THE RELIGIOUS ROUNDTABLE, an evangelical arm of the New Right, is trying to rake in the fruits of righteousness by claiming in a fundraising letter that the National Council of Churches is trying to rewrite the Bible to please a powerful group of radical feminists. That radical feminists are not exactly a major power base these days is perhaps the least of the distortions woven through the fund-raising letter currently being sent out by Roundtable president Edward McAteer. But little details like the facts aren't going to stand in the way of the fund-raising efforts of the New Christian Right.
"Dear Christian Friend," begins the letter, "do you have a few minutes to stop the liberals from rewriting the Bible to please radicl feminists? Will you sign the enclosed petition? Your name on the enclosed petition will increase our chances to stop the National Council of Churches (NCC) from nationally promoting 'feminist' Scriptures."
The letter lists such eminent sponsors as Rep. Philip Crane of Illinois, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rep. Kent Hance of Texas, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Sen. Gordon Humphrey of New Hampshire and Rep. James Jeffries of Kansas, and goes on to warn its readers that the National Council of Churches is going to rewrite portions of the Scriptures because "powerful elements of the radical feminist, left feel that women are not given equal time in the Scriptures." In fact, what McAteer claims is an "evil scheme to rewrite the Bible" is actually an experiment to try to include women more in the "lectionary" passages, the series of Bible readings chosen for worship each week in many denominations.
Ignoring the fact that the Revised Standard Version of the Bible is a revision of the King James Bible and that all Bibles have had to be translated from the Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, McAteer goes on to write: "You and I know that this attack on the wording of the Bible is the same as attacking God Himself. Why? Because the whole meaning of God and family as the Scriptures intended would be changed!"
An earlier attempt by McAteer to protect the Bible from the National Council of Churches produced a fund-raising letter so extreme in its distortions that he was attacked in an editorial by Spurgeon Dunnam, editor of the United Methodist Reporter, an independent paper in Texas, that is no great ally of the NCC.
"A dishonest description of the NCC's efforts to deal responsibly, and cautiously, with the issue of 'inclusive language' in Bible translation is used by Religious Roundtable leaders as a means to prey on pre-existing fears, and thereby to produce dollars for their coffers," Dunnam wrote.
McAteer's revised fundraising letter does address the distinction between the lectionary and the Bible. While the NCC, which holds the copyright on the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, says the "lectionary" passages are not part of the Bible, McAteer says the are. In his latest fundraiser he goes on to say: "A rewritten Bible verse is rewritten, no matter whether it appears in the Bible or in a lectionary."
Claims McAteer: "There is reason to believe the NCC's ultimate goal is to publish and promote a feminist Bible. Time magazine . . . refers to the proposed NCC version as a 'Unisex Bible." This statement, in the fundraising tradition, is a substantial stretch of the truth. What Time magazine actually said is this: "The first step toward what some religious wags are already calling 'the Unisex Bible,' will be translation of a new lectionary."
The reason the Bible is being rewritten, according to McAteer, is that it "does not support today's new permissive lifestyles or the militant feminist movement." The cure, says McAteer, is for all the good folks who understand this menace to fork over enough money to raise $250,000 to print and distribute petitions to protest this "scrilegious scheme.
"I know your days are filled with many pressing cares," writes McAteer. "We are all busy with our families, church and business," but "every day we delay means one more day for the NCC to forge ahead with this wicked project without opposition." Then, with a few more plugs for money and a few more references to David vs. the Goliath of the NCC, McAteer closes with these instructions: "Whether your gift is for $10 or $100, step out and get it in the mail today."
Dunnam observed in a personal column in his newspaper that the tactics of McAteer and the Religious Roundtable strike him as being "neither new, nor Christian, nor right." And he made an observation that the American electorate, not to mention the thousands of people whose pockets are being picked by the moral wizards of direct mail, would do well to bear in mind: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheeps' clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruit."