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.”
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. 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 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.
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.
Such signatories can hardly reinvent themselves as drum majors for justice if they ignore climate change, wars in two nations, health care reform, deepening unemployment at home and spreading hunger around the world.