Americans United got out the first reply to the Manhattan Declaration (it came out so quickly afterward that I suspect they just cobbled together random expressions from their Viewing With Alarm Phrase Generator), but other Viewers With Alarm no doubt have or will also jump with their warnings about the coming Theocratic Apocalypse. One such VWA is Robert Parham, editor of EthicsDaily.com and director of the Baptist Center for Ethics:
Before reading the latest moral declaration from the Christian Right about their troubled souls and moral priorities, I e-mailed early Friday morning a national religion 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.”
Yeah. Everybody knows that Jesus was most concerned about climate change and government-financed health insurance, which He discussed, per what follows, in His “Ethics for the 21st Century” discourse that has been inserted when nobody was looking at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, at least in the Green Version.
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.”
None of which had anything to do with either issues of life and death, or marriage. For instance, love of neighbor couldn’t have anything to do with abortion, since the unborn aren’t yet my neighbor, right? And Jesus’ condemnation of divorce and adultery couldn’t have any bearing on how we conceive of Christian marriage or sexuality. Jesus had no concern for any of this modern stuff at all. I mean, Jesus never even heard of embryonic stem cell research, so how could He be against it?
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. The document centered on abortion, gay marriage and anxiety about Christians being persecuted, having their consciences coerced.
While the declaration does have to do with the three items he mentions, it is by no means about those alone. I suspect Parham didn’t read it carefully, but simply put mental check marks whenever he saw something he expected to see, and skipped the rest.
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.
On the other hand, maybe he didn’t read it at all. The president is only mentioned in it twice, Congress only twice, and the “present administration” only once. The concern expressed is much more of a cultural one than a narrowly political one, and isn’t even concerned exclusively with the United States. For instance, the section on life concludes:
Our concern is not confined to our own nation. Around the globe, we are witnessing cases of genocide and
“ethnic cleansing,” the failure to assist those who are suffering as innocent victims of war, the neglect and abuse of children, the exploitation of vulnerable laborers, the sexual trafficking of girls and young women, the abandonment of the aged, racial oppression and discrimination, the persecution of believers of all faiths, and the failure to take steps necessary to halt the spread of preventable diseases like AIDS. We see these travesties as flowing from the same loss of the sense of the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life that drives the abortion industry and the movements for assisted suicide, euthanasia, and human cloning for biomedical research. And so ours is, as it must be, a truly consistent ethic of love and life for all humans in all circumstances.
But none of that has anything to do with that love-your-neighbor, caring-for-the-least-of-these stuff, so why pay it any mind?
Some 18 of the 149 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 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.
This screed wouldn’t be complete without an ad homimem attack on the usual boogeymen. The mention of the Southern Baptists is simply a bigoted stereotype. One of the Southern Baptist drafters, Dr. Timothy George, is a widely respected church historian who is anything but a fundamentalist (if, that is, we use a definition of “fundamentalist” that means something other than, “anyone to the right of Robert Parham”). There are at least 21 Catholics (including eight, not “a couple,” of archbishops) among the signers, maybe more–not all were identified in such a way as to make their denominational affiliation clear–and at least half a dozen Orthodox, including the head of the Orthodox Church in America. Yeah, I know, details, details.
The document, albeit predictable, does offer a surprising note, one of utter theological and historical misdirection. The signatories seem to align themselves with the Christians who opposed slavery, supported women’s rights, led the civil rights movement and spoke up for those with AIDS.
Talk about mendacity. Many of these signatories are the spiritual heirs of the Christian slaveholders. They are the ones who opposed the civil rights movement, abandoned public schools for private Christian schools, demonized government funding for the poor and disadvantaged. They 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.
And at this point Parham simply descends into name-calling. He makes no effort to distinguish between individuals, no effort to acknowledge what any of them may have done in the past, or what they have believed or taught, and simply tars them all with the most odious brushes he can come up with. Makes you wonder if Parham isn’t actually the director of the Baptist Center for Lack of Ethics.