People? Sure. Dressed as the usual suspects -- Mary, Joseph, wise men, etc. -- the volunteers stand shivering at a manger on the church lawn at Sixth Avenue and Pine Street, a silent tribute to Christmas. Calves, camels and sheep need not apply. So the Rev. Jason Armstrong was confused by an e-mail earlier this week from PETA -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The missive admonished him for subjecting animals "to cruel treatment and danger," by forcing them into roles in the church's annual manger scene.
"We've never had live animals, so I just figured this was some spam thing," Armstrong said. "It's rough enough on us people standing out there in the cold. So we're definitely not using animals."
PETA was apparently misinformed. Jackie Vergerio, PETA's captive animals in entertainment specialist, said her organization tracks churches nationwide that use real animals in "living nativity scenes." Seems the confusion started with the church's choice of phrase. PETA flagged Free Methodist's display as a "living nativity," and indeed, that's how the church describes it on its Web site. Ed. Note: Click HERE to go to the church's website, then click on HeartBeat on the sidebar to get to the newsletter.
To PETA, that means animals -- a major no-no as far as the organization is concerned. "Those animals are subject to all sorts of terrible fates in some cases," Vergerio said. "Animals have been stolen and slaughtered, they've been raped, they've escaped from the nativity scenes and have been struck by cars and killed. Just really unfathomable things have happened to them."
In the letter to Armstrong, Vergerio shared some sad fates of previous nativity animals -- like Brighty the donkey, snatched from a nativity scene in Virgina and beaten by three young men. Ernie the camel fled a creche in Maryland but was struck and killed by a car. Two sheep and a donkey had to be euthanized after a dog mauling at a manger scene in Virginia.
Of course, none of that goes on at Armstrong's church -- which is why he was so baffled by Vergerio's letter. Free Methodist's display is totally peaceful, he said. The congregation erects the stable. They spread some straw and don costumes. Some may dress as manger animals. "We have some puppet camel things we put out," Armstrong said. "We have a cow hood thing that a person will wear that actually just looks spooky." The volunteers stand beneath a brightly lit electric star, as Christmas music fills the frosty air. They don't even speak. Consider it a meditative tribute to the holiday season. "A lot of folks will think we're plastic statues till one of us moves," Armstrong said.
Analysis: Note that there has been NO apology issued by PETA for having defamed and smeared this church. Their impulsive rush to judgement could expose this church to hate mail or even protests or outright vandalism attacks by unstable members of the public. PETA could have avoided this simply by doing more research.
However, PETA is not the only extremist group engaging in smear tactics. Earlier this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) designated the city of Olathe, CO a "Klan stronghold". Their evidence? One resident had his P.O. Box listed on a Klan website. The SPLC did not attempt to verify this information by contacting local authorities first to determine if there had been any Klan activity (there hadn't). Instead, there was a mad rush to judgement, all in the name of scaring more donations into their bulging coffers. Too bad Larry Darby didn't get elected Attorney General of Alabama. The SPLC would be fighting for its own life right now instead of randomly targeting and oppressing victims.
PETA not only needs to send an apology to the Anchorage First Free Methodist Church, but to effectively counter the ill effects of their slander, post that apology on the main page of the PETA site.
Tags: politics , PETA , SPLC , brrreeeport , living nativity , defamation