The Manhattan Declaration

21 Nov

I don’t usually post three times in a day (sorry) but felt that The Manhattan Declaration is worth commenting on.  Here is a summary of the document:

Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

  1. the sanctity of human life
  2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
  3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The document has already been signed by an impressive group of people — many of whom I have deep respect for (Keller, Hollinger, Kreeft, Plantinga, etc)– and I am sure more will add their names shortly (you can see the full list of signers here.)

After having read the full document (you can read it here), I have a few observations about the declaration:

1. For better or for worse, it is not going to be a big deal.  Over the past few years, documents like this are produced and circulated to much fanfare and then fall off the radar very quickly. “An Evangelical Manifesto” (which I signed) is a good example. (You can read it here.)  Some people are very upset and angry about the document (like Zack here) and others tout it as the greatest thing since the Reformation (like Dale here) — both are over-reacting and both mistakenly think this is a bigger deal than it is.

2. This document does little to further debate and discussion and more just states what is fairly obviously true (of the beliefs) of the people signing it.  When I was a competitive policy debater (many years ago) we would have referred to this as being a “vacuous” document.  In other words, so what?  It is already well known that most Catholics, Orthodox and Evangelicals are pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, and affirm religious freedom.  From that sense, this neither an interesting nor significant nor contributing document.

3. As is often common seen (on both the left and right), the arguments being made are often based on straw-men and fear tactics.  In this sense, the document lacks nuance and academic rigor.  It is somewhat sloppy and not well written.  Maybe that is a simple reality of a “by committee” document, but I think The Evangelical Manifesto, for example, was a much better written document (irregardless of your agreement with it).

4. One of the underlying fears that the document addresses is the notion that somehow it may become illegal in this country for pastors and church leaders to preach what they believe (about homosexuality, for example) without being arrested.  Simply put, this is a straw man argument and is not something that will happen in this country.  It is a fear tactic and not an honest one.  The argument would be taken much more seriously if the proponents dropped such fear-mongering.

5. I think the consistent comparison of gay marriage to things like polygamy, incest, etc, is so obviously not a successful approach to an effective conversation about these issues.  It strikes me as truly bizarre (and offensive) when people insist on these lines of argument.  A case can be made against gay marriage without resorting to slippery slope and reductionist arguments — and if it can’t, you need to re-think your position.

6. I think it is interesting that the two issues highlighted in the document are abortion (extended rhetorically to include most pro-life positions (with the notable exceptions of war, death penalty, etc) and gay marriage.  (The third issue of religious freedom is not really its own point… it is more the conclusion that says “we will resist” being forced on the other issues… it is not an issue in-and-of-itself).  Without getting into the details of the two issues, what seems strange is that they are really not related issues, except in their political implications.  Of all the issues that could have been included in this document — and that Catholics, Orthodox and Evangelicals could agree upon — it weird (yet predictable) that these were the two issues chosen.  What about poverty? Disease? Political corruption? Illiteracy? Environment? etc etc?  Even from a logic perspective, gay marriage and abortion are not on the same level (assuming you are in agreement that both are wrong).  One is an issue of life and death (the argument goes) and the other is one of “sanctity of an institution” (their language, not mine… albeit an important institution.) Without getting into the issues too specifically, I think the history of how the religious right has used abortion (and more recently gay marriage) to rally their base is interesting to say the least.  Certainly there is real conviction on these issues — but there is also political strategy at work. (I’ve been told a great book is coming out exploring this issue re. abortion sometime next year… looking forward to reading it!)

7.  The incongruity of the issues reminds me that this is more about politics than principle.  

8.  References in the document to the current administration accomplish two things: (1) it makes the document explicitly political; and (2) it makes the document come across as petty and time-bound instead of universal and sweeping.  I think this was a mistake.

9.  I think I agree with about 90% of what was written.  I am concerned about the politicization of the document, about what is left unsaid, about the comparison arguments under the gay marriage section (which are also bad arguments), the overall tone of the document, and the issues that are being ignored and omitted.  But a lot of what it says (especially in reference to church history) is good and true.

10. Speaking of church history, while I certainly don’t expect them to list all the negative things, it is worth noting that church history is rift with racism, antisemitism, discrimination, violence, corruption, violent in-fighting, etc, etc — just worth remembering before we Christians get too arrogant about our moral superiority.

I would be curious to hear your thoughts.  Would yo
u be able to sign this document?  Why or why not?  I think for the reasons listed above, I would pass…

One last thought… in the section talking about homosexuality, here is what the document says (among other things):

We call on the entire Christian community to resist sexual immorality, and at the same time refrain from disdainful condemnation of those who yield to it. Our rejection of sin, though resolute, must never become the rejection of sinners. For every sinner, regardless of the sin, is loved by God, who seeks not our destruction but rather the conversion of our hearts. Jesus calls all who wander from the path of virtue to “a more excellent way.” As his disciples we will reach out in love to assist all who hear the call and wish to answer it.

It is a nice sentiment, but has not been my experience with the church at all.  My experience is that there is a clear double-standard in terms of “sexual immorality” for heterosexuals and homosexuals, that there is a clear rejection of sinners and that “disdainful condemnation” is the norm, not exception.  I also think the difference in how homosexuality gets handled as opposed to divorce, premarital sex, adultery, etc, is bizarre (with perhaps the exception of the Catholic church, which is nothing else is at least consistent on these issues — and on pro-life/abortion/death penalty/war issues — gotta given them credit for that!)

Anyway, those are my random thoughts… would love to hear yours!

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Posted by on November 21, 2009 in Uncategorized


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