Ethics & Religion
A Column by Michael J. McManus
 

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July 28, 2001
Column #1040

Answers For My Critics

     With this column, I complete 20 years of writing ''Ethics & Religion.'' This is a good time to quote some of my critics, and try to answer them.

     Richard Brownlee, General Presbyter of South Louisiana was offended by a column that said his denomination took ''steps toward apostasy'' at its General Assembly. He asked me for my ''credentials.'' ''Who authorized you to speak? To whom are you accountable?''

     Those are fair questions. He went to a seminary and is far more qualified academically than I, who never went to a seminary. No one authorized me to speak. I am accountable to the newspapers who can cancel this column with only 30 days notice. 

     Ultimately, I am accountable to you, the readers.

     I am a journalist who began my career 40 years ago as a reporter for small papers and was a TIME correspondent. In 1977 I began writing an economic and political column. While doing so, I heard a sermon in which my pastor asked, ''What are you doing to serve the Lord?  Consider taking your talent and experience that makes you unique as a person to serve Him.''

     That prompted me to consider starting Ethics & Religion. At first, I dismissed the idea because I had not been to seminary. Nor had I covered religion. It seemed arrogant to start a column with no training and no experience. But I had been a reporter covering complex national issues for two decades and I had gone to a good church, which inspired me to serve the Lord.

     After 20 years, I feel qualified to judge apostasy. Webster's defines it as ''an abandoning of what one has believed in.'' The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. voted 317-208, to remove words in its constitution that ordained clergy ''are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture'' either ''in fidelity within the covenant of marriage...or chastity in singleness.''

     That is a 2000-year-old Christian position. I believe to abandon it, is apostasy. Pressure for change was organized by gays who do not want to remain chaste outside of marriage. 

     However, the decision has to be ratified by 173 Presbyteries. I wrote hoping they will reject apostasy.

     My job, in part, is to inform about what is new - the news. When ads appeared in TIME, Newsweek and People featuring Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, I quoted Marion Parkhurst: ''Some say you can't be Jewish and believe in Jesus. I disagree....'' She told me, ''Jews have been persecuted for 2000 years in the name of Jesus.'' Yet in America she began reading the Bible and ''saw the Messiah all over the Old Testament...When I read Isaiah 53, I was convicted.''

     However, I also quoted Abraham Foxman, a Holocaust survivor who directs the Anti-Defamation League. He said, ''It is impossible for a person who is Jewish to worship Jesus.'' 

     Robert Teichman wrote a letter to The Call in Allentown, Penn.: ''The Holocaust is an open wound in the heart of most Jews. Thus, to use the Holocaust in a campaign that will ultimately further reduce the number of Jews in the world just aggravates the wound. The Nazi's goal was to rid the world of Jews. The desired result of the Jews for Jesus campaign is to convert Jews, thus further reducing the number of Jews.''

     That is a fair criticism. But should Jews for Jesus be allowed to present their view? The networks thought not, and refused to air any ads. 

     I reported the story, but did try to show balance.

     Rose Brauchle of Salisbury Township, Penn., objected to a January column that noted George Bush ''had a 30 point margin among voters concerned about America's moral drift, while Gore won 2-1 among those who never attend church.''

     Mrs. Brauchle, who voted for Gore, wrote, ''Imagine my surprise when I found out this makes me immoral! According to the twisted logic of religion columnist Michael McManus, Republicans are moralists and Democrats are secularists...Our family attends church... My husband and I have been married 21 years. We have brought up our children to know God, and to respect themselves and others. They know they are blessed, and that others may not be so fortunate. Does this sound immoral?

     I have to apologize to Mrs. Brauchle. Her family does not sound immoral. My column was too glib in its generalizations about the ''moralists'' vs. the ''secularists.'' There were many church-going people who voted for Gore. Blacks attend church in higher numbers than whites, yet voted 92 percent for Gore.

     I will try to do a more balanced job in the future. 

     I do want to thank the newspapers that publish this column, and you for reading it!

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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