Archive for November, 2009
(An article combining this post and the previous one on the Manhattan Declaration is available in downloadable and printable PDF, 2-column article format: Click here to download)
A week ago today, the Manhattan Declaration was released by Chuck Colson and almost 150 other signers at the National Press Conference. Since then there have been countless blogs and articles written about the 4700-word document and the response has been quite mixed.
Predictably, it has been denounced by liberals of all stripes who support the LGBT agenda and who advocate “a woman’s right to choose.” But neither has it been received well by those who would consider themselves to be evangelicals, but who also challenge the historical view that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior.
In contrast, a significant number of Christians have enthusiastically embraced the Manhattan Declaration. with the number of signers via the internet now at 184,780 and counting. They have joined the original signatories in voicing their concern that as America continues its turn to the left, led by the present administration, they are prepared to take a stand to protect life, marriage and religious liberty.
Yet, another view has been expressed by some Christians who have not signed the Manhattan Declaration. In this view, the Manhattan Declaration is itself a cause for concern, being seen as a misguided ecumenical cooperative effort that conservative evangelicals would do well to avoid. John MacArthur has written a cogent blog from this perspective.
To make matters more confusing for the average evangelical believer, it must be noted that there are good, solid, conservative theologians on both sides of the issue. This would tend to indicate that whatever our personal opinion might be, the “correct” response is probably not as obvious nor as certain as we might hope or desire. So, after a week of reading, talking, thinking and praying, I’m going to take my own stab at evaluating the Manhattan Declaration and developing a framework of principles for responding to this document, as well as the overall situation that precipitated it.
First, I would say that overall the Manhattan Declaration is a carefully crafted, well-worded document. It was obviously written out of both passion and conviction. It would be difficult to fault the drafters in their intentions or desire to make a difference in the “culture wars.”
Second, I think all who truly believe in the authority of Scripture should agree with the framers of the Manhattan Declaration concerning the three specific issues it addresses, namely, life, marriage and religious liberty. It affirms that life begins at conception and should be allowed to continue until natural death (Exodus 20:13; Job 1:21; Psalm 139:12, 16; Jeremiah 1:14). It affirms that marriage was instituted by God to be solely between a man and a woman and that sexual relations are to be only within that relationship (Genesis 2:21-24; Matthew 19:5,6; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9). And it affirms the principle of religious liberty which seems to be legitimately rooted in the truth of Matthew 22:21 (“Render unto Caesar…and to God…”) and Acts 5:29 (“We ought to obey God rather than men.”)
And third, I believe that as American citizens we have a legal right and a moral responsibility to participate in the democratic process in upholding and preserving the rights we have as guaranteed by the Constitution, as well as the ideals upon which this country was founded.
It could be argued that the Moral Majority, founded by Jerry Falwell in 1979, provides an historic backdrop and precedent for the Manhattan Declaration. The Moral Majority became the politically active extension of the Christian Right, which was riding the wave of the resurging political conservatism that swept Ronald Reagan into office in 1980. The Moral Majority sought to gain an influence in governmental policies and legislation, such that they would reflect or at least not contradict Christian morality – and thereby broadly shape, influence and guide the direction of American society as a whole.
A demographic map of the United States shows that geographically the entire country continues to be overwhelmingly conservative – both politically and socially. And this conservatism is certainly not limited to evangelical Christians. Therefore, it was considered expedient and prudent to be as broadly inclusive as possible to maximize the potential political influence of the movement. This meant that the Moral Majority consisted of not only conservative evangelicals, but virtually all types of conservative Protestants, Catholics, Jews and even Mormons who joined forces for the purpose of advocating common moral values with a unified voice.
