Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Mount Vernon Statement: Roadmap to (Another) Civil War

Last week a number of prominent religious and political conservatives (including Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) released a new statement of "Conservative Beliefs, Values and Principles." The document, entitled The Mount Vernon Statement, claims as its purpose the defense of "the high ground of America’s founding principles."

A cursory reading of the document, however, with a little knowledge of America's antebellum history, reveals the document for what it is: a modern restatement of the same political and religious arguments used by antebellum southern states in defending the rights of slaveholders to own slaves. Furthermore, the Mount Vernon pronouncement is modeled after a 1960 white conservative political call to arms - the Sharon Statement - against the liberalism of the Civil Rights movement. (The Mount Vernon Statement web site initially included a link to the Sharon Statement noting the inspiration derived from the 1960 document, but subsequently removed it.)

In short, the religious and politically conservative elites who signed the document have reclaimed the southern ideological "high ground" of states rights and freedom defined as personal liberties for select individuals (but mandated inequities in American society at large).

To this southern antebellum framework the Mount Vernon Statement adds civil privileges for Christians (does anyone doubt the reference to "faith" refers to Christians specifically?) and bows before the altar of unfettered free markets that have turned 21st-century America into the equivalent of a Third World (undeveloped) nation in regards to the astonishing inequities of our national wealth gap.

Young conservative Southern Baptists are right to criticize SBC leaders who signed this statement as persons "seduced by political idolatry." Conservative political icon Christopher Buckley is likely right that the statement more immediately originates from an innate hatred of President Obama. Other commentators are correct to point out that the Mount Vernon Statement mangles its usage of America's founding documents (not to mention the irony that the United States Constitution, which Mount Vernon signees present as of divine origin, makes no mention of God).

While likely few, if any, of the signers of the Mount Vernon Statement are racists, the statement - like the larger Tea Party movement which it parrots - is that of white conservatives devoted to antebellum southern ideology welded with modern free market extremism. The statement is not reflective of the ethnically diverse, pluralistic nation that America is, nor is it reflective of the Christ to whom some of the signees claim allegiance. Rather than a roadmap to the future, it is a desperate attempt to mandate an inequitable society ruled by an ideology that has more in common with theocracies and oligarchies than western democracy. Our colonial Baptist forefathers lived under such tyrannies, and their ongoing witness and ageless voices serve as a warning to all Americans to remain faithful to our nation's founding principles of democracy, freedom, and equality for all.

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