Friday, July 08, 2005

Family Research Council Chickens Out

It comes as no surprise that the Washington, DC-based Christian Right lobby -- Family Research Council (FRC) has a difficult time respecting other people's religious traditions. It was the FRC that declared that those who oppose President George Bush's nominees for federal judgeships are "against people of faith" in connection with the Christian Right's widely denounced "Justice Sunday" event in April.

Anyway, this week, in response to the United Church of Christ's stand endorsing marriage equality in the church and in the nation, the FRC unsurprisingly took exception. What was surprising was their line of argument and thier failure to harshly denounce the decision in the way they normally denounce homosexuality in general and marriage equality in particular:

"Ironically, this historic Congregationalist denomination, whose New England churches played a role in the American Revolution, also violated their democratic traditions in the vote of their 884-member General Synod. 'If we had put it to a vote of the people in the pews, it would have failed overwhelmingly,' declared the Rev. Brett Becker, a spokesman for more conservative churches in the UCC."

And what does Becker's opinion (Becker was a sponsor of a competing, losing resolution) have to do with democracy? The United Church of Christ's General Synod voted for this resolution by about 80%. The delegates to this body are elected. Whats more, the resolution they passed is not binding on individual congregations because the polity of the UCC respects the right to difference. Had the Synod passed Becker's resolution would the FRC claim that the vote was a violation of the denomination's democratic tradition? Not likely.

Let's look a the question of democracy in Christian denominations a little further. When was the last time any of the pronouncements of Southern Baptist Convention or the Catholic Church were put to a vote of the entire membership? (How, for example, do we think that the Pope's encyclical on birth control would fare in a plebiscite? How about the Southen Baptist Convention's doctrine that women are to be in submission to thier husbands?) In fact, there is no Christian denomination -- or any major religious grouping I can think of that puts such matters to a vote of their national membership.

The UCC, as the Family Research Council acknowledges, has a democratic polity. What they don't mention is that the UCC has none of the doctrinal police tactics conservatives use in other denominations to enforce their views.

What stands out to me in all this is how muted the Christian Right has been in response to the UCC's clear and strong stand in favor of marriage equality. From where I sit, I see two related reasons for the Christian Right's overall silence on this, and for the FRC's strained and ineffectual response.

One is that the UCC's endorsement of marriage equality demonstrates that there are many Christians who support this, and that the UCC's institutional weight and moral authority is more considerable than many may think. You can hear the fear in the FRC's statement.

Indeed, the descendants of the of the Pilgrims and the Puritans have a long history not only of democracy, but of advances in social justice that were ahead of their time -- such as ordaining the first African-American as a minister in 1785; and ordaining the first openly gay minister in 1972.

And as the UCC writes in its list of "firsts," in 1853 Antoinette Brown was "the first woman since New Testament times ordained as a Christian minister, and perhaps the first woman in history elected to serve a Christian congregation as pastor. At her ordination a friend, Methodist minister Luther Lee, defends 'a woman's right to preach the Gospel.' He quotes the New Testament: 'There is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.'"

The other reason the Christian Right is uncharacteristically silent in the face of this historic development is that they do not want to draw any additional media attention to the UCC and UCC president Rev. John Thomas -- because they want to define Christianity as representing only their point of view. Quick to denounce marriage equality and homosexuality in general, they are afraid to take on the authentic voice of the oldest Christian tradition in America, a tradition that profoundly informed the development of democracy and representative government in the United States.

This is a significant retreat by the Christian Right. Just as their claim that the U.S. was founded as a Christian Nation is bogus, they have no standing to criticize the democratic polity of the United Church of Christ. And in the wake of the overwhelming vote of the General Synod and unequivocal language of resolution, the silence of the Christian Right suggests that they understand the weakness of thier position in the face of strong, clear and credible Christian opposition.

[Crossposted from]


Blogger Bruce Wilson said...

I was curious about this statement by the Family Research Council :

"The United Church of Christ (UCC) yesterday declared its independence from biblical morality and natural law"

"Natural law" ? What's that ?

Perhaps the FRC means to suggest that homosexuality is somehow "unnatural" because homosexual partnerships do not produce children ? But, homosexuality is found in nature and so is quite natural - that is, "of nature".

If only "natural law" were so self evident as the FRC suggests ! It would be very helpful if a developed, consistent legal code were written in the sky, carved on rock faces, or embossed on tree trunks for the benefit of human jurisprudence worldwide.

But alas....

1:56 PM  
Blogger Patrick ONeill said...

"Natural Law" has a particular meaning, and is a crucial part of Catholic theology.

Aquinas, in particular, integrated a lot of Greek Philosophy into Catholic teaching.

The fundies borrow it whenever they want to, and discard it as not being "Bible based" when it's inconvenient.

All of catholic teaching on birth control, for instance, is based upon "natural law" - no bible support.

Ditto their anti-abortion - here the fundies steal from the Catholics, because they don't have Bible quotes.

Catholics also are opposed to homosexuality based upon "Natural law" but here the fundies have quotes and use Leviticus :))

3:50 PM  

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