Saturday, November 28, 2009

Culture wars:
Sign "The Manhattan Declaration"? Not Me.

At the moment I am writing this line 178,536 people have signed "The Manhattan Declaration" - A Call to Christian Conscience. It is probably clear from my series on the culture wars that I will not be a signer of the Declaration - but some comments are in order.

Their website front page reads:

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:

  1. the sanctity of human life
  2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
  3. 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.
The question is not primarily whether I believe that these truths are "foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society" - largely I do (at least in 2 of the 3 major points). It is also not whether I think
"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."
Followers of Christ (or any person) should do exactly that for whatever they believe - especially those things that are critical in their view to human dignity and the well-being of society.

The question is "how" does a follower of Christ (at least this one) do these things? I am almost finished with a series based Jared Wilson's ten reasons the "culture war is going to hell". Jared's answer of "how", and mine, is: Preach the Gospel. As Paul said to the church in Corinth:
1 Corinthians 2:1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. 2 For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. 4 My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.
As Jared Wilson said in point 8 of his 10:
Jesus knew heart change didn’t come through political power, cultural pressure, or zealotry, so he was keenly disinterested in those things.
Jesus carried this through in His ministry despite the "culture war" of His day. The Pharisees and other "believers" were attempting to hold the line against the Pagan culture of the Roman occupiers and general Helenizaton of Jewish culture. This struggle to defend God's people against the corruption of Paganism gradually ramped up from around the time of Jesus' birth thru three Jewish Wars with Rome - and the complete destruction of Jewish culture in Judea. Jesus, in His ministry, did not take part in these cultural and political struggles.

However, we have a duty as citizens in a democracy to "render unto Caesar" our vote, our taxes, etc. - we are to be politically active as followers of Christ. Indeed
it is incumbant upon Christians to work for right order and justice in the society in which we live. However, our duties to the Body of Christ, the Great Commission, and the Kingdom of God trump our requirements as Christian citizens of a nation state.
I see the implied mistake in that point most in the abortion struggle. While I think there is almost no chance abortion will ever be illegal in the United States, there is every chance that we can continue to bring more and more people to a view of the unborn child that is in line with God's. We can substantially decrease abortion, but it is by doing the work on peoples' hearts mentioned above - and not by all the political action in the world. We would be much better off spending the money we are using to fight the abortion political battles supporting and expanding the pro-life pregnancy centers around the country. Or, helping woman with the financial, social, etc. pressures that can lead someone to reject giving birth to their child and aborting it instead.

Gay marriage is of course a political battle - first and foremost. However, should we be actually waging it. The folks in favor of same-sex marriage have not made this case to me:
what part of this is so unclear to you? the rights denied gay people are the rights that you as a straight person enjoy: the rights for each of us to marry the single person of our choice and make a life together with appropriate civil protections and responsibilities. It's called equal protection. It's no different than if I were denied the right to marry someone of a different faith, a different color, a different home town.
I do not think the equal protection arguments apply to gay marriage. However, the folks opposed to same sex marriage have not made this case to me that "[this truth is] foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society", or that it is "inviolable and non-negotiable" on a civic level in the eyes of God. The part of the declaration on marriage that is true for me is:
We confess with sadness that Christians and our institutions have too often scandalously failed to uphold the institution of marriage and to model for the world the true meaning of marriage. Insofar as we have too easily embraced the culture of divorce and remained silent about social practices that undermine the dignity of marriage we repent, and call upon all Christians to do the same.

To strengthen families, we must stop glamorizing promiscuity and infidelity and restore among our people a sense of the profound beauty, mystery, and holiness of faithful marital love. . . . We must work in the . . . cultural, and religious domains to instill in young people a sound understanding of what marriage is, what it requires, and why it is worth the commitment and sacrifices that faithful spouses make.

The impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same-sex and multiple partner relationships is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture

That, coupled with Jared Wilson's statement:
It is the height of weirdness to expect people who don’t know Jesus to act like they do especially when we can’t get our own house in order. So long as large numbers of Christians continue contributing to the divorce statistics, the porn industry, and more acceptable sins like gluttony and gossip and greed, we have zero business telling the world how to act. Judgment begins at the house of God.
points the way the battle over marriage in the Body of Christ should be waged. Short of someone convincing me that this is either a legitimate equal protection issue, or that civil society is in real danger, I will have to rest on the Body of Christ focusing on the real issues in Christian marriages. Once we have improved that with the help of God, then our marriages will be "salt and light" or a "light on a hill" in a dark world.

Certainly, the third main point in the declaration is also entirely a political battle - and one that needs to be fought in the public square. The pressure to turn freedom of religion into freedom from religion is obvious to me. The religion clauses in the Constitution have a balance between the state adopting one religion (or giving it a higher place) and free exercise of all religions. We hear way too much about the former without the latter. This is a civil, and not a religious, issue. Followers of Christ should be fighting for the free exercise of any religion or moral/ethical viewpoint in the country. That would include, BTW, the rights of atheists in Florida to erect a billboard in a largely Christian area. If we are going to argue for a completely open public square, rather than a restricted (or even empty) one, then we shouldn't complain about the other voices that appear in that square. Goose meet gander.

If the Manhattan Declaration was structured such that I could sign on to the third point on freedom of conscience and religious liberty without the other two - then I would indeed sign that part. However, for the sake of the Kingdom of God followers of Christ must stop fighting out our moral battles in the courts and legislative assemblies of the kingdoms of men. As Allan Bevere commented in his own post on the church's loss of its unique polity in the US:
Christians are so caught up in Constantinianism they cannot comprehend how the church's mission might look different.
We need to figure this out.

1 comment:

  1. <span>I will add a comment Frank Turk made to his own post on why he would not sign:  
    This document . . . assumes that law is greater than grace in reforming the hearts of men, and provides moral reasoning that those who are unbelievers have no reason to accept — because they are unbelievers. And in making these three items “especially troubling” in the “whole scope of Christian moral concern”, it overlooks that the key solution to these moral concerns is the renovation of the human heart by supernatural means established by the death and resurrection of Christ.  
    The three key issues in this document are important social issues today. My contention is that the Gospel is the solution to these three issues, and I respectfully decline to sign in — as if my signing it changes anything about this world.


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly