Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why I Choose NOT to Sign the Manhattan Declaration

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. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tiger v. Phil and My Masters Recap

This was a weird Masters for me.  Normally, I make arrangements so that I don’t have to preach on Masters Sunday.  But this week was different.  Being the second week of our new church, obviously I could not afford to take a few days off to watch the action.  In years past, I have taken vacation during Masters week, and I have grilled up my favorite foods to eat while watching my favorite sporting event of the year. 

But this year, I watched when I could, while I was working on other things.  I had Masters.com up on my laptop and would check the scores every hour or so to see the highlights that they are now posting on the site.  The site is incredible, by the way.  They post video of every notable moment in any of the rounds of the leaders.  Amazing.

Of course there was a lot going on this week, but this Masters will remain a special memory for me.  Not just because my favorite golfer won, but because it is a little microcosm of how my own life has been shaping up for the past couple of years.  This week had a very clear, Phil vs. Tiger feeling all week.  If I had a chance to post my pre-Masters picks, Phil would have been my top pick.  It was wishful thinking, but I do know that he is always in contention here and plays the course as well as anyone.  I also would have chosen Anthony Kim, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker as my other top picks.  These were obvious picks because all of them have been playing great this year. 

I, of course, have loved Phil since his ASU days.  He was kind to me when I was just a nerdy fan.  In fact, I can say easily that he went out of his way to be kind to me, and even remembered me when I saw him at later times. 

Since he was in college, he was accused of being a manufactured personality.  Because of his college accomplishments (NCAA titles, US Amateur and even winning a PGA event as an amateur) he was in the local spot light often and was constantly doing interviews.  They were comparing his potential to Nicklaus and calling him the “next big thing” in golf.  He handled EVERY interview with a smile, looking people in the eye and calling the interviewer by name.  His persona was, for lack of a better term, “Magoo.”  He appeared to many to be trying too hard to be polished and professional.  Many reacted to him as they would a politician. 

People referred to him as a “know-it-all” and claimed that he was insincere.  There were stories of PGA pros talking about him behind his back and making fun of him.  I have often found myself defending Phil to other people.  I think that people worried that he was going to be like Don Johnson’s character on Tin Cup, a guy who sounds great in an interview but is rude when the cameras are not on him.  Of course, I will always be a loyal fan.  I have defended him when people have bad mouthed him, and I have loved him even when he made horrible on course decisions like in the 2006 US Open. 

But let me tell you why I can do this.  First of all, I have first hand experience of his kindness.  There were no cameras rolling when he allowed me to sit on the edge of a practice bunker watching him hit hundreds of sand shots, while he talked to me.  He gave a friend and I his table at an ASU burger place, and remembered us a couple of months later during a practice round at the Phoenix Open. 

Here is what else I know… He signs autographs after every round.  He does it for at least a half hour, every day of a tournament.  He does this rather than practice, rather than go out to eat or party.  It is part of his work day.  He schmoozes and thanks corporate sponsors and volunteers of the event.  He does this to the point of sounding like a kiss-up.  He is involved in charities all over SoCal.  There was a story a few years ago that Phil has never commented on, where Phil put the daughter of a former NFL player through college because the NFL refused to agree on an injury settlement with her father who was going bankrupt due to medical bills.  This story was a minor blip in the media that was not commented on by Phil.  He was completely behind the scenes. 

People still accuse him of being less than genuine.  But let me ask you this.  For the players that say this, do they sign autographs for a half hour daily?  Do they go out of their way to support charity and create their own?  Do they try to handle an interview with grace and class, thank the sponsors and schmooze the volunteers?  I’m not sure if there is ANY other pro who goes so far out of his way to do these things.  If you accuse him of doing this stuff for his own marketing purposes, you have to admit that:  HE STILL DOES THIS STUFF!  He could do half as much and still market himself as being a charitable athlete who cares about the fans.  As far as I am aware, there is no PGA pro who has cared about the fans this way since The King himself, Arnold Palmer. 

This Sunday, at one point in my message, I said something to the effect of: “For the most part: You can tell what a person’s core beliefs are based on their actions.”  Based on Phil’s actions, he appears to be a person who cares about others and who will go out of his way to be kind to them. 

This week, the spotlight was squarely on a person that I have seen quite clearly as Phil’s Foil for most of his career.  Certainly, like any Phil fan, it is clear Tiger has to be the antagonist to the Phil story.  I don’t say this in any judgmental way.  Taking Tiger’s indiscretions out of the discussions, you can see that Tiger for his entire career has veiled his life in a secrecy.  He does not sign autographs during his rounds.  He is always focused on winning a tournament and quite clearly sees the spectators as distractions on the golf course.  Their on-course demeanor could not be different.  Phil acknowledges the marshals and volunteers on the tee boxes and smiles and tips his hat to his fans throughout the round.  Tiger ignores them.  Obviously, he wants to be in his zone, he wants to focus on winning and hitting every shot perfectly.  When he hits a poor shot, he swears and throws clubs at times.  A few years ago, I actually had a tivo’d moment in a tournament where Tiger was walking off of a green and blurted out a four letter word.  In the background you can see this group of 3 10-12 year old boys who were shocked to hear the word and then glare at each other with silly grins. 

