Saturday, December 5, 2009

More thoughts on the Manhattan Declaration

Last week I wrote about my initial questions in response to the Manhattan Declaration. It got a lot of comments that I haven't responded to at all because last week I didn't have internet and this week has been busy and Isaac has hoarded our home laptop to write all of his final papers on.

So - I thought I'd start a new post about this and answer some of you questions and clarify some of my thoughts.

First off, I mentioned some things about the beginning of life, complaining that the presuppositions are NOT clear and are not discussed in the Declaration (at least not for Protestants). I know that because many of you are Catholic you hold clear and strong opinions on this, and most of the Protestants, not so much. Because I have so much to say (but no clear conclusions), I'm making that a separate post.

I also talked about Polygamy in the Old Testament, and as I wrote a response to Rae's comments it got so long that I decided that also would have to be an individual post!

So - on to the rest of it.

1. Culture Wars

I mentioned that I am hesitant about Christian political declarations, mostly because of our recent culture wars in the US. I feel like we as Christians have SO often decided that a certain political view was THE Christian view, when in reality perhaps it was not so much a biblical Christian view as much as it was the political opinion of many Christians. In this we distract from the truth of the gospel, Christianity becomes politicized, and we become angry people that are angry at other people instead of treating them with love.

As John Stackhouse pointed out in his post about the Manhattan Declaration, it seems a little strange to make such a strong declaration with no end point other than to announce something to the world:
Given the provenance of the document being the American Religious Right, therefore, it will surprise precisely no one that the document declares that such people are (still) prolife, (still) pro-traditional marriage, and (still) desirous that their way of seeing things is put into American law. It’s not evident to me that anyone needed a big declaration that such people still feel this way

I totally believe that the beliefs of the drafters and signers of the Manhattan Declaration are good, but I worry that the message may be too slanted back into culture wars to be helpful. For instance, when Chuck Colson (who helped draft the declaration) was asked for his reason for writing it, one thing he said was, "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." When Al Mohler gave his reasons for signing his language struck me. "There is every good reason to believe that freedom to conduct Christian ministry according to Christian conviction is being subverted and denied. ... very much in danger... the culture of Death looms over our civilization, threatening every human being..." See the language of war and aggression? I push back against fear-mongering.

See, although these things are not stated by the Declaration itself, I'm afraid that anger and aggression is what the readers will perceive (and indeed, media reports prove this to be true), and it appears to be the motivation of at least some of the writers. I resist this. I feel like this is again a slide into those culture wars, and only treating as important in the areas where we feel culturally embattled.

One commenter on the Manhattan discussion on Scot McKnight's blog talked about the "coded sacralization of the American middle-class family" in the Manhattan Declaration Indeed - I agree that many of the issues we talk about are moral issues on which the church should definitely have a stance, but sometimes I feel like we take the middle class family and act as though it is THE biblical view, when the biblical example looks quite different than our own. How much are we picking issues and elevating them in importance over other things that are just as important?

For instance, commender dopderbeck said:
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.

2. Expecting Society to Follow Rules that Our Churches don't Enforce
This is another issue that causes me to question the Manhattan Declaration. Why are we declaring these things to our government when they aren't demanded within our churches? One commenter said:

I won’t sign it until the church itself holds its own members accountable for divorce and abortion. How extreme of us to hold our political leaders accountable for what we do not even hold our own members accountable for. Until the RC church bars from communion those who are prochoice, until the Evangelical church has higher standards on divorce and remarriage such statements as the Manhattan Declaration are nothing more than a resurrection of Moral Majority tactics that fall on deaf ears.

The Manhattan Declaration does directly condemn divorce, but this seems contradictory given that despite that condemnation, they don't ask the government to act on this issue, only on gay marriage? Are they not equally a violation of God's ideal of marriage? It feels like we're picking issues from the culture war rather than a truly Christian perspective. Why are we willing to essentially threaten our government over gay marriage and yet we aren't willing to clean our own house of divorce? It's not consistent.

3. Natural Civil Law vs. Truth Recognized by the People of God

This brings me to another point. We expect our government to rule against gay marriage, but even if we think divorce is wrong, we don't expect the government to put it into law. Where is the difference? The Manhattan Declaration declares these three issues to be natural law that should therefore be recognized by a secular government, and I am not sure that this is true.

