Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


The Manhattan Declaration: Where I Stand

posted by Scot McKnight

Manhattan.jpgI heard about The Manhattan Declaration through Twitter and FB and then on Christianity Today, so I read it to see what was being said and I read through the list of those who were invited to sign it to see who was officially on board.

Here’s the opening set of claims:

A CALL OF CHRISTIAN CONSCIENCE

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:

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.

Here are my first thoughts:

First, I agree with the moral stands: I’m against abortion, I’m for marriage between a man and a woman and I do not support same-sex marriages, and I’m surely also for civil and religious liberties. I’m also for agitating for what one believes is right, and I’m also for tolerance for the views of others, even if those views become laws and even if I disagree deeply.
Second, not only do I agree with these basics, but I really do like their opening descriptions of the Christian conscience (on the full statement linked above) and how Christians have addressed key issues in the history of Western civilization. I like that they link the poor to the unborn; that is an important moral argument — the Eikonic status of the unborn. I like that they fight for the sanctity of marriage.
Third, I also agree that society’s numbers show that more are against abortion than for and that we, as believers in representation and the voice of the public, need to let the people speak. Furthermore, I support the belief that while Obama says he is opposed to abortion at the personal level but finds it defensible under current laws (Roe v. Wade) his policies have only increased the chances of abortion and not decreased them.
Fourth, I am concerned about a culture of death — about both stem-cell research and where it “might” lead (I think we need to avoid a slippery slope necessity here) and the issues surrounding euthanasia have within the possibility of mandating the necessity of hospitals to conform and they are too often framed in ways that do not support the culture of life. I want us to have laws that respect the sanctity of life.
Fifth, I totally agree on the rock-bottom sanctity and cultural significance of marriage and family. I appreciate their willingness to admit and confess complicity in a culture that has degraded marriage and family. I would love to hear from The Manhattan Declaration inner circle how they intend to give legs to their commitments to spreading the influence of sound marriages and healthy families. Their commitment to refrain from disdainful condemnation of those who participate in sexual sins is a notable statement. I like that they connect marriage to the procreative element — a historic position of the Church — and not just to the romantic element. This commitment to procreation and the care for the procreated is inherent to marriage.
Sixth, and I agree that movements now in culture and in legal circles should not lead to demanding and mandating that hospitals and doctors and churches and parachurch organizations conform against religious conscience.
Finally, because of the above points and because this is from a widespread group of Christian leaders, because I respect those who have signed it and those who drafted it, because it is ecumenical both on the basis of the great tradition and on the basis of shared moral values, because they have overtly claimed this is not just a partisan statement — and there are folks from both sides of the political spectrum on their list — and because they are not claiming these moral statements about abortion and marriage are the only central moral issues of our day, I hereby publicly endorse The Manhattan Declaration
I hope you will join me or at least join us in a conversation.


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Ben Cheney

posted December 1, 2009 at 1:24 am


Thanks for your clearly-articulated thoughts, Scot – much appreciated. If you have time, could you possibly offer a response to Evangelicals who are speaking against the MD (eg. John MacArthur) owing to its ecumenism? I have read a lot of people talking past each other on this subject in the blogosphere, but not much helpful interaction between the two schools of thought.
(Not meaning to bash or encourage bashing of J-Mac in any way, just that his view (see http://www.shepherdsfellowship.org/pulpit/Posts.aspx?ID=4444) is representative of the sort of thing I’m getting at.)



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Mike M

posted December 1, 2009 at 1:32 am


Bravo to you, Dr. M and the creators of the declaration. We now proudly stand on Christian values, however they evolved, and their fundamental necessity. In Wisconsin, pharmacists now face criminal charges if they morally do not fill prescriptions for abortifacients. The same can happen with surgical abortions. The few remaining Christian hospital systems in the state believe their days are numbered: they would no longer maintain tax-exempt status nor receive government insurance payments for ANY service if they refuse to perform abortions. Sometimes the “historic position of the church” needs no apologies.
Ben@1: what do you mean by “MD” and J-Mac? Are you speaking the same language?



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Mark Traphagen

posted December 1, 2009 at 1:41 am


Same old same old. Only issues already comfortable for middle class American Christians becuase they’re already on the “right” side of all of them? Where is corporate greed? Where is war for profit of transnational financial powers? Where is killing thousands of innocents in “wars for freedom”? Where is raping the earth through profitable but devestating agribusiness and mining? Where is financing slave labor through blind consumer spending?
When some of these make a Christian declaration, let me know.



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Greg

posted December 1, 2009 at 1:41 am


I’m not Ben, but I feel I can answer for him with certainty:
MD = Manhattan Declaration
J-Mac = John MacArthur



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Ben Cheney

posted December 1, 2009 at 1:53 am


Thanks Greg – your translations are spot on! :) Sorry for the confusion.



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Debbie

posted December 1, 2009 at 2:13 am


John Stackhouse has some interesting thoughts on this subject on his blog.



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Your Name

posted December 1, 2009 at 3:19 am


Thanks for this Scot! You make some great points. I’ve been reading this document and mulling it over for the past few days. You’ve expressed many of my own thoughts and yet I’ve found myself wondering why the document bothers me. I haven’t been able to shake it. I think Stackhouse pinpoints some of my dis-ease. But I’d add that I think the document will do more harm than good with regards to the causes it addresses. At least that’s the way it seems to me when I put myself in the position of someone who would disagree with its key points, which you’ve so eloquently summarized. In fact, I’d much rather give someone your summary than the document itself. I guess I just fear how this declaration will be used or misused by the well-intentioned as well as the unscrupulous.



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Dave Leigh

posted December 1, 2009 at 3:21 am


Oops, #7 was me. Got stuck by the captcha.



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Derek

posted December 1, 2009 at 6:02 am


Well said Mark! Looks like the Declaration is incomplete.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 1, 2009 at 7:46 am


Mark, I’m trying how to discern how any thinking Christian could think the sanctity of life is “same-old same-old”? Nothing new, to be sure; but something important?
I said in my statement that I say this statement is not saying that these are the only central issues of our day.
They do, however, in the fuller statement connect the integrity and sanctity of the image of God as a fundamental platform for analyzing the issues around poverty. I affirm that … would I have framed issues differently? Sure. But that doesn’t mean we can’t affirm what we agree on.



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mick

posted December 1, 2009 at 7:50 am


Perhaps, I’m missing something. I’m not saying the church needs to be perfect before making such a declaration but it seems there needs to be more attention to cleaning our own house (and hearts/actions) in the areas mentioned as well as many not mentioned before making such a declaration to the world or to the church universal. Otherwise, we may appear to be moralizers or hypocrites – and we might be guilty of both.



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CJW

posted December 1, 2009 at 8:00 am


I have friends who have signed/endorsed this document, but respectfully decline from doing so myself.
John Stackhouse has a blog post extremely close to my own position, and I note that he speaks from outside the US too.
A significant concern is simply that despite its opening claims, it does not speak to the church, only from it to the rest of society. There is little if any self-critique, or any call for conversion within the Christian community.
Previous prophetic declarations with which the MD attempts to compare itself spoke with judgement and hope for those inside and outside the body of Christ; this document speaks nearly unequivocally judgement to those who do not share the authors’ views.
Finally, while the document claims a Christian unity which is admirable, it does not (indeed, because of the continuing scandal of Christian division, cannot) ground this unified voice in anything more theological than superficial moralising. Where is the common theological, ecclesial and biblical foundation for such a stance? It should not be found in its opposition (however right this may well be) to a particular cultural issue but in a shared life together as God’s people who have been reconciled in Christ and are being transformed by the Spirit.



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sonja

posted December 1, 2009 at 8:01 am


I don’t want to speak for Mark, but I do share his concerns that this Declaration is unnecessarily narrow in it’s scope. If we’re to analyze issues around poverty, we (here in the U.S.) need to take more responsibility for how our behavior personally and corporately effects those in other countries. I don’t see any language in this Declaration to support that notion. It seems very U.S.-centric and that bothers me.



