Before you read this, you should check out the actual Manhattan Declaration.
The reason that I am writing about this declaration is because tomorrow I am heading to a conference where Senior Pastors will be presented the Declaration and asked to sign it. At least I am assuming that there will be a call to sign the document after the presentation. This declaration is not the focus of the conference. The actual theme of the conference is the relationship between the Church and the Culture.
I’ve always had plenty to say about the relationship of the church and the culture. I spent a lot of time about 8 years ago arguing with James Dobson’s son Ryan Dobson about this particular issue. I have thought long and hard about where I stand in the culture and where I stand with the church.
My summary of the Manhattan Declaration is this: I believe that the writers of the declaration intend that Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Orthodox and other non-denomination groups would unify to not only say, but take action on three foundational principles that: they should protect human life in the womb, stand up for the sanctity of marriage (a stand against same-sex unions), and stand for the protection of the rights of Churches to practice religion the way that they want to.
I know that this above statement overly simplifies the document, but when it comes down to it, I believe that the goal of the writers was a litmus test for people who label themselves as “Christian.” They want to say that being Christian means standing for the three statements included. I believe that they want to (yet again) declare that Christians are against abortion, gay marriage and want protection from government intervention in their practices.
I do believe that this document is a “nicer” way of articulating these three statements. There are little buffers before and after many of the bold statements that are meant to say: “if you agree with this…than you must be one of us.” There are buffers about standing for human rights and “reaching out with compassion to the poor.” Or stating the Christians were the ones rescuing discarded babies from Roman trash heaps in the first centuries. Of course I don’t want babies in trash heaps! Many statements that follow talk about the role of Christians in abolishing slavery and women’s suffrage. A short couple of statements do acknowledge that Christians have made mistakes and were on the wrong sides of issues at times. But these statements in general seem to say that “of course we want to stand for the poor, sick and disenfranchised.” Some of these statements do sound compassionate and are well worded, others are a bit manipulative and hyperbolic. At any rate, there is attention taken to saying that the Gospel compels us to care for others. At this time, where Glenn Beck is ranting about social justice, it’s nice to at least see statements from groups that obviously have other agendas to at least acknowledge our expected role in social justice.
With that being said…I still choose to NOT sign this declaration first based on its merits. Simply I believe that this document does far more harm than good.
If you are asking what “good” this document/declaration potentially does, I am just a bit clueless. I just don’t know. I believe for the most part that this message is “preaching to the choir.” I’m just not sure that anyone will change their opinion either way because of these words. I can see that some of the intent here is unity and action. But I am very unclear what good the unity does anyone, and what action is supposed to take place due to this message.
This message, in my opinion, is not only unnecessary, but is harmful. I believe that it brings unity only in unintended places and causes divide in places where the church can not afford more divide.
It brings unity around some strong misconceptions with groups that I am not sure that we want to have unity with. RC Sproul and John MacArthur both state that the reason that they are unwilling to sign is because of the unity that it brings between protestants and catholics. I thought about this for a while, and after re-reading the statement, I can see why they are frustrated. Let me say this for myself: I love the have unity with the Evangelicals, Orthodox and Catholics in places where we are reaching out and caring for people who are in need. I will work along with any of those folks regardless of label or denomination. In fact, I will work alongside non-Christians and people of other religions when it benefits those who are in need. But what this document does is it claims that we all adhere to the same Gospel. This is where Sproul and MacArthur both disagree. I have to as well. The statement is worded in a way that makes it sound as though we share a common statement of Gospel faith with these groups when I do not. Catholics believe in salvation based on faith AND works. This is a doctrine that has not changed much in hundreds of years. The Gospel that I believe is clearly stated in scripture shows that no works lead to salvation, it is based solely in our faith of God’s grace. This document claims in several ways at several times that we share the same Gospel.
I personally don’t want what I teach to be confused with the faith that so many are rebelling against (for good reason) in the Catholic, Orthodox and some Evangelical churches. I will not claim that their Gospel is the Gospel of Jesus. I don’t want to be confused with their practices. I don’t want for someone to think that Hillside Church believes what the Catholic church believes. This document wants to find unity with them in the Gospel area as well as these three “truths” that they believe are central to the Gospel. I refuse to do that.
For me though, there is an even bigger reason that I will not sign this declaration. I believe that these declarations bring Division in places where we do not need further division. Does the church need more barriers and more obstacles between itself and people who need Jesus? Seriously, do we need to say to people who are Pro-Choice “You are clearly not one of us!”? What good does that do? Is it even true?
I have friends who are Christian, who are also Pro-Choice. This does not mean that they think that abortions are good and that they want more of them. I don’t have any friends who want more abortion. But I do have friends that think that even though Abortion is an unfortunate choice, and some who even believe that it is sinful who are still pro-choice. They believe that the mother has the right to make the decision, even if the decision is sinful, or tragic.
What declarations like this one do, is say to those Christians, “you are not fully one of us.” It says to the non-Christian “you can not be one of us unless you agree with us.” It brings division.
Same with the Sanctity of Marriage statements. Clearly the goal here is to get people to vote against gay marriage. Clearly the words in this section are the words of Colson as he claims that a lack of respect for marriage has led to drugs, crime and all sorts of social problems. These causation claims are completely unsubstantiated by real research, there are too many variables to claim that gay-marriage and divorce lead to all of these social problems. It is far more probable that the breakdown of marriage is one of many symptoms of bigger problems.
Many in our culture are fighting a battle that they see as a civil rights battle against the government for rights of gay couples to share benefits, tax deductions, next of kin and hospital visitation rights. Do we really want to position the church against these things when they are not church issues at all? Do we really want the church to stand against an issue that others see as a civil rights issue? These are government issues, that government should have a headache dealing with, not the church. Aren’t we saying as churches that the government gets the final say as to who is legally married or not? Isn’t that a church issue? If we are arguing that marriage is sacred, why are we allowing government the power to tell us who is and is not allowed to be married? Allow the government to deal with taxes. Allow the government to deal with benefits and visitation rights. Are those things worth claiming in this declaration that they are three of the most important truths?
This all leads me to the final reason that I will not sign this declaration. Take a look at this paragraph:
We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.
This statement claims that it is “our obligation” to “speak and act in defense of these truths.” Is it? Can you back that up with scripture? Does calling myself a Christian mean that I need to lobby my Senator to oppose tax deductions for people whose lifestyle I might disagree with?
My biggest problem with this paragraph is a conclusion that many who read this will draw, and that many in our society draw from what they have already seen and heard about statements such as these. Don’t those last couple of sentences make it clear that the authors of this document see standing and acting on these issues as part of “the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”?
This is a tremendous and disgusting error in my opinion. The Gospel is: God’s forgiveness of us, through His Grace and Sacrifice, for the purpose of our Eternal Relationship with HIM. Period. This Gospel is not exclusive to people who live in the United States in the 21st century and battle Abortion and Gay Marriage. This Gospel is for all people. Claiming that this declaration is part of our obligation and part of the Gospel is not just a mistake, it is heretical. This statement is sooo poorly written, sooo careless. It unifies people through a “gospel” that is not shared and divides everyone who disagrees with the statements inside.
Many will choose to sign it based on the fact that they agree with the “three truths.” I pray that they are not blinded into believing that these are THE three priorities of Christians. I know that people who disagree with these statements will believe that these are THE priorities of Christians, of the Church. And that, in my opinion is a terrible shame.
Declarations like this are, at best, distractions to us and barriers to the people that we wish would come into our doors. Leave it alone. Pray that the people who would be hurt and divided away from us will never see it or experience its ramifications.