Probably the most common argument in favor of evangelicals joining together with those from Catholic and Orthodox traditions in signing the Manhattan Declaration follows that used to defend the Moral Majority in the face of similar criticism. In this view, it is argued that because we share a common moral heritage with other theological traditions within Christendom, we can and should join together as allies in the culture wars against the common enemy of those morals. Therefore, the Manhattan Declaration is hailed as an opportunity for those who name the name of Christ to fulfill a long-neglected obligation to engage and even confront a society and an administration that is increasingly liberal, secular and humanist – and even anti-Christian in its bias. Looking at it this way, it is understandable why, as I noted earlier, many concerned Americans have already signed the document and I would assume that many have been conservative evangelicals.
However, I have not yet signed it myself because I have some questions and concerns about both the nature and the value of the Manhattan Declaration. At the risk of being dismissed, ridiculed or criticized as being too picky, too narrow-minded, divisive or just overly critical, I am going to present what I believe are some significant reasons why a born-again believer should consider not endorsing or signing the Manhattan Declaration.
The Manhattan Declaration begins with these words:
Christians are heirs of a 2,000year tradition of proclaiming God’s word
This is a statement of exclusivity, identifying the framers of the document as “Christians” as opposed to adherents of any of the other world religions. It is also intended to reflect Christian values and morals. As such, it must necessarily be viewed as an inherently Christian document. Consider the following quotes from the Manhattan Declaration:
we claim the heritage of those Christians Christian monasteries preserved not only the Bible but also the literature and art of Western culture It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths
Therefore, the writers of the Manhattan Declaration present it as a document by Christians on behalf of Christians. And as a Christian document, it discusses the issues of life and marriage within a framework of Christian morality. It derives its authority to speak about these moral issues from the Bible. The Manhattan Declaration reflects a very specific worldview which is informed by very specific theology. Therefore, not only is it a Christian document, it is first and foremost an inherently theological document – or at least theologically-driven. This point is extremely important to the discussion because for some, the defense of cooperation with Catholic and Orthodox writers and signers depends largely upon the validity of the argument that the Manhattan Declaration isn’t a theological document. If true, then it could be argued that theological differences are irrelevant to the task at hand and cooperation is not an example of unbiblical ecumenism. But, again, it is a Christian document and is therefore a theological document by nature. And being a theological document, not only does theology under-gird the moral argument set forth in the Manhattan Declaration, theology also forms the basis for what the writers consider to be their essential unity as a group. This is clearly reflected in the first paragraph under the Declaration section:
We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities. We act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image.
It is important to not miss the significance of this statement. When one discusses Judaism, Islam, or Hinduism for example, these are treated as world religions. And, of course, Christianity can be spoken of as a world religion, as well. But there is an important and fundamental distinction that must be remembered: A Christian in the biblical sense of the term does not merely mean someone who is an adherent of Christianity as a world religion. For someone to become a true Muslim, a person must simply make a decision to follow the teachings of Islam and live accordingly. However, the same is not true for biblical Christianity. For someone to become a true Christian, they must explicitly place their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and thereby be born-again of the Spirit of God. Someone does not become a Christian by merely adopting Christian traditions or by beginning to live a Christian lifestyle – or even by faithfully following the teachings of Christ. In 1994, Chuck Colson was involved with drafting the first Evangelicals and Catholics Together document. That document blurs and actually eliminates the distinction between Christians in the world-religion sense and Christians in the biblical sense, such that it seems clear that Mr. Colson considers the two as not only intersecting, but as synonymous as indicated by the next three quotes from the first ECT document:
As we near the Third Millennium, there are approximately 1.7 billion Christians in the world. About a billion of these are Catholics and more than 300 million are Evangelical Protestants.
We are Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics who have been led through prayer, study, and discussion to common convictions about Christian faith and mission.
All who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ. Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Some may argue, however, that the two documents are fundamentally different in scope and purpose and therefore should not be compared or evaluated in this way. Yet, the essential philosophical /theological similarities between the two documents cannot be ignored because they reflect the broader philosophy out of which they were formulated:
Manhattan Declaration: We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities. First ECT document: We are Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics who have been led through prayer, study, and discussion to common convictions about Christian faith and mission. This statement cannot speak officially for our communities. It does intend to speak responsibly from our communities and to our communities.