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CJW

posted December 1, 2009 at 8:07 am


I don’t agree entirely with Halden’s analysis at inhabitatio dei, but it is thoughtful (if polemical) and cannot be ignored. http://www.inhabitatiodei.com/2009/11/20/why-conservatives-shouldnt-make-manifestos/



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Rick

posted December 1, 2009 at 8:20 am


To Mark and others who are concerned about the narrow scope,
Keep in mind why certain issues are mentioned:
“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.”
There is not an assault for people in the United States (including Christians) to accept corporate greed, poverty, and slavery. Most people in society, as well as in the church, have problems with those.



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RJS

posted December 1, 2009 at 8:49 am


Well, I would not sign the statement as written – because I think that such a move would be an endorsement lock, stock, and barrel and I think that there are some truly troublesome pieces to this. There are issues where statements are made definitively that I think go beyond scriptural teaching.
On the other hand as Mike M pointed out above, we have a real problem in that “conscientious objector” status is becoming impossible in many professions and many parts of society (medicine and psychiatry, psychology and counseling for example). When a student can be dismissed from a program for refusing to counsel a person “according to the book” on homosexuality, but instead refers the person to another counselor who will go by the book, we have a serious problem.



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Joe Whitchurch

posted December 1, 2009 at 8:51 am


Thanks for your brave stand on this in the public square. It is easy for ‘correctness constructs’ and real or imagined associative guilt and shame to scare off the less honorably consistent. Bless you.



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sonja

posted December 1, 2009 at 9:05 am


Rick #14 wrote “There is not an assault for people in the United States (including Christians) to accept corporate greed, poverty, and slavery. Most people in society, as well as in the church, have problems with those.”
Everytime I shop for groceries I am forced to condone a level of corporate greed, poverty and slavery that I (as a Christian) cannot be comfortable with. With every prescription I have filled, I am forced to accept a level of corporate greed on the part of the drug companies that is unlike any other. When was the last time any of us was able to find something in a local chain store that was NOT made in China? If you don’t think those items were made in conditions that are equivalent to poverty and slavery, then you have been mis-informed.
I would dispute your statement … there is an all out assault for the people of the United States to accept corporate greed (indeed we, our children, and grandchildren will be paying for the $700B bailout of 2008) for decades, poverty and slavery.
Simply because the conservative church has sadly neglected these issues while sitting in comfortable pews, does not make them non-issues.



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Patrick O

posted December 1, 2009 at 9:09 am


“Christians confess that God alone is Lord of the conscience. Immunity from religious coercion is the cornerstone of an unconstrained conscience. No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will, nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions. What is true for individuals applies to religious communities as well.”
This is interesting to me for a couple reasons. One because it is Christians who are often the biggest violators of this. People like their own consciences protected a lot more than they like to protect others.
Second, because just yesterday I started writing a major paper on Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson and Quakers. I think Williams would be very pleased to see his arguments validated not only by a secular government, but by very similar religious conservatives he saw himself part of, and who often totally rejected him.
I’m also a bit curious about the “God alone is Lord of the conscience” phrase. Christians confess this? All of them? That’s a pretty interesting, and debatable, statement.
I’m not sure I quite get the whole “same old” and “so US centric” arguments here. I agree there should be a broad focus of issues, but my concern in hearing these voiced here is that these calls are not prophetic as much as diversionary. All through the document there is mentioning of broader issues, even as there is an explanation why the focus is where it is at.
People on both sides tend to want to bring this conversation always back to the early 20th century divide between liberals and fundamentalists. Emphasize something that tends to one side or the other, and there will be an attempt to smear the speaker with all the mistakes of historic movements and their particular blindness.



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Kyle J

posted December 1, 2009 at 9:18 am


Here’s the problem with the narrowness of the document: Is the purpose of the document just to express unity among people who already agree with each other? Or is it also to work to change hearts and minds of those who don’t agree completely right now?
If it’s the second, then I think the narrowness of the document detracts from its effectiveness. If conservatives (whom I’m going to assume constitute the majority, but not all, of the U.S. signatories) refuse to engage on, for example, the issue of ensuring that someone who loses their job and has a history of cancer can’t get affordable health insurance, than why should someone care what they think about stem cell research or gay marriage?
Fairly unrelated: The section on marriage seems pretty weak to me. You can certainly make a strong argument based on scripture that marriage is meant only for a man and a woman. But to try to argue that gay marriage creates social harm requires empirical evidence–and it’s hard to see that the empirical evidence for that claim is stronger than the evidence that, say, divorce (which no one is proposing to outlaw) causes social harm. And the civil-rights-related arguments can all be flipped on their heads absent starting from a scriptural standpoint.



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Jonathan

posted December 1, 2009 at 9:21 am


My concern is not with the text of the declaration itself, but with some of what’s been stated as its intent.
Colson (one of the authors):
“We argue that there is a hierarchy of issues. A lot of the younger evangelicals say they?re all alike. We?re hoping to educate them that these are the three most important issues.”
The Declaration itself, as Scot says, doesn’t propose these three issues as the “most important,” but I’m reluctant to sign on given this context.



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bthomas

posted December 1, 2009 at 9:24 am


How refreshing.



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Dave

posted December 1, 2009 at 9:27 am


Mark Traphagen
December 1, 2009 1:41 AM
Same old same old. Only issues already comfortable for middle class American Christians becuase they’re already on the “right” side of all of them? Where is corporate greed? Where is war for profit of transnational financial powers? Where is killing thousands of innocents in “wars for freedom”? Where is raping the earth through profitable but devestating agribusiness and mining? Where is financing slave labor through blind consumer spending?
When some of these make a Christian declaration, let me know.
Mark, I found your post to be a relief. I’d add much, not the least of which would be the rape of homelands and dispossession of dwellers for the benefit of those whose pursuits are in the name of science or for profit. Plus the awful machinations we require of non-citizens.
To the dispossessed the issues the MD may come off as a look into the conscience of powerful/wealthy christians.



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Jim Marks

posted December 1, 2009 at 9:31 am


That preamble and then the items you cite as needing defending are completely, utterly at odds with one another.
People trapped in no-win medical decisions -are- the weak and powerless.
People dying of diseases we may be able to cure, but can’t because government is being partisan with research money -are- the weak and the powerless.
Homosexuals -are- the weak and the powerless.
If you want to strengthen the family STOP pretending that “family” is a word that means a mom and a dad and two point four kids in a single family home with a fence around the yard. It _MIGHT_ be nice if that’s what it meant, but it doesn’t. Look around our country and the proof is all around you. If you’re going to strengthen family, then you have to strengthen what it IS not what you WISH it was.
If you want to defend marriage, you have to defend what it IS and not what you WISH it was. In this country, marriage is a CIVIL contract, not a sacrament. If you try to make the sacrament into law, you violate the first amendment, end of story.
THIS is where Christianity ends up on high horse riding off a cliff from relevancy to futility. THIS right here. THIS is the stuff that makes me ashamed to call myself a Christian. Where all our high and mighty talk about a new way and reform and change goes out the window and we resort to good-old-fashioned-luddite conservative nonsense.



