The top bishop of the Episcopal Church, in a stinging rebuke of American foreign policy, said the United States is rightly "hated and loathed" around the world for its "reprehensible" rhetoric and blind eye toward poverty and suffering.
"We are loathed, and I think the world has every right to loathe us, because they see us as greedy, self-interested and almost totally unconcerned about poverty, disease and suffering," Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold III said in a speech Sunday at the Washington National Cathedral to mark his fifth anniversary as presiding bishop.
In an interview after his talk, Griswold amplified his remarks, saying, "I'd like to be able to go somewhere in the world and not have to apologize for being from the United States."
Griswold, head of the 2.3 million-member church, accused the Bush administration of using "language so unwisely, so intemperately, so thoughtlessly ... that I'm not surprised we are hated and loathed everywhere I go." He singled out Bush's labeling of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil."
Griswold has spoken often against war with Iraq, arguing with many other religious leaders that a preemptive strike against Saddam Hussein fails to meet the necessary criteria for a just war.
Bush has consulted with religious leaders, including Griswold, throughout his term, but has generally enjoyed closer relations with evangelical Protestants, who tend to be more supportive of his domestic and foreign policy.
White House spokeswoman Mercy Viana said the president is committed to humanitarian aid in Afghanistan and North Korea and to working with the United Nations to disarm Iraq.
"Our national security depends on success in the war on terrorism, which includes military, judicial, diplomatic, financial and humanitarian actions, both at home and abroad," Viana said. "Our goal is to protect the American people and shape a future of peace."
Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative think tank that monitors the mainline churches, called Griswold's remarks extremist and unhelpful.
"I can go places and talk to people who do not admire the United States, but I also go places where it's clear that people admire us," Knippers said. "We are still the nation where people are constantly knocking at the door to get in."
In a follow-up conversation, Griswold softened his criticisms, saying the "last thing" he wants to do is demonize either the president or the U.S. government.
"My sense is that we have been so abundantly blessed as a nation that it's all the more incumbent upon us that we share those blessings with others," Griswold said. "God's concern is for the world and not simply for a nation.
"Too often we narrow down faith to serve our own immediate concerns and national interests."
In many ways, Griswold reserved his strongest condemnations for what he sees as a disconnect between the country's "God-talk" and the values of the Christian Gospel, which emphasize care for the poor, the downtrodden and the hungry.
"If these are God's values and we claim to be a nation under God, then we better take them seriously," Griswold said, "or we better take the words away and say it's a joke, or it's a piece of decoration."