Last year, he hit a poor shot at a tournament overseas and threw his driver 30 yards, almost hitting a group of spectators.  Certainly, he didn’t mean to hit anyone, and he doesn’t mean to insult anyone; he just is very passionate and does not care enough to control his temper.

This week was the supposed week of the beginning of Tiger’s redemption.  It was his first press conference with real questions and his first tournament.  Of course, Elin and the kids were not there, and whether things are being healed in that relationship, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to subject Elin or the kids to the spotlight that would be on them at a tournament right now. 

Here is what I saw from Tiger this week.   I still have not heard anyone say it, but… In his press conference, when he was asked what the most difficult thing about the past 5 months has been, his reply was not: “the crap that I put Elin and the kids and my mom though.”  What he did say was: “it has been difficult to take a good look at myself.”  and “the harassment of me and my family” from the paparazzi and media.  At least, a half dozen times he referred to:  “all that I have had to go through.”  There were separate mentions to him being sorry for putting Elin and the kids through the media ringer, but never did he say anything about what he put them through by being so blatantly unfaithful to them. 

He also talked about toning down his emotions on the course.  He even made it sound like a big bummer to his fans that because he would not have the fire of anger, he also would not be as exuberant with his displays of victory.  If you watch that interview, you may notice that this comes off as a slap in the face to Nicklaus, Watson and Palmer who have all said that Tiger needs to control his swearing and club throwing on the course.  He never said that he believed that those things were wrong, what he did say what that he would not do them anymore. 

Tiger does not owe me anything.  He can be as big of a jerk on the course as he wants, and it does not really make a difference to me.  There are golfers who are worse on the course than Tiger.  But is it interesting to you that Tiger keeps referring to the man that his parents raised him to be, and the man that Nicklaus and Watson think he should be; but never does he refer to the man that he should be because of himself or his faith.  “Buddhism was the faith that my mother instilled in me.”  What about you Tiger? 

Tiger, did not tone himself down on the course this week. He was caught at least 3 times swearing on camera. 

It was great that Tiger was warmly received.  Fans obviously want to be fans of his redemption too, as do I, by the way.  I would love to see him get his family back and be able to show that he is changing by acknowledging the fans and controlling his temper.  Certainly he is not there yet, and that makes it a bit sad and pathetic to see Tiger back on the course.  I’d love to know that when he wins next, it will be with a life that he has worked back into order rather than a game that he had forged into shape.  But oh well. This is the difference between Tiger and Phil in my mind anyway.

This past year for me has been a journey of walking from the fake to the real, from the passionless to the meaningful.  I have been learning what really matters.  I left a place that valued appearances, and am now forging a place of our own that values people.  I was in a place where people “spun” their own truth to make themselves and their ministry to look better than they might have otherwise.  I now feel like I am in a naked place, a place where the things that do matter are the things that should matter.  People and their stories matter.  I was in a place where good things were done, more so that we could talk about them than for any other reason, and now here I am in a place where doing good things is the point, not just the appearance. 

I don’t know why, but when I saw the camera shot of Phil’s wife Amy, who is so weak from her cancer medication that she can barely make it out of bed to the course, arrive near the 18th green.  Phil didn’t know if she would be strong enough to be there.  For me seeing her emotions and tears as her husband drained a birdie putt on the final hole to finish with a three shot lead was a scene of perspective.  Seeing them hug after he finished his round summed up, not only a great tournament, but Phil’s career and TIger’s struggle.  It also was a great bookend for my last couple of weeks and really couple of years.  It seems like the fake, took a backseat to what was really important.  For once, in media, in sports, family and perseverance was a bigger deal than soundbytes and hype. 

Very cool Masters. 



Some side notes:  did you notice that Jim Nantz was almost silent as they showed most of Tiger’s shots?  In my opinion Nantz is a great sportscaster because he tells the best story, he points out what is really important and pivotal, whether it is the big star or the little guy.  Even though they showed almost every shot that Tiger hit during the round, Tiger was not the story yesterday, and I wonder if Nantz didn’t want to make him the big deal when Anthony Kim and Choi were the real challengers for most of the round. 

did you see Tiger’s post round interview?  Pretty weak stuff.  “I came here to win, so I am disappointed.”  No acknowledgment that Phil played great and was a great champion?  No acknowledgement that Phil’s victory might mean a lot to Amy and his mom who are battling cancer?  huh?