Manhattan Declaration: We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty. First ECT document: There is a necessary connection between the visible unity of Christians and the mission of the one Christ. We together pray for the fulfillment of the prayer of Our Lord: “May they all be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, so also may they be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17) We together, Evangelicals and Catholics, confess our sins against the unity that Christ intends for all his disciples. The one Christ and one mission includes many other Christians, notably the Eastern Orthodox and those Protestants not commonly identified as Evangelical. All Christians are encompassed in the prayer, “May they all be one.”
It seems appropriate to suggest that some important linkage does exist between the Manhattan Declaration and the ECT document and that this linkage is intentional and by design. This shouldn’t be surprising given Mr. Colson’s key role in the formation of both documents. Given that the purpose of the ECT document is inherently ecumenical, it seems reasonable to more carefully explore the potential ecumenical issues raised directly by the Manhattan Declaration. Likewise it seems reasonable to at least examine whether or not those issues might be sufficient to give legitimate reasons for withholding support and participation in the Manhattan Declaration. I will conclude my response to the Manhattan Declaration, in a couple of days and try to make a case for why Christians should or should not be involved with this initiative or others like it. It doesn’t seem that there is a one-size-fits-all answer, but I can discuss general principles related to the role of Christians in government and political activism. Can and should Christians engage and confront the culture and government in their social context – and what kind of ecumenical alliances can be formed to accomplish this? Ecumenical alliances and civil disobedience. Just what should we think and do? And what, if any, is the potential historical significance of the Manhattan Declaration?
When I checked my Inbox on Saturday morning I found an email from Jimmy DeYoung (one of ABI’s co-founders) concerning the Manhattan Declaration. Because the Manhattan Declaration was still breaking news, Jimmy wanted to discuss it on his weekly radio program. So I quickly went to work trying to learn as much as I could before he called back to do the interview.
The Manhattan Declaration is a 4732-word document which was made public at the National Press Conference on Friday, November 20. It was drafted by a committee that included Chuck Colson, Dr. Robert George and Dr. Timothy George and signed by almost 150 recognized Roman Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical religious leaders. On Governor Mike Huckabee’s FoxNews program on Sunday evening, while interviewing Chuck Colson, he compared its potential historical significance to Luther’s 95 Theses. While this remains to be seen, since its release it has been creating quite a buzz all across the internet in articles and blogs and producing fairly diverse reactions.
On his BreakPoint radio program on Friday, Chuck Colson stated (full article):
Today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., I and a dozen evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox leaders face the microphones to announce the release of an historic document—one of the most important documents produced by the American church, at least in my lifetime
The Manhattan Declaration has two main goals. One goal is that it would be a wake-up call for Christians to live according to the tenets of their faith. The other goal is to serve notice to those in government that those who identify themselves as Christians are taking a stand and declaring:
We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.
In the closing paragraph, the final two sentences state:
We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.
On BreakPoint, Chuck Colson stated the goals this way:
The Manhattan Declaration is a wake-up call—a call to conscience—for the church. It is also crystal-clear message to civil authorities that we will not, under any circumstances, stand idly by as our religious freedom comes under assault.
Dr. Timothy George, one of the drafters of the Manhattan Declaration, wrote in a Washington Post article:
Thus we have issued this declaration of conscience calling on our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in the defense of human life, marriage, and religious freedom.
The document addresses three specific issues, identified as: “Life,” “Marriage” and “Religious Liberty.”
The Manhattan Declaration calls for a pro-life stance that recognizes the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception to natural death. And it makes clear that Christians, in faithfulness to God’s moral law, will not be forced or coerced into being involved with abortion, human embryonic research, assisted suicide or euthanasia. On Mike Huckabee’s program, Chuck Colson commented that this commitment would mean that doctors would not violate their beliefs to perform abortions and pharmacists would not dispense “morning-after” pills under threat of forfeiting their licenses or even imprisonment.
The drafters and signatories of the Manhattan Declaration bring attention to what they perceive as a growing rift between views of the American public in general and the views held by many of those in government:
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
The declaration calls for a commitment to the sanctity of heterosexual marriage and to the proposition that the only acceptable form of marriage is between one man and one woman, and further observes that there must be faithfulness in the marital relationship. The importance and significance of marriage in any society is also noted:
Vast human experience confirms that marriage is the original and most important institution for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all persons in a society.
As I have been researching the Manhattan Declaration and responses to it, I have found more than one website where this document is being denounced by those in the LGBT community. The following is fairly representative of the reaction (full article):
…the far right religious bigots never cease in their efforts to degrade and denigrate LGBT citizens and keep us a persecuted minority. Just yesterday a new anti-gay and anti-freedom of religion offense was launched by far right forces of hate and reactionarism in the form of the so-called “Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience.”
Concerning religious liberty
The declaration states:
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.
The document also notes two specific cases which do seem to provide cause for legitimate concern that the government is already engaging in infringement of religious liberty:
After the judicial imposition of “same-sex marriage” in Massachusetts, for example, Catholic Charities chose with great reluctance to end its century-long work of helping to place orphaned children in good homes rather than comply with a legal mandate that it place children in same-sex households in violation of Catholic moral teaching. In New Jersey, after the establishment of a quasi-marital “civil unions” scheme, a Methodist institution was stripped of its tax exempt status when it declined, as a matter of religious conscience, to permit a facility it owned and operated to be used for ceremonies blessing homosexual unions.
It is going to take some time (perhaps much time) to be able to ascertain if the Manhattan Declaration produces the desired effect on American society as a whole, on the politicians in various levels of government, on legislation and on jurisprudence and judicial decisions. But perhaps more importantly, the question is whether or not it will ultimately have an effect on the way Christians live out their faith in the American context – whatever that is or may become.
The document once again brings to the fore many of the questions that were raised in the 1970′s and 80′s with the rise of the Moral Majority. These include the role of believers in the political process and whether or not they should participate in political activism or even civil disobedience (as the document seems to suggest)?
Another significant question that is also being debated once again by conservative Christians relates to what some are viewing as the ecumenical nature of the document. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the signers of the Manhattan Declaration included scholars and leaders from the three major confessions of Christendom – Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox Church. Once again, this is reminiscent of the Moral Majority era. The question becomes, Is it wise and biblical to join together with those with whom we have serious theological disagreement (even to the point that we would consider them false teachers as it relates to the gospel itself)?
On the other hand, some would (rightly) observe that in the matters of life and marriage in particular, there is more genuine agreement with conservatives from all faiths than there is with many who continue to identify themselves as born-again evangelical believers – but who also support and defend “a woman’s right to choose,” as well as believe that homosexual relationships should not be regarded as sinful.
To be honest, I’m not sure how to fully answer these questions. I am still thinking this through, reading articles and blogs written by those on both sides of these issues, and studying relevant biblical passages in order to form an informed and biblical view for myself. I plan to post another blog in the next few days which I hope will provide some biblical insight and answers to these questions.
In the meantime, I would be interested in hearing from our readers – so please take a moment to provide us with your own thoughts and comments on the matter.
I encourage you to read the Manhattan Declaration for yourself – and to also read through the list of official signatories of the document.
For the past couple of weeks I have been in an ongoing chat conversation with someone who self-identifies as an atheist. He connected with me after a discussion concerning a recent ABI blog. Over the course of our discussion I have asked him a number of questions, including those below in one form or another. I have also added a few comments after the questions to provide some perspective and additional “food for thought.” Perhaps some of them will be helpful if you find yourself in a similar discussion.
Question(s): If it could actually be proven to your satisfaction that God does exist, would you then be willing to submit to his authority and surrender your will to his?