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Randy

posted December 1, 2009 at 9:47 am


I find the MD to reflect a generational divide between those willing to address the major issues that the MD does not address and those seeking to preserve them as banners of Christianity in America. In light of this, I am disappointed that the writers and signers did not compose a document that could include many younger evangelicals.
They seem intent on hiving off particular issues to focus on.
In the same vein, I very much appreciated John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae. I have been deeply disappointed by efforts to take it and separate out abortion as an evil greater than others which alone could bar one from communion.
I respect Scot’s position, and have to consider all that he says, yet MD has much of the culture warrior about it, something I find destructive to all of us. Jim Wallis’ blog had much to say about this.
Regarding RJS (#15)
One of the areas where it is easy to see the MD going beyond scripture is in the coded sacralization of the American middle-class family. I understand the concern about gay marriage. But making the family an anchor of the declaration seems problematic given Jesus’ own orientation and teaching, how the early church confronted the Roman Empire’s demand that all young women marry, and the fact that families as we discuss them have really only existed for about 100 years, since the industrial revolution and rise of the middle class.
Peace,
Randy Gabrielse



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David Neff

posted December 1, 2009 at 9:56 am


Several of us who were among the original list of endorsers have asked Chuck Colson to clarify the comments reported in the New York Times. Chuck told me that the comments were distorted. He does believe that these three issues are top priority. And the main drafter of the statement Timothy George believes that these three are foundational in a special way. But neither man saw the statement in the way that the Times’s Laurie Goodstein reported, as an attempt to shift evangelical activist energies away from environmental and immigration concerns and back to abortion and traditional marriage. If it had been that, a number of us would have been unable to sign.



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ChrisB

posted December 1, 2009 at 10:26 am


@Jim (#23),
Biblical compassion always operates in conjunction with biblical holiness.
Taking innocent lives is wrong no matter how “difficult” the medical decision. Homosexual sex is wrong no matter how much they love each other.
“If you want to defend marriage, you have to defend what it IS and not what you WISH it was.”
That’s not how it works. That’s like telling the OT prophets to accept what Israelite religion has become. No, we have to stand for marriage is supposed to be.
Letting people live their lives any ol’ way they want is not compassion if they will one day stand before a God with strict and explicit standards.



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Rick

posted December 1, 2009 at 10:28 am


Sonja #17-
“I would dispute your statement … there is an all out assault for the people of the United States to accept corporate greed (indeed we, our children, and grandchildren will be paying for the $700B bailout of 2008) for decades, poverty and slavery.”
But almost everone is upset about it. We are not being told, or forced to admit, that it (or poverty, or slavery) is a good, acceptable situation.



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Truth Unites... and Divides

posted December 1, 2009 at 10:42 am


Ben Cheney, #1: “If you have time, could you possibly offer a response to Evangelicals who are speaking against the MD (eg. John MacArthur) owing to its ecumenism?”
See this post by Andrew Sandlin titled “Lordship Salvation is Not Enough: A Response to John MacArthur”. Here are some excerpts, but do read it all.
“MacArthur is wrong on two counts. First, he over-generalizes and oversimplifies the Gospel.
Second, and more relevantly, MacArthur underestimates the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
The MD presupposes an ethical calling wider than the Gospel, and we dare not shrink back from the implications of this wholly valid assumption: the Gospel is one of the great themes of the Bible without which there can be no ?true and ultimate remedy for all of humanity?s moral ills,? but the Gospel is not the entire, or even the most important, message of the Bible. It is a crucial dimension of an even more momentous message, which is the sovereignty of God over all things (2 Chron. 20:6; Ps. 103:19; Pr. 21:1; Zech. 9:10; 1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 19:6).
The MD is suggesting that Jesus is Lord of the state, too, not just Lord of redemption. And when the state transgresses its God-ordained role, it stands as a rebel against the kingdom of Jesus Christ to which it, too, and not just the church, is called to submit.
But what MacArthur does not seem to grasp, and what the signatories of the MD do grasp, at least intuitively, is that the Lordship of Jesus is wider than individual salvation. This fact is easy to prove.
The MD takes a step toward recovering an understanding of the full-fledged Lordship of Jesus ? that Christians must speak prophetically to the ethical issues of the time, and expect the state to stay within its divinely prescribed limits. Just as Jesus? Lordship is wider than the church, so Christians? message must be wider than the Gospel.



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Rachel H. Evams

posted December 1, 2009 at 10:42 am


Maybe I’ve just been in the Christian subculture for too long – but I’ve grown a bit weary of “declarations” and “statements” like these. I feel like they are too often used as lines in the sand/ proclamations of culture war that rarely lead to action and change.
I think a lot of young people take issue with the declaration because, frankly, we want our faith to be about more than abortion/gay marriage/ conservative politics. This just sounds so, I don’t know, the same.
Have I become too cynical?



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John Sobert Sylvest

posted December 1, 2009 at 10:49 am


The dignity of the human person, the sanctity of human life, legal justice & the common good, and the primacy of our responsibility to protect the weak & vulnerable are the core values being addressed in the Manhattan Declaration. The document makes an appeal – not only to religious foundations, but – to the nature of the human person, the light of human reason, the historical institutions of human society and vast human experience. The declaration, in my view, presents an honest portrayal of how the Christian conscience has influenced civilization with a tone and tenor that is both irenic and self-critical (not triumphalistic).
These core values are timeless, universal and nonnegotiable. This appeal is philosophically rigorous and psychologically holistic in that it honors the integral nature of our empirical, rational, practical, prudential, relational and religious approaches to all human value-realizations. The language is authentically dialogical. This document represents a legitimate entrance of religious voices into the public square. And these voices, because of the manner in which they have spoken (at least, in this instance) deserve respect, deference and earnest engagement.
I don’t think anyone could seriously disagree that our world is badly ailing from the evil that flows from the disregard of human dignity and human life.
I do think that people of large intelligence and profound goodwill can honestly disagree on a number of things declared in that document. People might disagree about various specific moral realities, about what is indeed right or wrong, good or evil, and why. People might more broadly or narrowly conceive the concepts employed in the document. People might disagree about specific diagnoses of societal problems and/or about the prescriptions devised to cure those ills. People might disagree about specific sociological facts and practical solutions, including administrative (executive), legislative and judicial remedies. It is for these types of reasons that I would not endorse the Manhattan Declaration. It is for all the reasons I listed further above, though, that I welcome its introduction into our public discourse.



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dopderbeck

posted December 1, 2009 at 10:52 am


Scot, while I’m sympathetic with some of the things expressed in this Declaration, on a first review of it, it seems problematic to me in a number of ways. I’m particularly surprised, Scot, that as one who describes himself as “anabaptist” you’d sign on to this. I think I’ll write a longer post on it, but here is one example of a key passage from the section on same sex marriage:

the argument that laws governing one kind of marriage will not affect another cannot stand. Were it to prove anything, it would prove far too much: the assumption that the legal status of one set of marriage relationships affects no other would not only argue for same sex partnerships; it could be asserted with equal validity for polyamorous partnerships, polygamous households, even adult brothers, sisters, or brothers and sisters living in incestuous relationships.

Note that the drafters are suggesting here that marriage as an institution cannot be separated from the civil law of marriage. I would expect an anabaptist to raise the question of Constantinism here. This is much more than a statement about how the Christian community should think about marriage. It is a call for the Christian community to fight for its view of marriage to be encoded in the civil law. Even more, it’s an assertion that Christian discipleship demands that Christians fight towards this end.
Much as a might be sympathetic with some of the moral impetus of the document, I’m very, very, very uncomfortable with any claim that Christians uniformly as a matter of faithful discipleship must seek out any particular result in the civil law. Too quickly this becomes a form of violence, and too quickly, as noted in my post on “judicial activism,” it threatens to become a literal call to arms. So, my initial impression is that I’d prefer a much more nuanced statement on what Christian discipleship requires.



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Your Name

posted December 1, 2009 at 11:16 am


RJS I am curious what parts of the statement you find that “definitely” go beyond the bible?
I also think it would be beneficial to this comment thread for those who have such strong opinions to make sure they have read the entire thing rather than just the summary that Scot offers.
In addition I think it is quite dismissive to call the issues the MD addresses as ?old.? Since the sanctity of marriage is a rather new one I can only assume this critique is being directed at abortion or religious liberties. I wonder where we would be if this same line of reasoning would have been put forward to MLK and the Civil Rights movement; ?hey guys give this equality issue a rest, its old and everyone has their minds made up already.? It is horrendous to use this kind of logic when we are talking about the murder of babies. As followers of Christ we should value life as we cherish the doctrine of the Imago Dei. Does this mean this is at the expense or neglect of other social issues? Absolutely not and to read that into the MD is an interpretive error.
I get that for many of us we have a bitter taste in our mouths when it comes to some of these issues because they were high jacked by the Religious Right over the last 25 years, but this is once again no reason to abandon them or no longer recognize them as vital.



