Saturday, December 12, 2009

To sign or not to sign: The “Manhattan Declaration” controversy

The Manhattan Declaration released on November 20, 2009 is a document which essentially affirms (1) the sanctity of human life; (2) the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife; and (3) the rights of conscience and religious liberty. The declaration was drafted by Robert George (Professor, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University), Timothy George (Professor, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University), and Chuck Colson (Founder, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Lansdowne, VA).

Among the declaration’s prominent signers are Rev. Jonathan Falwell (Senior Pastor, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA), Albert Mohler Jr (president, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Ligon Duncan, Richard Land, Jimmy Draper, Bob Reccord (former president of the North American Mission Board), Daniel Akin, Gary Bauer, James Dobson, Harry Jackson, Marvin Olasky, Tony Perkins, Alan Sears, Mark Tooley, George Weigel and nine Catholic archbishops.

Anyone can sign the declaration using your name and e-mail address

Since its release three weeks ago, the declaration has been signed by more than 283,000 people from around the world. There are however questions about the signature collection process used by the declaration’s website. While the process filters out robots, it does not provide for e-mail verification (through what is called “double opt-in” procedure). This means that any mischievous or malicious person can sign the declaration using your name and e-mail address!

The crux of the controversy: how do you define “Christian”?

Alex Crain (Editor, in his article “The Manhattan Declaration Controversy” has noted that “significant debate has erupted over the fact that the Manhattan Declaration has garnered the signatures of a number of leaders from Evangelical, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Voices of protest have been raised as to the propriety of identifying these varying traditions all together as ‘Christians’ in the same document.”

In the FAQ section of its website, the people behind the Manhattan Declaration address this issue:

By signing the Manhattan Declaration am I somehow endorsing the theology of other faith traditions or compromising my understanding of the Gospel?

There are serious differences between the Catholic, Protestant evangelical and Orthodox traditions on many theological issues and devotional practices. However, none of those differences are alluded to in any way in the Manhattan Declaration, nor do any of the original signers believe they were compromising their respective positions by signing it. The drafting committee was careful to achieve complete harmony of all three traditions—Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant evangelical—on the critical issues addressed in the declaration, and on those issues only. This was accomplished by making sure every assertion in the declaration is rooted in the Holy Scriptures they share in common. In the final analysis, the Manhattan Declaration is simply a declaration of the signers’ common stand on life, marriage, and liberty. To read anything more into it would be contrary to the intention of the drafters and the nearly 150 leaders who signed it originally.
Some Christian leaders who are against the Manhattan Declaration and their reasons why

[1] “The Manhattan Declaration: Why didn’t you sign it, R.C.?” from Ligonier Ministries
In answer to the question, “R.C., why didn’t you sign the Manhattan Declaration?” I offer the following answer: The Manhattan Declaration confuses common grace and special grace by combining them. While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel. (Read the complete article)
[2] The Manhattan Declaration, by John MacArthur
Here are the main reasons I am not signing the Manhattan Declaration, even though a few men whom I love and respect have already affixed their names to it:

• Although I obviously agree with the document’s opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion, and other key moral problems threatening our culture, the document falls far short of identifying the one true and ultimate remedy for all of humanity’s moral ills: the gospel. The gospel is barely mentioned in the Declaration. At one point the statement rightly acknowledges, “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”—and then adds an encouraging wish: “May God help us not to fail in that duty.” Yet the gospel itself is nowhere presented (much less explained) in the document or any of the accompanying literature. Indeed, that would be a practical impossibility because of the contradictory views held by the broad range of signatories regarding what the gospel teaches and what it means to be a Christian.

• This is precisely where the document fails most egregiously. It assumes from the start that all signatories are fellow Christians whose only differences have to do with the fact that they represent distinct “communities.” Points of disagreement are tacitly acknowledged but are described as “historic lines of ecclesial differences” rather than fundamental conflicts of doctrine and conviction with regard to the gospel and the question of which teachings are essential to authentic Christianity. (Read the complete article)
[3] The Manhattan Declaration, by Alistair Begg
In accord with others who have chosen not to sign, my reservation is not with the issues themselves, or in standing with others who share the same concerns, but it is in signing a declaration along with a group of leading churchmen, when I happen to believe that the teaching of some of their churches is in effect a denial of the biblical gospel. I wonder whether it might not have been more advantageous for evangelicals to unite on this matter, rather than seeking cooperation with segments from Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy and the Latter Day Saints. The necessary co-belligerence, as far as I’m concerned, can never be rooted in a Gospel other than that which has been given to us. (Read the complete article)
[4] A Review of the Manhattan Declaration, by Michael Horton
The error at this point is not marginal. It goes to the heart of the more general confusion among Christians of every denominational stripe today, on the left and the right. The law is indeed the common property of all human beings, by virtue of their creation in God’s image. As Paul says in Romans 1 and 2, unbelievers may suppress the truth in unrighteousness, but the fact that they know this revelation makes them accountable to God. However, in chapter 3, Paul explains that a different revelation of God’s righteousness has appeared from heaven: God’s justification of the ungodly through faith alone in Christ alone.

When we confuse the law and the gospel, there is inevitably a confusion of Christ and culture, and there is considerable evidence in Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and evangelical histories to demonstrate the real dangers of this confusion. In this otherwise helpful declaration, the confusion is evident once more. Alongside the theological claims that witness to the dignity of all people created in God’s image, Christianity seems to be defended as a major stake-holder in Western culture and society. By tending to confuse the gospel with the law, special revelation with general revelation, and Christianity with Western civilization, the document actually undermines its own objective—namely, to defend the dignity of human life as a universal moral imperative. Not only Christians, but non-Christians, are recipients of this general revelation. (Read the complete article)
Posted below are excerpts of the Manhattan Declaration (you can also download a PDF summary)
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. We set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is grounded in Holy Scripture, in natural human reason (which is itself, in our view, the gift of a beneficent God), and in the very nature of the human person. We call upon all people of goodwill, believers and non-believers alike, to consider carefully and reflect critically on the issues we here address as we, with St. Paul, commend this appeal to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

While the whole scope of Christian moral concern, including a special concern for the poor and vulnerable, claims our attention, we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; 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.

Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.

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. (Read the complete declaration)

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