Question(s): Since you don’t accept the biblical record concerning the resurrection of Christ, what evidence would be compelling enough for you to believe that it actually happened? What kind of evidence would persuade you that any given event happened over 500 years ago?
Comment: The intent of these two questions is to help someone see that their real problem is not really with God’s existence or Christ’s resurrection, but rather with the implication of personal accountability that flows from these truths.
Question(s): You have stated that you don’t believe it is wrong to lie. Using the same philosophy /reasoning would you also conclude that it isn’t wrong to steal? Or would you agree that it is not wrong to murder? If murder and theft are wrong, but lying is not, can you explain the fundamental difference between the two without using a moral argument since you believe morality is relative?
Question(s): If everything can ultimately be explained in scientific terms or through scientific discovery, is it only possible to speak in terms of what actually *is* or can we also speak in terms of what *ought* to be? If you think something ought to be and someone else thinks something contradictory ought to be, then what / who has the privilege or authority to determine which of the two actually *will be* (given that one of the two *must be*)?
Comment #1: Atheists frequently insist that morality can be developed philosophically apart from religion and does not require the existence of God. However, this is really a moot point because the real issue for atheists is not morals, but rather moral authority. In other words, the problem is not whether someone believes certain actions to be good or bad / right or wrong, but rather the problem is when someone else tries to tell them what is right or wrong and attempts to restrict their absolute freedom in behaving in certain ways. But even in this regard atheists are demonstrably inconsistent because when their sense of right and wrong comes into conflict with someone else’s they would choose to have the other person’s freedom curtailed rather than give up their own.
Comment #2: Apart from moral authority, the concept of morality itself seems to logically and philosophically require something other than evolution as its basis and means of development. If evolution were responsible for the development of morals it would seem that there should be enough uniform agreement throughout humanity that there should neither be internal conflict of conscience nor external conflict between individuals. Also, if morality can be explained in terms of evolution, it would seem that the concept of morals would make sense not only with reference to humans, but throughout the animal kingdom. However, we seem to intuitively know and agree that when one animal kills another for food – even one of its own species – the killing should not be called murder and the eating should not be condemned as immoral cannibalism. Neither does any form of sexual activity among animals have moral implications associated with it.
Morality also tends to have some form of responsibility tied to it, but if, for example, an animal abandons its young for whatever reason, it is not considered a moral issue. As humans, we might try to superimpose our sense of morality or justice upon certain animal behavior, but it would certainly not be recognized as such by the animals themselves.
Question(s): If lying is not morally wrong, then doesn’t this undermine the entire basis of a fair judicial system? Can’t a fair judicial system only exist in the context of the commonly accepted philosophical premise that says truth-telling is right and valued. If truth is not required by an external party, why would anyone feel compelled to tell the truth if it would ultimately hurt them and help their opponent. Arguably, all of society is built squarely up moral values at every level, to the degree that society would collapse into chaos if morality were removed and expected standards for truth-telling, honesty, and integrity were removed. And if such a collapse were to happen, then there can be no path toward rebuilding a societal structure without prior mutual agreement on a system that values the moral constructs of faith, integrity and trust.
Ultimately, I believe that these philosophical arguments have only limited value when dealing with unbelievers. Sooner or later you run up against an insurmountable barrier. This limitation is caused by the sinful nature of humans that prevents us from fully understanding the whole matter. Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 2:14
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
So, we must understand and accept the fact that our best questions, impeccable logic and perfect philosophical arguments will always fall short of persuading someone to move from atheism to belief in Christ. The logic barrier can only be crossed by faith.
However, apologetics does have value in a witnessing situation when used appropriately and their inherent limitation is taken into account. We will never reason someone to faith in Christ – but we might reason them from atheism to agnosticim – which is actually a huge leap and movement in the right direction.
If you have more questions or experience with discussing these kinds if issues with atheists or agnostics, please add your comments to this blog or email me and I will try to pick them up in future blogs and articles.
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