National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  November 14, 2003

Faith-based intolerance

Gen. Boykin's talk of God the Bigger reflects Bush's own thinking


As a professional soldier trained and paid to solve conflicts with military violence, Lt. Gen William Boykin has an arsenal that also includes verbal violence. He’s been displaying his firepower from assorted pulpits and podia.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the general, an evangelical Christian toiling at the Pentagon as the deputy undersecretary for intelligence, unintelligently told a Florida audience that a Muslim Somali warlord was captured because “I know my God is bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.” To an Oregon audience, the general-theologian said that belligerent Islamists hate the United States “because we’re a Christian nation and the enemy is a guy named Satan.” Presumably a bad guy.

In the war on terrorism, America’s “spiritual enemy will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus,” he said.

Neither Commander-in-Chief Bush nor Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered Boykin to be demoted, much less fired. The general, who issued a tepid apology, said the press took his words out of context and that he had no intention of resigning.

Of course not. Were I in the Pentagon’s public affairs office -- as the deputy undersecretary for defending stupid statements -- I’d counsel the general to puff up his bemedaled chest and demand a promotion. Immediately, with God the Bigger on our side.

Boykin deserves another star be-cause his thinking is little more than an extension of Bush’s slant on which nation is the Almighty’s favorite. Nine days after 9/11, Bush ended a rousing speech to a joint session of Congress: “Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them. … May God grant us wisdom and may he watch over the United States.” Two Roman Catholic cardinals, a Methodist bishop and a rabbi were among those who rose to applaud Bush as he invoked the God of War, not the God of Peace, and readied the U.S. military to go kill the Islamic evildoers hiding out in Afghanistan.

Boykin’s thinking is aligned with that of the Rev. Franklin Graham, invited by Bush to lead the nation in prayer in January 2001 at the presidential inauguration. After 9/11, Graham, the son of the Rev. Billy, who told Richard Nixon that American Jews were not to be trusted, offered his views on Islam: “It is a very evil and wicked religion.” It is “violent and not of the same God” as Christianity.

Months later on Fox News, the balanced and fair Graham piled it on further: The Quran “preaches violence.” It “is there. You can read it for yourself.” But don’t be fooled, the preacher warned. Yes, Muslims “recognize Jesus, but they don’t recognize his deity. They’ve even taken excerpts out of the Old Testament and New Testament and thrown it into the Quran to sprinkle a few Bible verses throughout to give it validity. But the Quran is not the word of God. The Holy Bible is God’s Word.”

On another television show, the man of God analyzed 9/11: “It wasn’t Methodists flying into those buildings, it wasn’t Lutherans. It was an attack on this country by people of the Islamic faith.” By that logic, Graham could have whacked Catholics for terrorism. It wasn’t Methodists or Lutherans who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma in 1995. It was a former Catholic altar boy, Timothy McVeigh.

Graham’s career has not been stalled in any way by his rantings, nor is anything negative likely to befall Boykin. Both belong to the political base from which Bush has drawn money and votes, and from which his administration is seeking more. To condemn the hateful, self-righteous blather of Boykin and Graham might rile the base. It is the same set of people that benefits from the faith-based initiative that gives federal money to religious groups. Now with Boykin leading the charge, Bush sanctions faith-based intolerance.

Colman McCarthy directs the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, November 14, 2003

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