WASHINGTON -- 'The Moral Majority is neither,' reads the bumper sticker criticizing the political movement founded by fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell.
And United Methodist Bishop James Armstrong, one of the nation's most prominent Protestant leaders and likely new president of the National Council of Churches, says, 'The bumper sticker is right.'
In a letter being circulated among 1,500 United Methodist ministers in Indiana, the area he heads, Armstrong supports the bumper sticker and denounces Falwell.
'Although many of his parishoners insist Falwell is a loving pastor, it is difficult to see how they can overlook the uninformed hostility and judgmental anger that is his constant pulpit fare,' he wrote.
Armstrong, 57, came to the Methodist episcopacy in 1968. He served as head of the Dakotas area until being assigned to Indiana in 1980, has long been active in political affairs and was a close friend and supporter of former Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D.
Last week, he was nominated to become the new president of the National Council of Churches, the 32-member interfaith orgnaization.
In his letter to the pastors of Indiana's 325,000 Methodists, Armstrong said he has two 'strenuous objections' to Falwell and his Moral Majority movement.
'One, he is not biblical. Two, his sexism and rigid legalism dehumanize the very person for whom Christ lived and died,' Armstrong wrote.
Armstrong, who has been actively involved in international peace efforts, was particularly critical of what he called the Moral Majority's militaristic stance, saying it would have the United States 'win a nuclear arms race at the very moment when military experts, dedicated scientists and informed social critics insist an arms race is unwinable.'
He said Falwell ignores passages about peace in the Bible.
'Who expunged Isaiah 9 and the Sermon on the Mount from Jerry Falwell's Bible?' he asked. 'Where is the Prince of Peace in his thought? And the bit about loving your enemies and overcoming evil with good.'
He urged the Methodist clergy to be faithful to their Christian and Wesleyan heritage.
'We should be concerned about the plight and the future of the family. We should be concerned about human sexuality and the mysteries of sexual preference. We should be outraged by pornography, promiscuity and the exploitation of sex. We should be concerned about irresponsible abortions,' he said.
'But to be sensitive and informed does not mean we will buy into the over-simplistic, often cruel 'solutions' determined by a Moral Majority mentality,' he said.
Armstrong said the Equal Rights Amendment, which Falwell opposes, 'will not destroy the American family nor lead to unisex toilets or unisex identities.'
On another topic high on the Moral Majority's agenda, abortion, Armstrong said he believes abortion is never good. But he said the denomination's Social Principles say there are such things as 'unacceptable' pregnancies.
'Nowhere does Scripture teach that a colony of cells, a fetus, is a person,' he said, adding Falwell 'remains silent on such widespread offenses as wife and child abuse.'