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Southern Baptists threaten action on NEA

By JOHN COMMINS

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Southern Baptist Convention's policy board said it will call for the abolition of the National Endowment for the Arts unless Congress places restrictions on funding for what it called 'obscene, morally repugnant and sacrilegious art,' according to a letter released Thursday.

The Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, which serves as the public policy agency for the 14.9 million member Southern Baptist Convention, sent the letter to every member of Congress saying the commission will decide whether to support a resolution calling for the abolition of the NEA based on how Congress reacts to calls for regulating the program.

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The House plans to vote before the end of the month on whether to extend funding for the NEA, which has a $170 million annual grants program, for another five years.

The House also will consider whether restrictions should be placed on what projects the NEA can sponsor. The endowment has made grants to 85,000 projects over 25 years.

In its letter, the Christian Life Commission told members of Congress that the SBC was 'aware of several proposals that would significantly revise the method of grant-making and establish standards to restrict the content of what the NEA may and may not fund.'

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'Unless Congress implements meaningful standards which will prohibit the funding of obscene, highly offensive, morally repugnant, and sacrilegious art, we will have no choice but to call for the abolishment of the National Endowment for the Arts,' the letter said.

'Congress must protect the consciences of millions of Southern Baptists and other concerned Americans who find the funding of the 'art' in question unacceptable and outrageous,' the letter stated.

The NEA has been the subject of a public outcry because funds have been used to support controversial artists like the late Robert Mapplethorpe, whose photographs of nude children and sadomasochistic images have sparked calls for the abolition of federal subsidies for art.

'Each week seems to bring new revelations about the activities of the NEA,' the letter stated. 'This year America has learned about the NEA's funding of Annie Sprinkle, the Tongues of Flame and the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.'

The Tongues of Flame is art exhibit that contains pictures of people engaged in homosexual acts. Anne Sprinkle, a self-describe 'feminine porn activist,' began performances at a Manhattan theater by masturbating in front of the audience. Her performances were funded partly by the New York state council on the arts, which in turn is funded by a $500,000 grant from the NEA.

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Christian Life Commission Director Richard C. Land said the issue is 'not a question of censorship but a question of sponsorship.'

'Just as (Robert Must as Robert Mapplethorpe) has the right to portray the crucifix submerged in urine, so do we have the right to demand that it's not paid for with tax dollars. And we also are exercising our First Amendment rights by protesting the desecration of Christian symbols,' he said.

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