The document) argues for religious liberty for Christians to dissent from views they don’t like (and this point, alas, needs increasing emphasis in America as well as here in Canada). But it also argues that these particular Christian views of abortion, euthanasia, marriage, and more should be enshrined in American law. It says nothing about the liberty of those who would dissent from those views except to assert that because these Christian views are right, they should be the law of the land. What, then, happened to religious liberty on these important matters? The document doesn’t say. I’m conservatively pro life and have traditional Christian views of marriage also. But just because I think those views are right doesn’t entail that I believe they should be law.
Deciding what ought to be law in a pluralistic, democratic society that welcomes immigrants from, and seeks to influence helpfully, countries all over the world, requires careful political theory. Indeed, it requires fundamental and detailed consideration of a variety of related subjects, including the nature and intentions of divine providence over nations, what God expects of human beings individually and corporately short of the return of Christ, what is politically feasible in a given situation, and more. There is none of that sort of thinking evident in this declaration, but rather a strong sense—common enough among conservative evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox around the world—that particular Christian convictions are simply right and therefore ought to be law. Furthermore, America is not an officially Christian nation, but rather a Christian-majority one. So if we apply the same logic elsewhere, then Muslim-majority countries should enshrine shari’ah as their laws, since Muslims are equally convinced that shari’ah is right, and should brook no exceptions for non-Muslims. The same would go for Hindu- or Buddhist-majority countries. Then what happens then to religious liberty? Or is liberty important only if your views are correct—namely, Christian?

Dopderbeck said something similar about the Declaration's condemnation of embryonic stem cell research:
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.
Here is the crux of it. Where is the divide between something being true and something being defined and judged as the law of the land? We believe Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but with our governmental system we do not require that this be recognized by our citizens. So - where is the divide? Isaac says he agrees with all of the Manhattan Declaration's actual beliefs, but he may disagree at points with how they say they should be implemented into our government.

4. How can we expect a country without God to follow the moral transformation that only God brings about? :

This is related to the point above, but is still helpful. There are several issues that Christians are pushing politically right now that I don't understand HOW we can expect non-believers to follow. They have no reason to follow them until their hearts are transformed by Christ. This commenter wrote the following:
The reason I won't sign the Manhattan Declaration is because moral reform without Jesus is a soaring plane that just lost its engine.The reason I will not sign the declaration is because it misrepresents the gospel of Jesus Christ. It tries to transform society. But the gospel transforms individual people, one by one, and people are what make up society.Without Jesus Christ at the foundation of all we as Christians do, we not only waste precious hours fighting for face change with no heart change, but we tell the world that we are more concerned about defending our values and pushing our beliefs than we are loving them and sharing the life of Jesus with them. I would rather spend ten minutes in a pub buying a dude's drink, hearing his story, and telling him about the amazing holiness of Jesus than lobbying against a liberal politician, inadvertently telling the whole world that my religion is a plastic cover for a political agenda.

What people need is not more conservative values, because conservative values are empty promises when standing by themselves. What people need is to know the reality, holiness, and mercy of Jesus Christ. Let them encounter Him. He can help them. You can't. I can't. The more we try in our power and by our signatures, joint ventures, and witty politics to transform our government and resurrect a Christian heritage, the more we will drive unbelievers away from the cross of Jesus Christ. What we want people to encounter is none but Jesus Christ. And if they are going to stumble over something, let it not be out self righteous efforts, but Jesus. He's the only One worth stumbling over


It is not that I disagree with the Manhattan Declaration, I just question WHY they chose to make such an aggressive announcement to the government, and I also question exactly how they think their beliefs should be implemented into law. I'm also not making this an angry declaration from myself - I am questioning...


CM said...

You bring up a lot of good points. For example, pushing the pro-life agenda. I can say that I am pro-life, and it is a very important issue for me. However, what am I doing to help those that are in a crisis pregnancy? What am I doing to reach out to them and be with them in their time of need? I can honestly say not much. Not as much as I should, though more than I used to.

I also got to thinking of the ways that those of us that are pro-life push the pro-life agenda, how we want to change this that and the other law. What I started to realize is that changing the laws may be a good goal, but it should not be a primary goal. If the law says that abortion is illegal, but people still want to do it, they will. And it will be much less regulated. On the other hand, if people look at life differently, no matter what abortions may be allowed by law, they will choose not to have them.

Anyway, that's an example from my own experience that really made this post resonate with me.

Kacie said...

Yeah, CM, my husband and I talked a lot last year over the elections about the appropriate way for the church to change culture. It seems like over the last 50 years we've been trying to change culture by changing laws - but how does that help when you haven't changed hearts? You just end up with a Prohibition situation where people just go underground with their behavior and eventually it changes back.

The early church was pro-life, but their method was not to try to change Roman law - they assumed Roman law was a secular, non-Christian deal. What they did was saved babies and raised them themselves - as Roman historians detail. They became known for those good deeds, instead of for aggressive politicized faith.

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PresterJosh said...

"I won’t sign it until the church itself holds its own members accountable for divorce and abortion. How extreme of us to hold our political leaders accountable for what we do not even hold our own members accountable for. Until the RC church bars from communion those who are prochoice, until the Evangelical church has higher standards on divorce and remarriage such statements as the Manhattan Declaration are nothing more than a resurrection of Moral Majority tactics that fall on deaf ears."

1. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. 'A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,' 'by the very commission of the offense,' and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law."

Any person who obtains or formally cooperates in an abortion is automatically excommunicated.

2. Though they are not normally excommunicated, Catholic politicians are sometimes barred from receiving communion on the basis of anti-life activism, though often privately, since it is intended for the good of the politician's soul. (See Patrick Kennedy.)

Rae said...

After re-reading this I think that I mostly agree with you (though I disagree on several of the points that you use as examples). It is odd that so many Christians feel the need to come down strongly on moral issues that reflect a failing of the left, while being silent on the issues that the right gets wrong.

That said, I think that there is a place for making an "aggressive announcement to the government." It is not my style, but a very strong prophetic tradition is a part of our faith. Perhaps it would be *good* for our Church leaders to copy John the Baptist and call government officials out for sin. The problem is when it is partisan rather than Christian.

Kacie said...

Rae, didn't John the Baptist primarily prophetically call out to the people? He was known for his call "repent - for the kingdom of heaven is near" and he baptized all. That seems to me to be not particularly directed at gov. officials. And Jesus, in his more direct moments, spoke out against the religious leaders, and never to the government.

PresterJosh said...

Kacie: The religious leadership that Jesus criticized actually did form a sort of subsidiary government under the Romans. That's why they had the authority to put Him on trial. They just had to go to the Romans to get the okay for crucifixion.

Also, see Elijah, Samuel, Isaiah, etc.

PresterJosh said...

You might also find it interesting to look into the lives of Saint Ambrose and Saint Thomas Becket.

Kacie said...

Indeed, but the reasons that Jesus criticized them emphasize their great pride and yet spiritual emptiness, never their association with the Romans.

It isn't that I think we should never stand against a government - I think at times we are forced to, particularly when the government claims to represent the church/God. However, I don't think that standing against corrupt governments is our main responsibility. When our governmental protests distract us from the business of saving and caring for souls and worshipping our Lord, then it becomes rather unhelpful.

PresterJosh said...

A couple further points...

1. It seems to me that John the Baptist publicly denouncing Herod for redefining legitimate marriage is a rather strong precedent for modern Christians to do the same. Perhaps not all of us, but some in leadership roles doing what he did seems perfectly natural.

2. Have you considered the possibility that governmental protests might actually be a way of saving and caring for souls? From a Catholic perspective, willing cooperation in abortion is a mortal sin (a sin that puts one in serious danger of eternal damnation). Letting the government legitimize something like that doesn't seem like such a good idea for "saving and caring for souls" does it?

Kacie said...

Yeah, I do understand that governmental legitimization is negative. Thing is, I think with the way our government was set up and meant to be, it was never meant to rule on things like that. And so I wish Roe v. Wade would be revoked and abortion laws be decided by state.

John the Baptist denouncing Herod, though, was a denouncement of a Jew for violating Jewish law - He was a Jewish king, and although he worked through the Romans, still John the Baptist was not denouncing him for his political associations but his actions as a Jewish believer.

PresterJosh said...

Perhaps I missed it, but did the Manhattan Declaration say that these issues have to be solved at the federal level?

Also, I agree that it was a Jewish religious leader denouncing a Jewish political leader for breaking Jewish morality. But again, that seems to be a parallel to the current situation of Christian religious leaders denouncing the (almost unanimously) Christian political leaders for breaking Christian morality.

I'm not sure what sort of distinction you're trying to draw between the situations.

Kacie said...

Well, with a representative government instead of a king, I think it's different. I think the point of a godly leader that is a king would be essentially to create a theocracy. Thus a godly king's kingdom and rules would be different than an ungodly king and kingdom, as we see distinctly in the OT.

However, although many of our leaders at least claim to be Christian, our government is not distinctly Christian. Instead, it is to represent all people and essentially create a free society where all people and all faith can exist peacefully. I think of us as being quite a bit like the Jews in the NT - we have a secular governemnt, which we do hope to influence by our presence, but we don't expect them to implement our views. We DO hope for them to be fair, to give us the freedom to live and worship and evangelize, etc.

So - as I was mentioning with John the Baptist and with Jesus, it seems to me that our primary business is within our church, and those that we are to hold accountable are our religious leaders. We don't expect our government to hold the same principles because they do not share our faith, just the same as the Jews didn't expect the Roman leaders to hold to Jewish laws. HOWEVER, what they and the early Christians did is what I think we should do. They DO try to effect change, but instead of looking for legal change, they push for societal change through changed lives. Instead of asking Roman leaders to ban infanticide, they rescued abandoned babies - and the Romans noticed and the great historians recorded these thigns.

I think that the model that Jesus and his followers set for us is to effect societal change by acquainting people with Jesus. So - the Manhattan Declaration quite clearly makes statements of displeasure to the goverment. Shouldn't these changes be effected in our churches and then through conversions, rather than expecting the gov. to rule exactly as we believe?

Some of this comes down to your opinions on governmental models and how much each of us believe should actually be decided and ruled by our federal government. I think that the beauty of American government is the freedom it allows, and thus the church has thrived here. Thus I think that most things should be ruled on state and local levels rather than federal. I wish the federal government would deal with our defense and foreign policy, and keep everything else minimal.

PresterJosh said...

A lot of interesting thoughts there. It may take me a while to get to them, but I'll probably post something further on my blog at some point.