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Ryan

posted December 1, 2009 at 11:17 am


That last post was from me, I hate when I forget to put my name and it shows up as “your name” sorry.



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AHH

posted December 1, 2009 at 11:19 am


3 things to mention, without necessarily opposing the Declaration (though I doubt I’ll add my puny signature to all the others):
1) Even though it is worded fairly graciously, most of the original signers, and much of the publicity, seems to be in a “culture wars” context (maybe it would seem different if somebody like Keller were out front instead of Colson). I think the Declaration will inevitably get viewed (both inside and outside the church) as another weapon in the culture wars, and (at least the way the wars are currently conducted) I don’t want to be a combatant there.
2) Those behind the document need to be quick to disown any use of this Declaration as a weapon to bash those who decline to sign. In the comments on the last Weekly Meanderings, I pointed out one blog posting already of “XYZ group who claim to be Christians do not seem to be endorsing the Manhattan Declaration, therefore we should suspect that they are anti-life liberals.” Such a tactic needs to be condemned when it rears its ugly head.
3) Like another commenter, I am concerned about the way it seems to lift up the Ozzie and Harriet family as sacred. I’m fine with their defense of man-woman monogamous marriage. But I don’t like the emphasis on procreation, as though childless marriages are inferior. This is personal — for a variety of reasons my wife and I have no children (and don’t feel particularly deprived by that). Our church culture sends messages that we don’t count as a “family” or are second-class for our childlessness. Aspects of this document seem to feed this way that childless couples (and single people) tend to be marginalized in Evangelical churches.



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dopderbeck

posted December 1, 2009 at 11:30 am


Ryan (##32 and 33) — I suspect one issue RJS might be referring to is embryonic stem cell research, though perhaps not. In any event, I personally am against such research, but I recognize that the issue presents an issue at the intersection of the Bible, ethics and science that is not so easily resolved as many advocates on either side of it like to think. Some subtle and substantial argumentation is needed to make the case against embryonic stem cell research, such that simply making “declarations” about it seems less than helpful.



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Ryan

posted December 1, 2009 at 11:45 am


Thanks Dopderbeck,
I am out of my depths when it comes to the scientific details of embryo research in regards to stem cell. I am limited to the knowledge of being a very curious Dad who did as much research as I could to learn about my baby all throughout the pregnancy process.
I am sure a case can be made that this issue is beyond the scope of the Bible I would not use the word “definitely.” I would say it is quite reasonable to make an argument that an embryo is certainly human, as what else could it be? Is it less advanced? Sure, but ontologically it is human.
I do not want to high jack this comment thread so I will let this tangent rest here as I know it is not the point of Scot’s post.



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dopderbeck

posted December 1, 2009 at 11:50 am


David Neff (#25) — I’m glad you chimed in here, but I wonder if you can answer the “why” question that John Stackhouse and others have asked. Why a “Manhattan Declaration” when we already have things like the NAE’s “For the Health of the Nation” as well as countless books and articles on this subject? And why sign it if you recognize that the three issues it mentions aren’t the only important social issues the Church faces? What purpose can it possibly serve other than to stir up further political activism against various parts of the Obama administration’s agenda?



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Karl

posted December 1, 2009 at 12:01 pm


Scot, several people have mentioned John Stackhouse’s blog post about the Manhattan Declaration. I’d be interested to read your reaction to Stackhouse’s post and his comments in the subsequent thread on his blog.



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Jim Marks

posted December 1, 2009 at 12:01 pm


This is nothing but a fancy wrapper to try to make conservative politics look like it is unavoidably Biblical, and unavoidably Christian. Neither are the case. You can wrap it up any way you want, imposing your morality on people who neither agree with it nor have any obligation to live by it is both unjust and utterly lacking in compassion.
This is GOP Religious Right version 2.0 because version 1.0 was a failure. Nothing more. It is time to find a -genuinely- new way, people. Do the hard work and re-think.



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Tim Webb

posted December 1, 2009 at 12:05 pm


Scot,
Thanks for this post. I was suspicious about this Declaration because of all the people who signed it, and honestly blew it off. I’ll still never sign it, it’s too tainted, but at least you gave me something to think about.
Thanks, Tim



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Jim Marks

posted December 1, 2009 at 12:17 pm


Here’s the problem. If you want to stand against legal abortion, then you MUST address the issue of THREE MILLION unwanted pregnancies annually in this country. But the “pro life” movement does NOTHING to address this issue. In fact, almost universally, conservative Christians stand OPPOSED to comprehensive sex education and high availability to birth control! These are the very things CAUSING these unwanted pregnancies in the first place! You CANNOT claim to be acting compassionately and justly and morally if on the one hand you PUT women into this no-win situation and then tie their hands and FORCE them to accept the least acceptable (to them) option. There is NOTHING Christ-like about that.
If you want to stand opposed to stem-cell research on moral grounds then you MUST actively seek to raise the necessary funding to ensure that EQUALLY PROMISING research is done to cure the diseases which now otherwise will not be cured. But this is also never done.
If you want to stand opposed to death with dignity, then you MUST take a stand against medical procedures which are currently performed out of legal obligation on the part of doctors which FORCE people to stay alive when in the not too distant past “nature would take its course”. We now have the capacity to keep a human body alive more or less indefinitely, but the suffering which results from this is heart-breaking.
It is perfectly fine to stand opposed to homosexual sex, but that in and of itself does not justify treating people like second or third class citizens! Marriages between two men and two women are happening every day. In churches. They may not be legal marriages, but they’re still marriages. You CANNOT stop same-sex marriage. You can’t. It is impossible. So long as ordained ministers exist who are willing to perform them, they will happen. Period. Acting out of SPITE to deny those people their legal due because you RESENT that their are ministers willing to do this is not Christ-like. It just isn’t. Period.
Taking a moral stand against something is not the end of the conversation. It is the beginning. It puts you in the position of being morally obligated to provide an EQUALLY just and valid alternative. Christian Conservatives NEVER do this. They take a moral stand against things they wish never happened and they think making them illegal keeps them from happening. This is out and out CHILDISH.
If you’re going to claim a Christ-like stance on politics then your platform CANNOT be a series of the things you are against and MUST be a series of the things you are IN FAVOR OF and those things must be CONCRETE and UNIVERSAL. You cannot simply say “we are in favor of strengthening the family” when what you mean by that is “we are against allowing anyone we don’t like to be welcomed into the fullness of citizenship and community”. That’s called LYING.
Create a platform of conservatively constructed REFORMS that HELP the very people that these social ills are HURTING and you will have my unwavering support and I will scream from the rooftops for all to join. But simply standing opposed to helping those who need our help most is EVIL.



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Mark Traphagen

posted December 1, 2009 at 12:19 pm


Since it would seem that Ryan’s (at first identified as “Your Name”) comment regarding the phrase “old” was aimed at me, I’d like to clarify my remark above (#3).
When I opened with “same old, same old” I in NO way meant that the issues raised in the MD and supported by Scot are “old news and out of the way.” Far from it! My reference was intended to be to Christian methodology and polemics: approaching those issues in the same old way (culture war style declarations and manifestos). Also, my “same old” had reference to the Christian Right’s repeated habit of presenting only that limited range of issues in the MD; issues with which they are already comfortable and provide no personal challenge to accept and support.
In contrast, I take issue with the commenter above who seemed to imply that such things as corporate greed and it’s attendant exploitation of the poor and the earth are already abhored by everyone. The hordes cramming through the doors of your local big chain supermarket or Walmart testify against that conviction. My wife and I rarely shop at such places anymore, preferring locally made goods, buying directly from craftsmen and suppliers, and our local farmers market for as much food as we can. When more Christians are doing similar things, I’ll believe the rhetoric that Christians are “already against” corporate greed.



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Rick

posted December 1, 2009 at 12:45 pm


Wow. The tone of some of the comments here tells me more about harshness of certain opposing perspectives than it does about those who signed the document.
And those comments are aimed at people who have a goal of helping “human dignity and the well-being of society”.
You cannot make this up.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 1, 2009 at 12:50 pm


dopderbeck,
“Note that the drafters are suggesting here that marriage as an institution cannot be separated from the civil law of marriage.” I don’t see that in their statement.
Most importantly, I fail to see why an Anabaptist can’t support a political attempt to draw attention to moral issues; even agitating for better laws. That’s not Constantinianism: that would be forcing everyone with dissent to agree or be killed.
I also observe that Ron Sider, a noteworthy American Anabaptist, signed the statement. I don’t see it as inconsistent with Anabaptism unless my faith is transferred to the political process and State, or to some degree thereof.
Mark, I agree that the method is “same old, same old” and may will have rolled their eyes. But I read the statement ad agree with the concerns. I don’t like that Colson has said these are the three central concerns; but neither did the MD say that.
One more comment in general: I think when people saw that Colson was behind this, many just rolled their eyes. But, as a Third Way person, I want to see what the MD says and see what I like and don’t like.



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Randy

posted December 1, 2009 at 12:57 pm


Thank you Scot for giving us much to think about. I do think that John Stackhouse’ questions need to be answered.
Regarding John S.S. (#30)I always become nervous when I see principles declared to be “timeless and universal.” The claim strikes me as similar to “utopian” principles, which are simultaneously “the best place” and “no place.” Neither Jesus nor Paul declared principles as universal. Marc Pearse, in “Why the Rest Hate the West,” makes clear that we in the modern West too easily conflate our current principles with something “timeless and universal.”
Just to take one example, of apparently timeless and universal principles of “human dignity” and “human life” and “common good” are we talking about the principles whereby the owning and enslaving of persons was enshrined in the Constitution, the exclusion of Native Americans from the protections of the constitution, or the exclusion of women from legal standing? Or are we talking about the “timeless and universal principles” that overturned these?



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Mark Baker-Wright

posted December 1, 2009 at 1:01 pm


Rick in #43,
Do you honestly mean to suggest that you think only liberals (being the “opposing perspective” vis-a-vis “those who signed the document”) are being divisive on this issue?
One would need only do a cursory search of writings already on record by the signatories of the MD to prove otherwise.
That’s not to say that divisiveness is appropriate in this venue (or in any particular other), but I simply can’t take that accusation seriously the way I’m reading it.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 1, 2009 at 1:11 pm


On Stackhouse, I read his piece the other day and generally think he’s put forth some good ideas. But the way things work here is that the most votes wins; if I think something’s “right” and I can vote for that, I’d be a fool not to; furthermore, if enough folks agree with what I think is “right,” it can become “law” – which is what ‘we the people’ is all about.
I agree that some major names are missing; the issue for me isn’t who did and who did not sign it. What is at issue is what is written; I agree with the major points as I’ve said in my post.
It seems Point Two is almost uncharitable: there’s an “if Religious Right, then not good” in it unless I’m misreading John. I’m not RR but I’m for pro-life and pro-traditional marriage and for rights. That means I agree with what is said, regardless of who said it.
I agree with Point Three: what will happen is unclear to me. I’m not sure how important that it is… but time will tell.
Point Four gets back to what is said above: it’s a bit heavy-handed to say “enshrined” but here’s the big idea; we can agitate for our views as long as we tolerate dissent. I see no Constantinian “let’s take over and kill those who disagree.” I see this as agitation for laws; the majority will win either directly or indirectly. That’s what I see going on. I suspect the document assumes liberty for those who don’t agree and they may well be in the majority.
I think he’s pushing the RR issue too hard, though I understand why he does.
I agree that political theory and theology etc could help the document. But I’m for what that document is for. So is John.



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Your Name

posted December 1, 2009 at 1:23 pm


Mark #46-
I am addressing the harsh tone of some, not all, who are in opposition.
Why is this seen as a liberal v. conservative, or us v. them issue? Why can it not be seen for the issues themselves.
As Scot #47 said in relation to the Stackhouse post:
“Point Two is almost uncharitable: there’s an “if Religious Right, then not good” in it unless I’m misreading John”
I am hearing that same thing in comments here as well.
Can we not seek the “third way” rather than totally dismiss it simply because we don’t like the politics of some?
I like what Scot in #44 stated:
“I think when people saw that Colson was behind this, many just rolled their eyes. But, as a Third Way person, I want to see what the MD says and see what I like and don’t like.”



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Rick

posted December 1, 2009 at 1:26 pm


Sorry, I was #48.



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toddh

posted December 1, 2009 at 1:27 pm


I’m with the “same old, same old” crowd. If you are going to be against the culture of death, then how about including state-sponsored means of death, like war or capital punishment? The fact that these are neglected in my mind shows this declaration to be the same old stuff from the same old people. I prefer a consistent ethic of life.



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dopderbeck

posted December 1, 2009 at 1:49 pm


Scot (#44) –
Constantinism isn’t as narrow as “forcing everyone to agree or be killed.” Constantinism exists whenever the power of the state is confused with the power of religious conscience. Law always involves power and violence. If you don’t comply with the law, you will be deprived of property, liberty, or in extreme cases, life, by the law’s penal provisions. Therefore, appeals to the civil law in order to enforce religious norms always involve the danger of Constantinism.
In this light, continue reading right after the part I quoted, for example:

No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage. Marriage is an objective reality?a covenantal union of husband and wife?that it is the duty of the law to recognize and support for the sake of justice and the common good. If it fails to do so, genuine social harms follow. . . . if we are to begin the critically important process of reforming our laws and mores to rebuild such a culture, the last thing we can afford to do is to re-define marriage in such a way as to embody in our laws a false proclamation about what marriage is.

It is crystal clear that the position of this document is that the civil law must encode the natural / moral / religious law of marriage, and further that it is core a duty of Christian discipleship to advocate that the civil law reflect the natural / moral / religious law of marriage. There is no hint at all here that it might be possible to build a pro-marriage “culture” without the sanction and power of the state via the civil law.
This is more than some sort of official preference or declaration in favor of traditional marriage. If the civil law encodes the Christian view of traditional marriage, then gay couples who try to marry and anyone who cooperates with them will face the compulsory power of the law. What this document is saying, then, is that we cannot build a Christian culture of marriage without demanding that the civil state punish gay people who try to get married and the magistrates who cooperate with them.
Perhaps at the end of a lengthy discussion such a use of the law could be judged to be necessary and valid. Personally, I don’t identify myself strictly as an Anabaptist, so I would bring somewhat different theological presuppositions to bear on exactly how law and religious conscience ought to relate. But it seems to me that the MD utterly rejects any sort of Anabaptist perspective on the relation of state power and religious conscience. Indeed, it seems to me that, without more clarity on the political theology underlying the document, some aspects of it could be seen to border on the theonomic. Sider signed it, but I’m guessing that Hauerwas, Craig Carter, and various other Anabaptist voices won’t go near it.



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Larry Shallenberger

posted December 1, 2009 at 2:15 pm


I agree with the content of the declaration. My question is this, though: Why another declaration of the pro-life position? And why now?
I guess I wish the Manhattan Declaration would be followed up with a Manhattan Initiative; a tangible way of serving people whose lives have been blighted by broken marriages or abortion.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 1, 2009 at 2:27 pm


dopderbeck #51
“Therefore, appeals to the civil law in order to enforce religious norms always involve the danger of Constantinism.”
But what constitutes a “religious” norm. Worship on Sunday, participation in communion, or what I believe about Jesus Christ are religious issues. Family and abortion are moral issues. Religion certainly informs our morals. The assumption in the American form of government is that citizens will form their moral views and then bring them into the marketplace of ideas when laws are being considered.
What I fear I hear in some of this discussion is that it is okay to have a moral position of abortion or marriage so long as it isn’t informed or grounded in a religious values. Somehow if I get my morals from religious grounds and promote those morals in the public square I’m “imposing my religion.” Yet if it is not based on religious grounds its okay. In other words, not just a separation of church and state, but also of church and mind.
I can’t “impose” my values on anyone but I can guarantee you I intend to work to build a majority to “impose my values” against murder, rape, theft, economic exploitation, etc. If I’m to be successful I will need to demonstrate the need in other than just religious terms because the majority of the public isn’t going to share my religious values. But I assure I will be motivated by my religious values.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 1, 2009 at 2:32 pm


dopderbeck,
I don’t want to argue law with you. I don’t see what you are saying here; in my mind they believe marriage is between a man and woman; that is, in effect, the law now; so they are sustaining that law by saying no one has “a right” etc..



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Anthony

posted December 1, 2009 at 3:25 pm


For years, the immoral unrepentant and highly vocal, have sneaked into the highest positions of various Churches to try to undermine the Royal Law of Love in favor of a man-made image of The Law of Love. I’m so glad many are uniting to state unequivocally, what has always been The Christian Apostolic Faith from the beginning to present.
This is the most loving action, since it would not be loving to allow many to live unrepentant lives and turn our backs unto them until it’s too late and they face The Perfect Judge who will hold us all accountable on whether we were repentantly asking for His Mercies and Grace, or whether we boasted of our “rights” to be as gods, deciding what is evil and good only on our own , rather than on The Loving Absolute Standards of The God who has made us.
humbly in Christ,
Anthony



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dopderbeck

posted December 1, 2009 at 3:49 pm


Scot (#54): my problem is the claim that the law has a “duty” to recognize the Christian / moral / covenantal view of marriage: Marriage is an objective reality?a covenantal union of husband and wife?that it is the duty of the law to recognize and support for the sake of justice and the common good.” This is a theologically fraught claim, which seems not to recognize that our current context must always fall short of eschatological perfection.
And it’s not only that they don’t want new “rights” to gay marriage recognized. What they demand is that the Christian / moral / covenantal view of marriage be encoded into civil law. And, they demand that all Christians must seek this result as a matter of Christian discipleship. For example: “And so it is out of love (not ?animus?) and prudent concern for the common good (not ?prejudice?), that we pledge to labor ceaselessly to preserve the legal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman and to rebuild the marriage culture. How could we, as Christians, do otherwise?”
Well, we might “do otherwise” by putting all our resources into strengthening marriages in the Church rather than spending tens of millions of dollars lobbying for ballot initiatives that ban gay marriage! We might “do otherwise” by promoting the religious solemnization of marriage as far more meaningful than its civil recognition! We might “do otherwise” by actually getting to know some gay people as friends and learning about how wounded they feel by “our” “ceaslessly” politicking against them!
Don’t misunderstand me: I am not arguing that the law should recognize gay marriage as legitimate. What I’m concerned about is the question of priorities in the mission of the Church. As far as I can tell, the signers of this Declaration believe it is fundamental to the mission of the Church today to lobby against civil recognition of gay marriage in North America. In this regard, I think it’s very fair to take note of who the main drafters of the document are. These are folks who have already spent so much of the spiritual and financial capital of the Church on the culture wars. Some of them have scorched the earth with their tactics and rhetoric. Now they demand that all Christians of good will join their crusade?
I question whether this is a proper missional priority for a Church that exists in a post-Christian global culture. Indeed, I believe it’s in many respects a misplaced priority.
Michael (#53): I never suggested that law cannot involve moral judgments, and indeed I would go further than you and suggest that civil law can and should sometimes consider explicitly theological judgments. But at the same time, not every moral principle can or should be enacted into positive law prior to the eschaton. It is a question of prudence as well as a question of priority in mission and sensitivity to cultural context.
The Church’s mission is not primarily to ensure that Christian principles are enacted into civil law.



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Allan R. Bevere

posted December 1, 2009 at 5:16 pm


Scot,
No one can get a great discussion going better than you!
Allow me to throw in just a few thoughts. As one who stands in the broad (and I emphasize that word) evangelical tradition, I, like many, have been greatly disappointed in the exclusive emphasis on abortion and marriage by the religious right to the neglect of other issues. I have welcomed those who have wanted to widen the moral field to include issues of poverty, AIDS, environment, etc. But now I have quickly become disappointed in the religious left who now have their own narrow set of issues and have excluded or at least minimized abortion and matters of marriage and family (e.g. Jim Wallis and Brian McClaren).
As I have monitored this discussion, I am once again frustrated that Christians have been so co-opted by the modern dichotomies of right and left, that once again, we sound just like Democrats and/or Republicans. We have some who refer to the MD as “same old same old,” which is hardly revealing of anything significant. From its earliest centuries, the church has been of basically one mind on abortion and matters of marriage. To say that it has been of one mind is not to dismiss the complex issues involved, but there is a coherence theological narrative in the church’s historic position. What I like about the MD is that it reminds us that the issues that are of concern in the document must not be neglected. I am not entirely happy with the doccument, but like Scot there are things I can assent to and gladly do.
Frankly, I think many on the religious left have used the “there are other issues too” argument as simply a way of neglecting two matters mentioned in the MD that have been of clear importance to the church through the centuries. I support their desire to broaden the range of Christian concern. I reject their neglect of the issues highlighted in the MD.
Having said that, it would a step back to go back to the two issue orientation of the religious right. The church is quite capable of dealing with multiple moral matters from abortion to children in poverty(and it is theologically right to link those two), from corporate greed to governmental over-reach (which is also greed that the left fails to mention), from war and violence to justice for the oppressed.
And by the way, there may be some who like to focus on abortion because it is an issue that may allow people to sit comfortably in their pew, but it is equally comfortable to support government programs that feed the poor while allowing us also to sit comfortable in our pews as well as converse at Starbucks while sipping our lattes and planning the vacation to Disney World. Let the government do it while we throw in a little more in taxes, and then we don’t have to worry about it ourselves.
It is always easy to support any position, when we put the work on someone else while feeling vindicated by our moral courage in telling someone else to take care of business. It’s easy to accuse someone else of not doing anything to lessen the problem they oppose. What are we doing to lessen the social and moral problem that is so dear to each one of us?
I think it goes back to that splinter and log thing in the Sermon on the Mount.



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John Sobert Sylvest

posted December 1, 2009 at 5:19 pm


Randy (#45) wrote: Regarding John S.S. (#30)I always become nervous when I see principles declared to be “timeless and universal.”
Randy, good point. Those descriptors are too ambiguous. I have a similar queasiness with the phrase “constant tradition,” which is often invoked in my own denomination. I find it objectionable, in some cases, for some of the same reasons you stated and due to examples analogous to the ones you provided.



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Listen to God's Song

posted December 1, 2009 at 5:28 pm


I signed up for the declaration because I believe that right now our religious liberty is being sucked out from under us. Most people turn a blind eye to the incremental creep of secular humanism in our society. The church has always been a called out, counter cultural remnant. This declaration begins to define what we need to bring revival to the church. And bring Jesus to this nation.



