movement, as inspired by al-Qaida.’  The ‘smoking gun,’” Pilger continues, “is that when Theresa May was Home Secretary, LIFG jihadists were allowed to travel unhindered across Europe and encouraged to engage in ‘battle’” first to remove Mu’ammar Gadaff in Libya, then to join al-Qaida affiliated groups in Syria.” (“Terror in Britain: What Did the Prime Minister Know?,” Counterpunch, May 31, 2017)

What goes around comes around.  John Pilger writes, “The Manchester atrocity lifts the rock of British foreign policy to reveal its Faustian Alliance with extreme Islam, especially the sect known as Wahhabism or Salafism, whose principal custodian and banker is the oil kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Britain’s biggest weapons customer.” (Ibid)

Prime Minister May’s get tougher policy is shared by President Trump.  He used the latest terror attack in London to tweet, “We need to be smart, vigilant and tough.  We need the courts to give us back our rights.  We need the travel ban as an extra level of safety!” (“Trump criticized for tweet about London Mayor after attack,” By James Masters and Karl de Vries, CNNPolitics.com, June 4, 2017)  Trump wants the “right” to discriminate against all Muslims in six predominately Muslim countries – a “right” that the federal courts fortunately have denied thus far.

President Trump is committed to continuing America’s “right” to trespass.  His proposed budget would provide more for the military and less for poverty, health care, education, social services and scientific research. (See “Trump budget keeps pledges: cuts for the poor, more for the military,” By Andrew Taylor and Martin Crutsinger, Associated Press, The Boston Globe, May 24, 2017).  A budget that will increase the destitution and deaths of many Americans.

But President Trump is keeping his campaign pledge to “bomb the shit out of ISIS,” and kill “their family members.”  He is doing just that, telling a press pool, “We have the greatest military in the world . . .  We have given them total authorization and that’s what they are doing and, frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.” (“Trump’s ‘Total Authorization’ to Military Gives Some ‘Deep Concerns,’” www.rollcall.com, May 31, 2017)

The world’s “greatest military” has been “successful lately” – killing more civilians!  Newsweek journalist Jason Le Miere refers to the spike in civilian deaths during President Trump’s two months in office: “U.S.-led coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria may have already killed 1,484 civilians in just Iraq and Syria this month alone, more than three times the number killed in President Obama’s final month in office, according to British monitoring group Airwars.” “Under Trump, U.S. Military Has Allegedly Killed over 1,000 Civilians in Iraq, Syria in March, Mar. 31, 2017)

The more civilians killed, the more grieving and outrage and thirst for revenge and filling of ISIS’s ranks.  With more British and American and other Westerners becoming collateral damage.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Jesus stressed soul-searching as a fundamental quality of just and peaceful human relationships.

–“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”

(Matthew 7: 1-5)

–“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them . . .”

(Matthew 6: 1-4)

–“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee . . . [prayed] thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people.’  . . . But the tax collector , , , [said], ‘God, be merciful  to me, a sinner!’”

(Luke      18: 10-14)

–“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you; for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

(Matthew 7:12)

The mission of faith leaders is not to “condemn the souls” of anyone, but to lead their congregations and countries in soul-searching. Certainly faith leaders should strongly condemn the acts of terrorist violence in Manchester and London and elsewhere.  And they should just as strongly condemn their own governments’ state-sponsored violence against Muslims, and demand that restitution, welfare programs and the principle of mutuality replace domination, exploitation and warfare.  Therein lies the greater security of all people.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His newly published book, The Minister who Could Not Be “preyed” Away is available Amazon.com. Alberts is also author of The Counterpunching Minister and of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.