Roughly a week after Sept. 11, 2001, a New York Times reporter told me that the United States’ military campaign against Muslim terrorists had the preliminary code name “Infinite Justice.” He asked me what I thought about the phrase. I told him I was uncomfortable with such a theologically faulty phrase, which carried Christian connotations that would offend Muslims.
Two days later, I was quoted in the Times: “The word ‘infinite’ is another word for eternal…The message of attributing the term ‘infinite’ to finite human beings is presumptuous. It is the sin of pride.”
The editor of Sojourners magazine also criticized the term, as did Islamic scholars.
The U.S. government eventually chose another name for the war on terrorism—”Enduring Freedom.”
Did an editor, scholars and an ethicist turn the U.S. government’s collective mind against the phrase “Operation Infinite Justice?” No. Did we contribute to the public critique of an awful name for a military operation? Yes. Did that contribution have some bearing on the decision-making process? Perhaps.
That uncertainty of influence characterizes much of the Baptist Center for Ethics’ social commentary. After all, few straight lines exist between cause and effect in the shaping of public opinion. The best we can say is that BCE has had a history of “perhaps.”
Here are some examples:
–Perhaps BCE encapsulated the Southern Baptist agenda on women in June 1998 with the sound bite: “They hope to make June Cleaver the biblical model for motherhood, despite numerous biblical references to women who worked outside the home.” That statement was widely quoted, even by Katie Couric on the Today Show.
–Perhaps BCE created some goodwill for thoughtful Baptists within the Jewish community when we criticized the SBC for targeting Jews for conversion during their high holy days.
–Perhaps BCE advanced some tolerance when we immediately urged Americans not to demonize Muslims after Sept. 11 attacks; and then repeatedly offered a sharply different voice from the hate message of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
–Perhaps BCE fostered a better understanding about the differences among Baptists with the column that contrasted Jimmy Carter-type Baptists with Jerry Falwell-type Baptists.
So much of our social commentary is difficult to quantify. With a number of insightful columnists, we plow the field of public opinion, plant the seeds of ethical perspective and water the soil of social change. We know that ultimately God gives the growth. We do wish, however, that we could measure that growth.
Nevertheless, we believe that providing social commentary is a critical part of our mission. We have done so with speed, quality and insight. We plan to continue doing so.
But we also want to expand our influence. We want more newspapers, e-newsletters and Web sites picking up our material. We want to do a better job equipping congregational leaders and nudging public opinion. We want to say more often and more effectively what it means to be authentic Baptists and thoughtful Christians.
To do so, we need EthicsDaily.com readers to step up their financial support for BCE.
We believe discerning Baptists and others of goodwill populate EthicsDaily.com. We think our readers want a common sense attitude toward culture and a pro-active approach on issues.
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Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.