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RJS

posted December 1, 2009 at 5:38 pm


Ryan (#32-33)
I have serious reservations on the section on Life – it is not actually a pro life statement. It is an antiabortion diatribe. Abortion is not the cause of our problems – it is but one symptom of a deeper problem. dopderbeck is right that I think that the stem cell question is more complex – but we will ignore that for now. I would rewrite the section as follows:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. ? But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Luke 6:32,35
We are unreservedly pro-life. When the scripture says that God created man in his own image it means each and every individual. A culture of death inevitably cheapens life in all its stages and conditions by promoting the belief that lives that are different, imperfect, or inconvenient are discardable. This is seen nowhere more clearly than in a culture which condones torture and revenge for wrongs committed.
Therefore we applaud the current administration for its movement to condemn such practices and to instill a worldwide value for the life and well being of all people everywhere. We must defend the weak and the powerless in our country and around the world.
An increasingly powerful movement to promote assisted suicide and ?voluntary? euthanasia threatens the lives of vulnerable elderly and disabled persons. Eugenic notions such as the doctrine of lebensunwertes Leben (?life unworthy of life?) were first advanced in the 1920s by intellectuals in the elite salons of America and Europe. Long buried in ignominy after the horrors of the mid-20th century, they have returned from the grave. The only difference is that now the doctrines of the eugenicists are dressed up in the language of ?liberty,? ?autonomy,? and ?choice.?
Around the globe, we are witnessing cases of genocide and ?ethnic cleansing,? the failure to assist those who are suffering as innocent victims of war, the neglect and abuse of children, the exploitation of vulnerable laborers, the sexual trafficking of girls and young women, the abandonment of the aged, racial oppression and discrimination, the persecution of believers of all faiths, and the failure to take steps necessary to halt the spread of preventable diseases like AIDS. We see these travesties as flowing from the same loss of the sense of the dignity of the human person. And so ours is, as it must be, a truly consistent ethic of love and life for all humans in all circumstances; friends and enemies.
Although public sentiment has moved in a pro-life direction, we note with sadness that pro-abortion ideology prevails today in our government. The present administration is led and staffed by those who want to make abortions legal at any stage of fetal development, and who want to provide abortions at taxpayer expense. Majorities in both houses of Congress hold pro-abortion views. We will be united and untiring in our efforts to roll back the license to kill the unborn tthrough abortion. We will work, as we have always worked, to bring assistance, comfort, and care to pregnant women in need and to those who have been victimized by abortion, even as we stand resolutely against the corrupt and degrading notion that it can somehow be in the best interests of women to submit to the deliberate killing of their unborn children.
A truly prophetic Christian witness will insistently call on those who have been entrusted with temporal power to fulfill the first responsibility of government: to protect the weak and vulnerable against violent attack, and to do so with no favoritism, partiality, or discrimination. The Bible enjoins us to defend those who cannot defend themselves, to speak for those who cannot themselves speak. What the Bible and the light of reason make clear, we must make clear. We must be willing to defend, even at risk and cost to ourselves and our institutions, the lives of our brothers and sisters at every stage of life, in every condition, and in every nation.



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John Sobert Sylvest

posted December 1, 2009 at 5:45 pm


Michael (#53) wrote: “If I’m to be successful I will need to demonstrate the need in other than just religious terms because the majority of the public isn’t going to share my religious values. But I assure I will be motivated by my religious values.”
This sounds right to me.
In America, religious influence in the public square has been enhanced and strengthened by the anti-establishment & free exercise clauses of the 1st Amendment. There is no need to bracket either our religion or metaphysics in the public square but there is a need to translate them if we want them to exert any normative impetus for others. This is consistent with the position that moral reality is transparent to human reason even without the benefit of special divine revelation. An essentially religious argument will gain little traction in a pluralistic society.



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Randy

posted December 1, 2009 at 6:00 pm


I heartily agree with David Dopderbeck’s two posts. I have long held that one of the wonders of Christianity and the church is that it turns the focus back on us, on our behavior before we even think of challenging others. Stanley Hauerwas’ motto fits here(even if garbled a bit): The job of the church is to be the church. We have a long way to go in getting our own house in order regarding marriage. Not just in not cheating, divorcing, etc., but in honoring each other, in the entire realm of the place of sexuality in marriage and the church.
This is why I have so much problem with those who take to soapboxes to call for legal changes — The problem of sin runs right through all of us, just as much as it does through “them”.
Peace,
Randy Gabrielse



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Randy

posted December 1, 2009 at 6:03 pm


Thank you so much RJS.
Peace,
Randy



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Sue

posted December 1, 2009 at 6:19 pm


I would heartily endorse the RJS edition of the MD.
Did the reference to “the barbarian tribes overran Europe” trouble anyone else? To me it hinted at racism, seemed unnecessarily pejorative and seemed to detract from the later attempt to be conciliatory to others. It made me wince from the get go, but maybe I was over-reacting?



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ryan

posted December 1, 2009 at 6:27 pm


How about instead of writing declarations, we simply live them?
Even if I did agree word for word for what was in the declaration, I don’t see any reason, nor do I see Jesus encouraging us to, write declarations to make sure everyone knows what we believe.
Besides the fact that Jesus promotes living over writing, it logically makes no sense. Does anyone really expect someone who disagrees with the statements to read it and change? In reality, what percentage of people who read this declaration are going to be Christians who then argue with each other over whether they agree with it or not. I’d say a large majority.



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Patrick

posted December 1, 2009 at 6:39 pm


Picking up on Scot and Dopderbeck’s exchange on marriage:
If a key issue here not just what we believe as Christians but how we live with others in a plural society, how far should Christians support plurality and not just seek to win the majority vote to enshrine their beliefs in law?
Specific example – Evangelical Alliance Ireland just published a response to proposed legislation on same-sex civil unions [not marriage] arguing that the Bill should be supported. It has got mixed reactions as you’d expect. I was involved in the discussions and we found John Stackhouse challenging in his call in ‘Making the Best of It’ for Christians to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ – in other words to support freedoms for others that you want for yourself even if you disgree with them profoundly.
If you have a minute I wonder what you think
http://www.evangelical.ie/docs/Civil%20Partnership%20response.pdf



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Tim

posted December 1, 2009 at 6:51 pm


Scot, I agree with you on all points and endorse the declaration as well. My blog explains why in two parts at http://www.timspivey.com. I’ve only posted Part 1 (on the whole idea of creeds and broad impressions). Part 2 will comment on the substance of the declaration.



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dopderbeck

posted December 1, 2009 at 7:42 pm


Patrick (#66) — I’m not sure what I think about civil unions, but I agree with you that what is getting lost in the discussion is the fact that we live in a pluralistic post-Christendom democracy. How do we live with those with whom we disagree? Is doing legal battle always the right answer? It seems clear to me that faithful Christians who are seeking to love God and their neighbors can come to very different conclusions about how to live out their citizenship in the secular city.



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dopderbeck

posted December 1, 2009 at 7:43 pm


BTW Patrick, I have a number of ties to Ireland and would be interested in hearing more from you about the EAI if you’re involved with them. Look me up and get in touch with me. Cheers.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 1, 2009 at 7:50 pm


Patrick and dopderbeck,
The singular issue here — and here my Anabaptism comes through — is the dualistic stance in ethics: one for the church and one for society. This smacks of the Lutheran Church-State two kingdoms approach to how to live in society.
My own take: I am called to be a disciple and to stand for what Jesus teaches; if the State goes in another direction, so be it … I can’t have one ethic for my life and another for others and think I’m being faithful to Jesus.
But, I accept the reality of difference in State and Church; the State has its own agenda and its own ethics. I agree when it is with Jesus; I disagree when it is not.
But, also, I will not spend my time “fighting” the State. I will take my stands; I will take prophetic stands; I will protest etc but all within a love them to the end stance.



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Mike M

posted December 1, 2009 at 9:21 pm


This post has gotten quite the attention since I was here last (#2)!
We should take RJS’ post (#60) and use it as a starting point for our own statement of beliefs. I’d propose the “Libertyville Declaration” but that’s too cumbersome. How about the “Barrington Declaration”? Sounds richer and fuller.
Ryan (65): nothing wrong with writing down your beliefs. The church has done it ever since Paul. Jesus didn’t have to since he had others do it for him.
Scot @70: The Two Kingdoms theory served well those who first supported Luther: the princes of the German petty kingdoms. That philosophy allowed them to justify doing horrible things to people such as Jews, peasants, and even the Anabaptists. Good idea to stay away.



