Part 2 – Reflections on the Manhattan Declaration

Since yesterday I've been monitoring comments on this blog and other prominent blogs regarding the Manhattan Declaration. The comments on Scot McKnight's blog for instance, offered a cross-section of passionate opinions. Comments ranged from enthusiastic approval of the Declaration (McKnight himself supports it) to near outrage.

Most of those outraged by it disagree with the theology voiced in the Declaration. They may be pro-choice, for gay marriage, or scared to death that Christians are trying to force their beliefs on everyone. Somewhere in between are those who say things like, "Why do we have to 'declare' anything. Why don't we just live it?" or "I agree with the content of the document but think there are more important things than life, marriage, or religious liberty (AIDS in Africa for example)."

Such statements were puzzling, as the Declaration addresses several such issues in the document. Furthermore, the document has a scope. It isn't intended to be Vatican 2. Thus, I feel like it's unrealistic for people to criticize the document for what it doesn't include, rather than discussing the merits of what it does. To oversimplify, it's like me getting upset that my birthday card doesn't also wish me a happy anniversary.

It is beyond the scope of this blog to address even all of the comments I've received on and off-line. So, I'm going to put out some abridged thoughts and open the discussion again. As yesterday's focused mostly on the idea of creeds in general and the overall theme of the Manhattan Declaration—today we'll deal with the substance of the document.

Preamble. I appreciated the acknowledgement of Christianity's shortcomings. It's important that Christian leaders do this. Apologizing for Christianity is en vogue right now. What's not en vogue is public thankfulness for Christianity's contributions to making the world a better place—which by far, outweigh the other by any objective standard. I was pleased that they tied the Declaration to Church History. Also, the document strengthens it's claims of political non-partisanship with a list of signatories from across the Christian and political spectrum.

Declaration. As I mentioned yesterday, I appreciated the recognition that the signatories, "sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities." They don't speak for everyone, but only for themselves. I also like their opening description of Christian conscience and how Christians have addressed key issues throughout the history of Western Civilization.

Life. I agree with the framers of the Declaration that, "A culture of death inevitably cheapens life in all its stages and conditions by promoting the belief that lives that are imperfect, immature or inconvenient are discardable." The question is, is "culture of death" an accurate descriptor? The Declaration deals with many aspects of life and death (suicide, euthanasia, cloning, etc.)—though it does place the most weight on abortion. I share the signatories' views on abortion and life on the whole, though I'm still chewing on a couple of lines.

Marriage. This is the one that's going to get them in the most trouble. We all know what a polarizing issue gay marriage has become—and that's why many people won't hear the Declaration's broader theological points on marriage, which I think are terrific. I also think the Declaration does as good a job as I've seen of taking a strong position on the issue while remaining open, thoughtful, and dignifying in it's commentary. The marriage section spends extra time on gay marriage, but is about marriage as a whole. It should be read as such.

Religious Liberty. This section is marvelous. It begins by asserting, "In recent decades a growing body of case law has paralleled the decline in respect for religious values in the media, the academy and political leadership, resulting in restrictions on the free exercise of religion." I agree with this. It is also what I believe to be the impetus for the Declaration's formation. The authors are concerned,"that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions." It isn't that they believe Christianity should be legislated. I read the intent of the document the opposite way. The authors are arguing that legislated secularism (it's own religion…a subject for another post 🙂) has come to a point where it is coerces and at times forces Christians to act against their conscience. They illustrate this point well. The Declaration is thus a bit of a gauntlet. "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."

Ironically, many evangelical leaders refused to sign the Manhattan Declaration because they thought in doing so they were somehow endorsing the doctrinal convictions of all signatories. This is, of course, not the case.

On the whole, I find the Manhattan Declaration to be a fine articulation of Orthodox Christian positions on the issues it raises. It's not a perfect document. It's open to criticism, for sure…just like those who blog on it 🙂

So, let's keep talking… give me good, bad, and ugly. What's your take? As always, let's keep the fire friendly 🙂

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.