Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Initial unease in response to the Manhattan Declaration

Have ya'll heard about the Manhattan Declaration? My pastor mentioned it on Sunday, and as soon as I got home I googled it. it's sort of a political statement made by a group of Christians (evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox).

I was immediately ill at ease, because anytime a political statement comes from Christians I get nervous. I tend to disagree with the majority of Christian politics in the U.S. I mean, I voted for Obama, I would again, and I still like him. There you go, that puts me immediately at odds with most Christian politics in the country.

So. I am hesitant about the Manhattan Declaration. The main point seems to be to create a Christian response to some things going on in politics in our country at the moment that Christians are either at odds with or at least uneasy about. Here is the declaration at it's most basic, though the full version is pages and pages long.


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:

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

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


Okay... so... a few observations from me.

- The declaration (which was signed by a TON of big shots), is based on Christian principles, but it claims they are for the common good, foundational to the well-being of society, and thus inviolable and non-negotiable for our government. So. you're not just saying, this is what we believe, you're saying, this is what we all MUST live by.

- Most of the document I can agree with, but it makes me uneasy because I question - why do we feel the need to do this? Anytime a bunch of Christians make a huge stink about something other than the centrality of the gospel as the hope of the world, I get uneasy. Are we making things primary that are not meant to be primary? Is this distracting us from the main point?

- To me, this sort of comes across as an angry kid planting their foot down and yelling, "This is what I believe, you can't change me, and I'll NEVER give in to you, so don't you dare try to cross me."

- In the sanctity of human life section, I fully agree that life is sacred. Here's the thing - they never deal with the crux of the issue in my mind, which is "when does life begin?" They condemn stem cell research, and yet if you believe (as many Christians do) that life begins at implantation, then stem cell research in no way messes with sacred life. Are we drawing conclusions before we have fully investigated our own presuppositions?

- I definitely struggle with the dignity of marriage section. Essentially is argues that life-long marriage between a man and a woman is the foundation of a healthy society, and in any way in which that model of marriage is not upheld, a host of societal ills grows. Okay, so I agree that stable marriages are good for society, but here is my question. If marriage between one man and one woman was SO important, why is it that Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, and a host of other Old Testament chosen men of God do not live by this model and are not condemned for it? If this is the foundation of society, why is it not given as the foundation of Israel? Israel is given rule after rule after rule to follow, but marriage between one man and one woman is not one of them. Sexual promiscuity is forbidden, but multiple marriages are not, and neither is taking concubines. So. It seems like we may be making a rule out of something that is an ideal in our religious culture today rather than a truly universal Biblical model.

- "religious liberty" is vague, but this section of the Declaration fights against discrimination and limitations on religious institutions (for instance, forcing them to do away with their own hiring limitations. I fully agree with this point.

Like I said, I do agree with most of what is said in this Declaration, but I still don't understand the real reason and purpose for it, and parts of it do make me quite uneasy. Many, many people signed it, many people that I respect. It's amazingly ecumenical within Christianity.

What do ya'll think?

12 comments:

That Married Couple said...

Oh, thanks for telling us about this. I haven't read it, but a few comments in response to your comments :)

- As to your first point, I wonder if it's saying "we MUST live by this" so much as it's saying that these are natural laws that are obvious to both Christians and non-Christians. I think the Christian principles that it's based on are probably reflected in natural law.

- "Are we making things primary that are not meant to be primary?" Hm, good question. I think there is a hierarchy in the importance of Christian beliefs. But I think that in order to live "the main point" we do have to consider the social teachings to be pretty important. And I think it's way cool that it is so ecumenical, which in a way also highlights its importance.

- Angry kid? Maybe. But I think Christians often do feel bullied...

- Do they condemn all stem cell research? Not just embryonic? I don't really know much about this, but I believe the Catholic stance is that adult stem cell research is fine - go for it.

- When does life begin? That's a huge question, and I think it has been dealt with. Most of these religious leaders have answered it with "conception," though more mainline denominations have not. That's basically what all people, including doctors, thought for years and years. It seems dangerous to me that the answer is now a matter of personal preference - some people think conception, some implantation, some at three months, some when the baby could live on their own outside the womb, and some not until the child is actually born. It's a tricky topic. I did a post on this back in August.

- Good point about the polygamy that's present in the Bible. I don't have much to say about this, because I haven't done enough reading/thinking/praying about it! But I do think that it is a different argument than that of homosexuality.

Sorry that's so long. You asked! :) I look forward to seeing other peoples' thoughts!

CM said...

I feel a really long comment coming on... continue reading at your own risk! :)

Is this primary? I can tell you in three words: yes, yes and yes. God is the primary author of the Bible, but God is much bigger than pen and paper. The Gospel message is literally "written" into every aspect of creation, right from the beginning. In the beginning, when God created the world, He started with the least ordered things, and built up to His masterpiece, humanity, created in His own image and likeness. How is that for proclaiming the Gospel? Each and every single person has immeasurable dignity and worth because they are a revelation of God. Every. Single. Person.

Now, in no way am I speaking in a pantheistic sense. People are people and God is God. What I mean is that we are created by God and we are one sign among many pointing to God. Granted this is a broken world and all of the signs have some damage that make them hard to read at times, but they are real, and true, and by their very existence are a proclamation of the Gospel.

How can we proclaim eternal life if we don't place the highest possible value on human life? It brings to mind that if you can't love the brother you can see, how can you love the God that you can't? Furthermore, if we don't respect physical life, what possible meaning can spiritual life have?

And this is something that we MUST live by. We must live by the law of gravity. As Frank Sheed pointed out, if I decide that I do not agree with the the law of gravity, so I jump off a cliff, I do not break the law of gravity, it breaks me. The natural laws are the same. They exist whether we believe them or not. We do not break them if we decide to ignore them; we are the ones that will be broken.

Finally, life begins at conception. For this conclusion, I do not turn to my Church, but to my biology major. I went to a very liberal college. My science professors had no problem identifying when life began: at conception. They pointed out that they were not trying to tell anyone when life became "significant", only when it scientifically begins.

Umm, yeah. Well, you may have touched a nerve by asking about something that I've been studying off and on for the last 4 years! :)

Now, just because I've already written so much, I might as well keep going... (why did I just hear a chorus of groans?:) I will have to say that the more that I study this and the more that I see how fundamentally the issues of life and marriage tie into the core of who we are as human beings and how that leads us to a totality in Gospel living, the more frustrated I get with the efforts of Christians in politics. I went to a marriage rally once, and left early, nauseated. It's like they know what they're supposed to say, but they don't really understand why. When I listen to speeches like that, I hear rhetoric, not true love for fellow humans. I hear people that reveal in their statements their own brokenness, all the while trying to point out what they think is more broken about someone else. I don't think that we should stop trying to fight for the recognition of the sanctity of life and marriage, but we do need to keep working to heal ourselves first and to make sure that when we do reach out, we do so in love.

I never feel like I can truly express what I'm trying to say, so I'm going to stop now and hope that some of it makes sense. Thanks as always for a great post. I love that you don't take the band wagon approach to Christianity. It's one of the reasons that I respect your opinion so much!

Rae said...

I can't tell if your primary point is picking apart the inconsistency of some of the signers, or if you are actually pondering these points yourself.

I hate, hate, hate it when people talk about making sure that the Christian moral code lines up with the Hebrew Bible. Are you Christians or Jews, make up your mind;-).

Pretty sure that there is nothing in the OT that forbids a father from using his daughter sexually. Seriously, everything else is forbidden, but there is nothing wrong with a man abusing his own property. The only thing that matters is that no one else uses a man's daughter without his consent. And I understand a lot of the reasons for that, but would you take issue with Christians joining together as Christians to take a stand against fathers abusing their daughters?

Or how about not slaughtering those who don't share our faith? There is hardly a universal Biblical model against that!

I guess that I am simply happy to see Christians in general able to join in with Catholics and Orthodox in using Christian principals rather than "the Bible alone." But perhaps it is simply the tone that irks you?

Togenberg said...

I like your coverage of the declaration. Thanks!

You are the first person who I know who has criticized the Manhattan Declaration who did so so thinking it was too liberal.

John MacArthur, for example, took a strong stand against the declaration because in his mind it watered down the gospel and it legitimized the "purveyors of different gospels" such as Roman Catholics, making it seem like they were actual Christians and confusing the lost. (http://www.shepherdsfellowship.org/pulpit/Posts.aspx?ID=4444)

Others have gone further and accused Christians taking part in the declaration as of trying to circumvent the power of God and His Gospel, possibly being driven by the sin of pride (http://firstjohnfourfive.wordpress.com/2009/11/27/the-manhattan-declaration-why/)

So, it is good to read a thoughtful summary with some criticisms that isn't off to the separatist far right of the theological spectrum.

Thanks!

PresterJosh said...

"They condemn stem cell research, and yet if you believe (as many Christians do) that life begins at implantation, then stem cell research in no way messes with sacred life. Are we drawing conclusions before we have fully investigated our own presuppositions?"

I've never heard anyone, much less "many Christians", suggest that life begins at implantation. Could you point me to sources for this, or were you basing it on personal experience?

alison said...

I hadn't heard of this so thanks for sharing! I think the other commenters had a lot of good points that I'd rather not reiterate, so I'll just stick with these two:

To your 2nd point - I think your hesitance to say "anything with certainty besides the gospel" is reflective of the common Christian viewpoint in America and just an American thing in general. "No one can tell us what to do". The fact that you agree with all the points but don't like someone telling you to do it makes me think its more of an authority thing. So while you'll listen to God and what you believe your interpretation of God, you won't listen to other interpretations of God? What about people who don't spend as much time thinking about it? Who should they listen to? Good luck with this.

To your 5th point - From a strictly academic point, strong marriages are the foundations to healthy, functioning societies. There have been many studies that have confirmed this and shown this using both biology and sociology. For someone to deny this is akin to saying "Oh no, actually, smoking is really really healthy for you and those around you!" This is very different from condemning single mothers or those that do not live up to this, but the reality is that healthy marriage is the backbone of society as it has the highest probability of creating functioning adults.

Overall, I really think this was just an attempt to create a unified front for Christian thought/teaching on issues that are very relevant in our nation. A couple thousand churches are all saying similar things, but there's not really another opportunity for them to discuss with each other (is there?). Kind of the "United we stand, divided we fall" theory. We Catholics have that united front, but unfortunately as Christians in totality, we don't. I applaud this effort, although I doubt anyone will really care! Like you point out, Americans just don't like being told what to do :)

I've heard it said for this reason that being Catholic is as anti-American as you can get! Say that to my military family...ha!

Togenberg said...

PresterJosh
I've heard quite a few Christians wonder when human becomes, when a human consciousness begins, when a person is a person (can you be you without a brain for example, and can a fetus be a human person without one?) But I would agree that implantation seems arbitrary (as is beginning of 3rd trimester, or 'when the brain develops). this would all be simpler with a pre-modern view of biology (and medical ethics is just going to get weirder and hairier the more we learn and are able to do).

Alison, I think you're right, it is a common Christian viewpoint in America but it is not merely that. I think it's a product of modernity and science, of probabilistic evidence. It was as clear to the Council of Trent as it was to Luther that Copernicus was wrong; we know now that he wasn't, though we also know that he wasn't entirely correct, and that everything we know of the heavens is constantly being updated.

aye Alison, but what kind of marriage? one wife or many? are concubines allowed? a marriage based on a tightly-defined nuclear family or one with many extended members, even some 'cousins' who aren't technically related, may the bride and groom choose each other mate?.... yes, the family is the basic unit, it is, but what is marriage?

I think it is an attempt at a unified front and a good one. I am disappointed that some of my people wouldn't support it (no truck with apostates!) though I imagine hard line Roman Catholics (Opus dei et al.) might not be keen on working with Southern Baptists.

PresterJosh said...

"Anytime a bunch of Christians make a huge stink about something other than the centrality of the gospel as the hope of the world, I get uneasy. Are we making things primary that are not meant to be primary? Is this distracting us from the main point?"

After thinking about this a bit more, I was finally able to figure out what struck me as "not quite right" about it. From a traditional Catholic (and, I believe, Orthodox) perspective, the moral law can't be in competition with the Gospel, because it is in some sense part of the Gospel.

Luther's Law/Gospel, dichotomy doesn't work in the Catholic tradition, because to fail to preach the moral law is to fail in preaching the Gospel. Does that make sense?

Togenberg: I've heard the same sort of questions. But I was referring to when life begins, not when personhood begins.

Also, in general, I think you'd find that Opus Dei types are quite happy to work with Southern Baptists.

Kacie said...

Excellent, excellent comments, all. I have been mulling over your comments this week and unable to finish comments back, but I just wrote a followup post, and will continue more, since there was so much to say it was just too much for comments!

Togenberg said...

Ah I see what you'd mean, Kacie. "But I would agree that implantation seems arbitrary (as is beginning of 3rd trimester, or 'when the brain develops)." should have read soemthing like 'Implantation is an arbitrary demarcation just as is the beginning of the 3rd trimester, or when the brain is thought to exist, etc."

PresterJosh said...

"If this is the foundation of society, why is it not given as the foundation of Israel? Israel is given rule after rule after rule to follow, but marriage between one man and one woman is not one of them. Sexual promiscuity is forbidden, but multiple marriages are not, and neither is taking concubines. So. It seems like we may be making a rule out of something that is an ideal in our religious culture today rather than a truly universal Biblical model."

I'd note that John Paul II's Theology of the Body actually covers this subject in-depth. The basic idea in Catholic theology, though, is that the coming of Christ restored the original order of marriage as between one man and one woman for life. This is despite Moses's allowance for "hardness of heart." (Matthew 19:8)

That verse along seems to indicate that we can't just take Old Testament rules and assume their continued validity. We have to read the Old Testament in light of the New.

Kacie said...

PresterJosh, you are right on point with the instruction to read the Old Testament in light of the New. We absolutely can't assume OT rules and their continued validity, and neither can we just throw them out until we understand their purpose and whether or not it applies to us.

I'm fully with you there. My question about multiple marriages probably wasn't presented well. I have questions about how we interpret scripture, old an new, about marriage. Examples like the uncondemned multiple marriages of the Israelite patriarchs are one thing that I struggle with. However, those are not proofs, they are questions and points of interpretations that I am wrestling through.