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Rod

posted December 2, 2009 at 1:09 am


I suggest a glance at this post. Very provacative and right on the money. The MD is nothing more than persons from the center of power claiming to be victims.
http://slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/2009/12/the-fatuous-foolishness-of-the-manhattan-declaration.html



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dopderbeck

posted December 2, 2009 at 9:47 am


Scot (#71) — ok I know I’m beating this dead horse, but…
The Manhattan Declaration is not content to let us take prophetic stands without fighting the state. It is a call to shape the state through advocacy — “fighting.” It’s a synthesis of natural law and Kuyperian political theology.
It’s one thing to say, like MLK, “we should have a place at the big table too.” It’s another thing to say “this particular table is reserved for us.” I think the former is consistent with an Anabaptist political theology. I think the latter isn’t.
(Again, to be clear, I personally am not here suggesting gay marriage should be legal. I’m just trying to clarify what I see as the political theology underlying this Declaration because I think that is the key to a meaningful discussion about whether it is a useful statement.)



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John Sobert Sylvest

posted December 2, 2009 at 2:59 pm


Once stipulating to a moral realism that affirms that there is but one ethic for all, another question emerges for both church and state: When should moral realities be codified into legal realities?
This is not just a question for a pluralistic society. Clearly, no one is suggesting that everything that is moral should also be legal? whether in church or public law? How coercive should either the church or the state be and under what circumstances?
I do not have a problem with shaping the state through advocacy, even knowing that the political process can be inherently adversarial. When the issues under consideration are intrinsically related to the maintenance of the public order, enforceable moral legislation should codify the moral law into secular law.
We cannot in truth deny a social ontology of human life, human dignity, marriage, family and other human realities as grounded in the theological vision that we are God’s creatures for which He has specific designs. Neither can we deny, however, our radical human finitude and the reality of sin, which is to also recognize that, at best, any political order is merely an hypothesis in relation to the Kingdom. On one hand, we want to affirm a grand narrative being communicated by God, in other words, both metaphysical and moral realisms, while, on the other hand, we must recognize that our moral and political architectonics are fallible constructions because of our interpretive limitations.
A radically deconstructive postmodernism introduces a secularistic urge that is decidedly anti-realist and which can be discredited on philosophical grounds as epistemologically bankrupt. An Enlightenment fundamentalism run amok with its radical empiricism, logical positivism and scientism also introduces a secularistic urge because it denies metaphysical and moral realisms, albeit from a different angle, which is also not philosophically defensible. The recent Neoconservative movement does not err, in my view, in its theory of truth, which affirms metaphysical and moral realisms. It does err, as I see it, in its theory of knowledge with a realism that, at least in practice if not wholly in theory, is more naive than critical, hence in its anthropology, which is overly optimistic, in a word, utopian.
The neoconservatives are correct in resisting secularistic tendencies on philosophical grounds vis a vis an affirmation of metaphysical and moral realism. It cannot be a denial of those realisms that checks any theocratic urges. Rather, it is an affirmation of political realism, grounded in a defensible anthropology (neither too pessimistic nor optimistic), that should chastise any theocratizing tendencies.
Beyond the establishment and recognition of moral realities there is a discipline known as jurisprudence, which distinguishes between sin and crime, moral and legal aspirations, educative and legal efforts, good laws and bad laws. It is a political theology robustly informed by an authentic pastoral theological vision of human nature that introduces the need for more nuanced thinking than I see articulated by many on the Religious Right, who are on thin ice from a jurisprudential perspective. Any on the Left, however, who cave in to the secularistic tendencies of postmodernism based on radically deconstructive theories of truth, or any who dualistically fragment our integral human nature ethically, are not even on thin ice but immersed in very cold epistemic waters.



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Your Name

posted December 2, 2009 at 6:16 pm


JSS@75: but are the signers of the MD actually using the law to implement their agenda based on their metaphysical “truths” (or preconceived notions)? I didn’t see that but may have missed it. Or perhaps Colson is picking up that end of the club in order to beat others with it.



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Mike M

posted December 2, 2009 at 6:17 pm


That would be me in 76



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John Sobert Sylvest

posted December 2, 2009 at 8:31 pm


Mike M.,
My main concern is the jurisprudence issue, which is in play however the various signers are grounding their moral intuitions. But you raise an interesting question. The signers appeal in general to the light of reason and so on but do not explicitly cite one moral theory or meta-ethic versus another. Implicitly, I’m aware of how the Catholic neoconservatives and bishops employ natural law reasoning, but I’d like to know how other signers are implicitly or explicitly making their case vis a vis various other theories, which might be variously more vs less compelling to most people in our pluralistic society.



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John Sobert Sylvest

posted December 3, 2009 at 9:13 am


In the Frequently Asked Questions at manhattandeclaration.org a question and answer are posed, affirming natural law:
“There are plenty of people of other religious faiths that would agree with your stands. Why is the Manhattan Declaration a statement by Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Evangelical Christians?
There are indeed people of many faiths who agree with our stands, and we applaud and honor them, and pledge to labor together with them in a true spirit of brotherhood for justice and the common good. Robert George has said: “For too long, the historic traditions of Catholicism, Evangelical Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodoxy have failed to speak formally with a united voice, despite their deep agreement on fundamental questions of morality, justice, and the common good. The Manhattan Declaration provided leaders of these traditions with an opportunity to rectify that. It is gratifying that they were willing–indeed eager–to seize that opportunity. Of course, as Cardinal Justin Rigali observed at the press conference at which the Declaration was released, the foundational principles it defends ?are not the unique preserve of any particular Christian community or of the Christian tradition as a whole….They are principles that can be known and honored by men and women of goodwill even apart from divine revelation. They are principles of right reason and natural law.? So the signatories are happy to stand alongside our LDS brothers and sisters who have worked so heroically in the cause of defending marriage, our Jewish brothers and sisters, members of other faiths, and people of no particular faith (even pro-life atheists such as the great Nat Hentoff), who affirm our principles and wish to join us in proclaiming and defending them.”
See: Frequently Asked Questions
In an article earlier this year in First Things,Reforming Natural Law, J. Daryl Charles reviews Stephen J. Grabill’s “Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics” and describes, within the history of Protestantism, “a broad consensus that rejects the natural law as a metaphysical notion rooted in divine revelation.” He suggests that the “general reason for the bias against natural-law thinking is the anti-metaphysical predisposition of much nineteenth-century German thought that exerted itself on the Protestant mainstream well into the twentieth century.”
I wonder if all the signatories of the MD would sign on to this FAQ.



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Jim Jacobson

posted December 3, 2009 at 1:22 pm


Great post, I signed it as well. It’s time for us to be heard as one voice.



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Pastor Doug Thompson

posted December 3, 2009 at 11:55 pm


The first words of the first two paragraphs are “Christians” and “we.” The remainder of the document explains that these two words are meant to join Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Evangelicals together as fellow-Christians. Indeed, even the Papal Edicts of the 16th and 17th centuries are deemed as contributing to the cause of Christ. Were the authors thinking of the Counsel of Trent which anathematized the Gospel?
What divides biblical Christianity from Roman Catholicism is not simply matters of “ecclesial differences” but the issue of the Gospel itself. Rome teaches a false, soul-damning gospel of works-righteousness. Unless the Reformation was a colossal mistake, and the Protestant martyrs died in vain, then for any true Christian to sign this document is a betrayal of Christ and the Gospel.
The Gospel is our true power to change human hearts and effect change in the social issues the Declaration addresses, but it is this very Gospel that is sacrificed for the sake of pragmatic ecumenism.
Count me out.



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