Below is a reflection from Elbon Kilpatrick, a friend of Amos House, who week after week stands as a witness to the love of the non-violent Jesus in the face of ever increasing numbers of Constantinian churches of war.
George W. Bush was the speaker at the 46th annual Advisory Board Benefit Dinner at Freed-Hardeman University (FHU) on December 3, 2010. I arrived at 6:30 p.m. and greeted Christians – FHU is a private Church of Christ affiliated university – at the crosswalk in front of Loyd Auditorium with two signs: “LOVE YOUR ENEMIES” – JESUS and MR. BUSH: THE CHURCHES OF CAESAR SALUTE YOU!
I had protested from 5:30 p.m. to 6:25 p.m. at the university’s Brown-Kopel Business Center – dinner site for the big money donors who got their picture taken with the former President. I confronted E. Claude Gardner, a previous university president, who is a well-known gospel minister among the churches of Christ, about the conflict between the views of early 19th century Church of Christ leaders who opposed Christian participation in war and this night’s honoring of former President Bush. I mentioned to him that David Lipscomb, founder of David Lipscomb University (another CofC university), would object to this event. Gardner grinned and said, “He has a different view now.” I responded, “You know he taught differently.” While walking away Gardner said, “I know.” He and all the rich donors boarded their university buses and were transported to the auditorium.
Before Bush left the Brown-Kopel Business Center his Secret Service agents walked around me to surmise if I was any threat to the former President. One of the agents, Chad, asked for my name and date of birth. My guess is they ran a check on my criminal background while I was protesting at the Center. Not long after the dinner reception, they moved Bush into the Secret Service vehicles with two Tennessee Highway Troopers leading and following the rear of the Secret Service SUVs and moved Bush to the auditorium. As they drove by I held up my signs for Bush to see. Unfortunately, the former President did not halt the caravan to get out and confess his wrongdoing to his fellow brother in Christ.
From my vantage point in front of Loyd Auditorium I could see the stage with a huge American flag as the backdrop for all who participated in the evening’s idol worship. Former and present university choir members passed me as they entered the auditorium to sing church and patriotic hymns. One of the choir members said for me to continue my protest. She said she was an anti-war protester during the Vietnam War and was probably the only choir member who supported my stand. After she left I thought to myself: “Then why are you participating in this spectacle?”
While the night’s honoree was speaking inside I talked with university students who wanted to know more about my protest. We talked about God and wars in the Old Testament, Jesus telling his disciples to get swords, the conversion of the centurion as the first Gentile convert, and Romans 13. I encouraged them to go to the websites of the Center for Christian Nonviolence and Jesus Radicals for more study and dialogue. At the conclusion of the night’s event Bush was whisked away by the Secret Service. Again, I held up my signs in open Christian service to this man who had Christians place their light under this Bush. I heard no voice come out of this Bush. No “Woe am I, a sinner!” Into the darkness of the night he left in his entourage.
Many Christians exited Loyd Auditorium in good spirits but frowned and verbally attacked me at the crosswalk. One veteran hung around and mocked me for my foolish beliefs while praising all in uniform who fought to give me the freedom to protest. Eventually, he left but others took their “shots” at me. One young, female university student had earlier said, “I feel read sad for you because you are a lonely man.” It was lonely when Christians walked by and said, “Go home!” “Get out of here!”
Milton Sewell, another former university president, stood at the crosswalk with his wife and another woman and said loud enough for me to overhear: “Wasn’t it a great time we had tonight?” I responded, “But at whose expense? You claim to follow Christ but you honored a mass murderer who had men, women, and children killed. Jesus taught us to love our enemies – not kill them. You know this is the truth. You should be ashamed that you call yourself a minister of the gospel! This man would not even acknowledge me. They all left.
Billy Smith, FHU Dean of the School of Biblical Studies, also would not seriously engage my protest. When told that we Christians were to love our enemies – not kill them – he said while giving me a hug, “I love you.” He then left.
But there was a woman who came up to me and said, “I’ve noticed you have been outside in the cold tonight. Can I get you some coffee or hot chocolate?” I accepted her offer of hot chocolate which she soon returned with it and a honey bun. I thanked her and she left.
As I concluded this protest at 10:15 p.m., I thought about my sign’s sarcastic adaptation of Romans 16:16 which states, “The churches of Christ salute you.” I recognized that Mr. Bush converted these Christians into Caesareans. With his uniting American flag with the Christian faith, this modern-day Caesar made a political “C-section” into the Church’s “bowels of compassion” and “womb of mercy” and delivered offensive offspring of their father, “the devil, a murderer from the beginning…and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Mr. Bush: The Churches of Caesar salute you!