Among the Intellectualoids

Poison for the American Way

Norman Lear and friends are mighty upset with the Manhattan Declaration's defense of marriage and the sanctity of life.

By 2.17.10

The Manhattan Declaration's defense of marriage and sanctity of life was released by about 150 Christian leaders in November. Chiefly organized by Catholic ethicist Robert George of Princeton University and evangelical para-church leader Charles Colson, the declaration's endorsers included at least 17 Roman Catholic archbishops, James Dobson, Gary Bauer, Michael Novak, Dinesh D'Souza, Richard Land, numerous pastors, seminary presidents, and other prelates from Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and evangelical traditions. Over 400,000 others have also signed. Specifically the declaration warns against the threat to religious liberty posed by aggressive secularists hoping to silence religious traditionalists on marriage, abortion, and euthanasia.

Seemingly in a bid to confirm the signers' worst fears, legendary liberal producer Norman Lear's aggressively secularist People for the American Way (PFAW) has lashed out at the declaration as "old poison, new packaging." PFAW discerned that the declaration was merely a rehash of "anti-gay and anti-abortion messages we've heard from Religious Right leaders for decades," but this time "gussied up in pages of prose" from the brilliant Dr. George.

PFAW did not like the declaration's unflattering referral to "those who today assert a right to kill the unborn, aged, and disabled." And it certainly was displeased by the remembrance of early 20th century eugenicists and racists whose goals are now marketed in the language of "'liberty,' 'autonomy,' and 'choice.'" Of course, PFAW really did not like the declaration's warnings against not just legalized same-sex unions but also polyamory (networks of multiple sexual partners), an unwelcome reminder of the dissolution of traditional marriage's potential consequences.

PFAW opined that the declaration is "updated for the Obama era to include the now-standard right-wing warnings that the administration and its congressional allies are leading the United States into an era of Nazi-like tyranny." Lear founded PFAW in 1981 to counteract the potent Religious Right and specialized in portraying conservative religionists as aspiring theocrats conspiring to silence dissent. So PFAW naturally dislikes the declaration's turn of the tables by promising resistance against secularist authoritarian impulses: "We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence." Or as PFAW described it, the declaration highlights "dramatic and fictional claims of anti-Christian persecution run amok" so as to "preen as willing martyrs for the cause of religious liberty." After all, PFAW and its secular allies are supposed to be the true defenders of religious liberty, or at least of the liberty to resist and decry traditional religion.

Disapprovingly, PFAW cited warnings from declaration signers James Dobson and Robert George. The former has warned that "it could get very costly to follow this Christ." While the latter has warned that Christian "martyrs have [always] been called on to pay the ultimate price rather than to deny the Lord or to do what is evil in his sight." These types of historical reminders upset groups like PFAW, which prefer the mythology that Christianity is oppressive and imperialistic, while secularists are noble dissenters. Of course, the secular mythology mostly has to rely on anecdotes from the Inquisition and Puritan rule of nearly half a millennium ago. Christian martyrdom has been a continuous reality globally for 2,000 years.

Contrary to PFAW's exaggerated portrayal, the declaration does not anticipate a Stalinist persecution but instead warns of a potential "soft despotism" in the U.S. The declaration points out: "In Canada and some European nations, Christian clergy have been prosecuted for preaching Biblical norms against the practice of homosexuality. New hate-crime laws in America raise the specter of the same practice here." Of course, PFAW lamented that the Obama Administration has not been more aggressive in seeking to suppress "discrimination" by traditional religionists.

The declaration signers, as "privileged and powerful public figures," are "shameful" to claim they risk persecution for their "anti-gay and anti-abortion advocacy," PFAW bemoaned. Instead, it is abortion clinic workers who have been paying the "ultimate price" for their dedication to "medical care," thanks to "anti-choice" killers," PFAW asserted. PFAW was especially troubled about the declaration's concluding promise not to "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." Reiterating the traditional Christian limits to blind civil obedience, the declaration insisted: "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." According to a worried PFAW, these are "strong words, but also irresponsible and dangerous ones." PFAW counter-warned that "conservative Christian leaders are inflaming false fears of religious persecution in order to justify their own intransigence and unwillingness to abide by legal, political, and cultural changes that they don't like."

PFAW's directors include actor Alec Baldwin, homosexual activist and former ambassador John Hormel, former U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Mary Frances Berry, and former civil rights activist Julian Bond, all of whom probably thought that "cultural changes" inevitably would sideline traditional religionists. Norman Lear's saucy 1970s sit-coms, whose characters sought abortions and sexual liberation, were supposed to herald an irrevocable new era, after all. That PFAW must now begin a fourth decade of battle against the "poison" of conservative Christians in defense of the supposed "American way" must be deeply exasperating to Lear et al.

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.