The Christians who keep abusing their privilege to demand everyone else conform to their narrow views of culture and politics have released a new “declaration” against the abuse of power.
As if the world needed one more declaration from the evangelical Reformed crowd.
They’ve already created the 1987 Danvers Statement on “biblical manhood and womanhood,” followed by the 2017 Nashville Statement with more on gender and sexuality. Not to mention the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy that undergirds the whole theology.
Now we’ve been handed The Frankfurt Declaration of Christian and Civil Liberties, which at least is mercifully concise but mirrors the Nashville Statement in its call-and-response format of things affirmed and things denied.
Ironically, they should have chosen a different name. The world already has a Frankfurt Declaration, issued in 1951 as a call to achieve socialism through democracy. The original Frankfurt Declaration denounced all forms of discrimination — economic, legal, political — including discrimination based on sex, race and geography. Oops. Don’t think that’s what this crowd meant to emulate in its title.
Some of the usual suspects are behind the new 2,000-word declaration — but some others are notably missing. There’s Voddie Baucham, the seminary professor and controversial author from African Christian University in Zambia; Tom Buck, the East Texas Southern Baptist pastor often found at the center of denominational controversy; John MacArthur, the influential pastor and author from Los Angeles; Phil Johnson, associate to MacArthur; James White, a Christian apologist and pastor from Arizona; and Doug Wilson, another controversial Calvinist pastor from Moscow, Idaho.
“What’s notable, though, is the absence of any Southern Baptist Convention elected leader.”
What’s notable, though, is the absence of any Southern Baptist Convention elected leader. To date, there’s no signature from Al Mohler or Danny Akin or Adam Greenway, leaders of the SBC’s three largest seminaries.
Among the 47 initial signers and the later signers, there’s an international and interdenominational mixture of Baptists, Presbyterians, Bible church pastors, seminarians and laypersons.
‘Christians, Against the Abuse of Power’
The document begins with a preamble titled “Christians, Against the Abuse of Power,” which would be laughable if not so pathetic.
Here’s what it says: “In the course of human events, it sometimes becomes necessary for people of good faith to speak out against the abuse of power. This should be done only after serious and prayerful deliberation, and even then, in an attitude of humility and with respect for the authorities that have been established by God. Such protest should be expressed in the hope that civil authorities who are found to be eroding rights and liberties may yet fulfill their responsibility as their rightful guardians.”
But they’re just getting started. It goes on to say that “a few concerned pastors” have been “moved by an emergent totalitarianism of the State over all realms of society, and particularly the Church, and the disregard of God-given and constitutionally guaranteed rights during the COVID crisis.”
“As usual, they’re going to correct all this by telling us ‘the timeless truths of God’s word,’ meaning their narrow interpretation of the Bible.”
And as usual, they’re going to correct all this by telling us “the timeless truths of God’s word,” meaning their narrow interpretation of the Bible. We’ve seen this movie before.
Do not miss the reference to COVID. And although this appears to be an international document, do not overlook the repeated references to politics and culture in the United States. John MacArthur, the father figure of this Reformed evangelical movement, went to war with the City of Los Angeles, the County of Los Angeles and the State of California over health restrictions during the height of the COVID pandemic. He refused to protect his congregation from mass infection while claiming his religious liberty rights were being infringed.
MacArthur and his allies have been staunch defenders of Donald Trump, who without rival has demonstrated how abuse of power works in American politics — even before he was found to have stashed top-secret government documents at his golf resort in Florida.
If anyone should know about “abuse of power,” its MacArthur and his cronies. Their entire theology is built on a hierarchical system of male dominance and abuse of women and children. Their theology depends on verbal and sometimes physical abuse of LGBTQ persons, immigrants and people of color.
And now they’re going to lecture the rest of us about “abuse of power” and claim to do so with “humility”?
The declaration is organized into five articles, the first affirming “God the Creator as Sovereign Lawgiver and Judge,” the second affirming “God as the Source of Truth and the Role of Science,” the third affirming “Mankind as the Image of God,” the fourth affirming “God-given Mandates and Limits of Authority,” and the fifth affirming “Christ as the Head of the Church.”
Each article begins with a paragraph of what the signatories affirm on that topic, followed by a paragraph or more on what they deny about the topic.
“Some of the wording appears to be nonsensical.”
Some of the wording appears to be nonsensical. Like the denial that “impersonal matter is the final reality behind all things and the belief that human conduct is merely a biological or sociological phenomenon.”
Whatever that actually means, it’s a setup to the real point: “We deny the right of any earthly authority to define morality and require unconditional obedience of their citizens when contrary to (God’s) law. We also have good grounds to question the modern state’s ethical pronouncements and moral vision since their secular humanism and relativistic ethics have no transcendent basis for human behavior or morality.”
The point is that a secular society should not have any moral authority over Christians, but Christians should have moral authority over all of society. This is the heart of white Christian nationalism.
And of course, there are Bible verses aplenty cited to support all this.
‘Truth and the Role of Science’
No statement from this group would be complete without some denial of scientific reality, and the Frankfurt Declaration does not disappoint.
It states: “We affirm that God, the Creator, is the Truth and that therefore objective truth exists and can be derived from his revelation in Scripture and nature, and from any facts which can be credibly verified. We endorse science which seeks to discover, through the scientific method and debate, the truths that God has built into the natural world. We also affirm the limitations of science, including its inability to speak authoritatively on areas outside its purview and its propensity to err when data is lacking. Since man has fallen into sin, we further affirm that all his thoughts, deductions and institutions contain degrees of corruption which tend to distort, manipulate or suppress the truth.”
Reading that, I was reminded that this week lightning struck the Ark Encounter in Northern Kentucky, Ken Ham’s giant recreation of Noah’s Ark as a way to teach children young earth creationism. Maybe they should pay attention to the lightning.
The gist of the Frankfurt Declaration is that the Bible always trumps science, that science can only be true to the extent that it affirms what the Bible says. The problem, of course, is that the Bible does not present itself as a book of science. And it is not a book of science. It is a book of stories about God’s redemptive work in the world, not about neurons and protons and atoms.
The Bible itself has “limitations” and cannot “speak authoritatively on areas outside its purview.” And purveyors of strict biblical literalism have been prone to “err when data is lacking.”
This entire document is an exercise in projection. It follows the narcissists’ playbook by accusing others of the very sins it commits.
“This entire document is an exercise in projection.”
Catch this great line: “We reject any deception, fear-mongering, propagandizing and indoctrination by the State and mass media, and all reporting on critical world issues which is premature, selective, or ideologically manipulative.”
Again, if anyone knows about deception, fear-mongering, propaganda and indoctrination, it’s the Reformed evangelical crowd behind this declaration. They wrote the book on how to do all that stuff.
‘Mankind as the Image of God’
The third section begins with a lie and gets worse from there.
“We affirm that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God (imago Dei) and therefore has inherent dignity and worth, along with certain inalienable rights and liberties requisite for a proper human life.”
Say what? Aren’t you the ones who deny the rights of gay and lesbian human beings, of transgender children made in the image of God? Aren’t you the ones who insist anyone who doesn’t look or think like you isn’t worthy of dignity? To make this opening statement in a section on the image of God amounts to blasphemy.
“To make this opening statement in a section on the image of God amounts to blasphemy.”
But that’s not what this section is really about. It’s about COVID restrictions: “These rights and liberties include the right to corporate worship, personal and in-person relationships, vocational employments, and participation in the important events of human life such as the right to comfort the sick and the dying (especially of one’s own family), to attend funerals, to witness the birth of one’s child, to marry in a public gathering, to fellowship and eat together with others, and to engage in honorable work.”
And then in a flaming tribute to self-determination for some, they add: “We also affirm that governments should recognize that each individual is responsible for their own bodily well-being and should protect the right to personal medical self-determination.”
Again, sorry to point out the hypocrisy here, but aren’t you the ones who don’t believe women have the right to “personal medical self-determination”? Aren’t you the ones who do not believe women and transgender persons are “responsible for their own bodily well-being”?
The lack of self-awareness is astounding.
Maybe Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ought to hear the next line from the declaration: “We thus reject all forms of medical coercion and any restrictions on individual freedoms for people who are not infected with any contagious, life-threatening disease.”
“Aren’t you the ones applauding states that restrict medical care for children and threaten to throw parents in jail for child abuse merely for seeking appropriate medical care?”
Sorry again, but aren’t you the ones applauding states that restrict medical care for children and threaten to throw parents in jail for child abuse merely for seeking appropriate medical care?
‘God-given Mandates and Limits of Authority’
This hypocritical theme of pretending to care about family values occupies the entirety of the fourth article, ostensibly about limits on government authority due to “God-given mandates” to the church and the family.
The declaration says God “has delegated authority to the family as the basic unit of society for the purpose of fostering societal cohesion and sexual fidelity, and to protect, provide for, raise, and educate children in the way of the Lord. We affirm our right as citizens, parents, and Christians to freely self-determine our beliefs and behaviors based on these truths.”
Again, see the points above. What you want for yourself, you are not willing to grant others.
Yet you are the ones next complaining about “totalitarian ideologies” that “do not recognize the boundaries of their authority.”
‘Christ as the Head of the Church’
Of all the wacky things in this declaration, the fifth article just might take the cake. Under the guise of declaring the lordship of Christ, the document asserts “the functional independence of the church from the state,” which is, once again, about COVID.
“Of all the wacky things in this declaration, the fifth article just might take the cake.”
Here’s how we know that: “We further affirm that the activities of the local church insofar as they are essential acts of worship are to be regulated by Christ alone. We therefore deny that any other authority has jurisdiction over the church to regulate any of its affairs in matters of faith and practice, or to relegate its activities to a non-essential status.”
And finally …
Then the icing on this crazy cake comes in a final “Call for Respect, Repentance and Resistance.”
Here’s where the ever-popular twisting of the meaning of religious liberty comes to full flower.
“We commend and express our gratitude to those civil authorities who respect the essential nature of these Christian beliefs and practices and who have a high regard for individual and religious freedoms,” the document states. “To those civil authorities who have disregarded these freedoms, we call on you to repent and to become again the protectors of liberty and of the rights that God has given to all men, lest in the abuse of your God-given authority, you become liable to God’s wrath.”
This from a group of people who want to elevate the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause above the Establishment Clause, worrying only about their own right to do whatever they please while not affording any other religions the same right. Again, the very definition of Christian nationalism.
“This document’s closing lines about ‘persecution’ should be an affront to the millions of people around the world who live and die amid real persecution.”
The tone of the declaration turns taunting here at the end, quoting Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego from the Hebrew Scriptures: “We have no need to answer you in this matter. The God we serve is able to save us from you, and he will rescue us from your hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the idols you have set up.”
If you had any remaining doubt that the politicized evangelical movement of today is driven by fear, here’s your proof. These are church leaders who believe they are under attack, while they instead are attacking anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs.
This document’s closing lines about “persecution” should be an affront to the millions of people around the world who live and die amid real persecution. Its prayer for strength in these cultural trials — the mere inconvenience of not always getting your way — makes a mockery of the Lord’s Prayer and every prayer of authentic faith.
This document is itself the very definition of an abuse of power.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global.
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