Before reading the latest moral declaration from the Christian Right about their troubled souls and moral priorities, I e-mailed early last Friday morning a reporter about the statement. I wrote that if these leaders’ “hierarchy of issues” were abortion, homosexuality and religious freedom, then they “are neither reading from the Bible, nor listening to Jesus.”
I suggested, “These issues are secondary to what Jesus said in his Nazareth Manifesto in Luke 4, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, the Great Commandment in Matthew 22, and the Great Judgment passage in Matthew 25. And let’s not forget the 10 Commandments and the prophets.”
When the “Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience” was released on the DeMossNews.com Web site, after an event at the National Press Club, I found nothing really new in their agenda. The document centered on abortion, gay marriage and anxiety about Christians being persecuted, having their consciences’ coerced.
“[W]e note with sadness that pro-abortion ideology prevails today in our government,” read the document.
With chest-thumping boldness and abundant fear-mongering, the document concluded: “[W]e will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”
Yet again, the Christian Right bypassed the Nazareth Manifesto, Sermon on the Mount, the Great Commandment and the Great Judgment passage. While they did cite Jesus from John 10:10 and Matthew 22:21, they made Jesus a secondary moral guide to their political agenda of criticizing President Obama and shrinking the Bible’s moral vision.
That, of course, is no surprise. These are the tired Christian Right leaders, who no longer have buddies in the White House and are now watching younger conservative evangelicals recover the Bible’s broad moral agenda. They seem to be desperate to remain culturally relevant, to be honored as players in their own communities. So they make another declaration.
Some 18 of the 149 originally listed signatories are members of the fundamentalist-controlled Southern Baptist Convention. Two of the drafters are Southern Baptists, including Chuck Colson, the perennial right-wing spokesman. Other signatories are James Dobson, Gary Bauer, Jonathan Falwell and Tony Perkins. Among the mostly white, elderly evangelical males are a few Catholics—William Donohue and a couple of archbishops, as well as conservative Presbyterians and Anglicans.
In the grandiosity with which fundamentalists speak, Colson wrote on Friday that their document was “one of the most important documents produced by the American church, at least in my lifetime.”
“The Church must take a stand,” he wrote, adding “that’s exactly what we are doing” and exaggerating that the statement was signed by “every branch of American Christianity.”
If Colson overstated the profundity of their proclamation, SBC official Richard Land inflated its importance when he connected the signatories to the great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther, who said, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
The president of SBC-related Union University, David Dockery, asserted that their statement was like the Barmen Declaration, a 1934 statement from the German-confessing church against Nazi Germany.
Not only was their self-assessment over the top, Colson had a three-minute YouTube statement warning about government tyranny. We are seeing “some evidences” today of “benevolent despotism,” he warned. He urged viewers to read the writings of a survivor of Nazi Germany, Hannah Arendt, who wrote “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” Colson said her “chilling book” was prophetic “in its applications today.”
Do Colson and Dockery really think they are standing against a Nazi-like government—the Obama administration? Does Land really see a statement at the National Press Club akin to Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg castle church door (1517) and standing up against the power of the Roman Catholic Church at the Diet of Worms (1521)?
What is not questionable is that in the document they see themselves aligned with the Christians who opposed slavery, supported women’s rights, led the civil rights movement and spoke up for those with AIDS.
Talk about historical revisionism and theological misdirection. Many of these signatories are the spiritual heirs of the Christian slaveholders. They come from the faith tradition that opposed the civil rights movement, abandoned public schools for private Christian schools, demonized government funding for the poor and disadvantaged. Their theological soul-mates are the ones who said AIDS was a gay disease and refused to address the issue for 20 years. As for the rights and equality of women, for heaven’s sake, the Southern Baptist signatories believe women should be homemakers, helpmates to their husbands who are the breadwinners. Southern Baptist fundamentalists believe women are unworthy of ordination.
Such signatories besmirch the memory of the prophetic Christians who stood up when it counted and paid the price for their convictions. They can hardly now reinvent themselves as drum majors for justice—when they deny climate change, agitate for wars in two nations, oppose health-care reform, look the other way about deepening unemployment at home and ignore the spreading hunger around the world.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. This editorial appeared originally on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” Web page in a shorter and different version.