To sign or not to sign the Manhattan Declaration(MD)? That… is a good question.
For the most part it seems to have been received on a positive note. There has been some push back though. For example, Albert Mohler felt the need to explain why he signed the MD. Fellow blogger Frank Turk explained why he did not sign. I will attempt to lay out my stance on this document. (Which basically agrees with those in the update below.)
As it is now, I stand more in agreement with Turk. It is not that the MD is not seeking noble causes. Social change is also important and Christians should be involved. In a recent article Obama, abortion, health care, Solomon’s wisdom I said the following.
Of course, simply changing a law will not change someone’s heart. Though laws can make it more difficult to commit such an act. Changing a law could help someone consider what they are actually doing when getting an abortion. There is no harm in pursuing dialogue on such an immoral act via a change of law.
The answer for Christians is, of course, the Gospel of Jesus Christ which does change hearts. Since we live under a form of government that allows citizens to be involved and cause change the right moral thing to do is press on against abortion.
Christians will partner with those whom they do not theologically agree. This could be non-Christians or groups defined as Christian sociologically. These groups may work politically toward certain moral laws that are seen as best for society. For the Christian in these instances the Gospel should always be the grounding doctrine for why they act for such change. However, when Christians get politically involved the Gospel sometimes (many times?) gets blurred. The outside world gets the wrong idea of what is a Christian. There are also times when different groups with different Gospels unite for certain causes which again, in my opinion, blur the Gospel.
This is what I believe the Manhattan Declaration does.
There is an impressive list of religious leaders who have signed. For better or for worse, this should not automatically persuade one to sign. The full document along with those leaders who have signed can be found at The Manhattan Declaration & Signers. I would like to point out a few instances that give me pause in signing that have to do with the Gospel.
The Preamble states.
Like those who have gone before us in the faith, 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.
This is a good position from which to start. It grounds the motivation for such positions in the Gospel. The question becomes as one continues reading – Which Gospel?
Right after in the Declaration it reads.
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.
These three traditions in general do not share a common faith neither historically nor as their current theological positions stand. This statement also lends itself for me to declare, as an individual Christian, not on behalf of my organization, that I have disagreements with statements pertaining to the Gospel in this document.
We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences…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.
These statements seem to further clarify the attempted unity of different Gospels from which to work. The statements demand a clear definition of the Gospel or there is no real foundation from which to build. The differences also seem to go beyond simple ecclesial differences to foundational differences.
Jesus calls all who wander from the path of virtue to “a more excellent way.” As his disciples we will reach out in love to assist all who hear the call and wish to answer it.
Another Gospel statement. Whose more excellent way? Which path?
Under Religious Liberty.
The nature of religious liberty is grounded in the character of God Himself, the God who is most fully known in the life and work of Jesus Christ.
This life and work of Jesus is, again, a proclamation of the Gospel. It demands a clear definition.
Going back to the earliest days of the church, Christians have refused to compromise their proclamation of the gospel.
Fine. We should all proclaim the Gospel. Which one? If these “ecclesial” lines can line up together in the Gospel without confusion then this statement and the others make sense. If not, where does the real agreement lie? My vote based on the way the MD is written brings confusion rather than clarity.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
There is no more eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience than the one offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Writing from an explicitly Christian perspective, and citing Christian writers such as Augustine and Aquinas, King taught that just laws elevate and ennoble human beings because they are rooted in the moral law whose ultimate source is God Himself.
There is no doubt that King was used in a great way for positive political and societal change. The historical record stands. However, when it comes to the Gospel there is another record that stands. King’s own theological writings. For example, a section from Stanford’s King Encyclopedia quotes King.
At the age of 13 I shocked my Sunday School class by denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus. From the age of thirteen on doubts began to spring forth unrelentingly. At the age of fifteen I entered college and more and more could I see a gap between what I had learned in Sunday School and what I was learning in college. This conflict continued until I studied a course in Bible in which I came to see that behind the legends and myths of the Book were many profound truths which one could not escape. [emphasis mine]
In King’s The Humanity and Divinity of Jesus the encyclopedia states.
As he had done in his earlier outline of William Newton Clarke’s An Outline of Christian Theology, King dismisses the conception of an inherent divinity in Jesus and concludes: “The true significance of the divinity of Christ lies in the fact that his achievement is prophetic and promissory for every other true son of man who is willing to submit his will to the will and spirit [of] God.” [emphasis mine]
Those are two examples of King’s theology of which none of the above ecclesial bodies would agree. It is not know whether or not King changed his views later in life to embrace orthodox Christianity. Again, there is no denial of the great moral social and political change King was instrumental in causing. Yet, these historical statements from King deny the Gospel. It is yet another example of blurring the Gospel in this document.
The intention of this post is not to impugn my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is to express another view from one whose conscience says “no” to signing this document. Agree or disagree, I’ve expressed my concerns. If another Christian can sign with a clear conscience they are free to do so. Disagreeing with signing this document should not break fellowship. It should further healthy debate.
Iron sharpens iron.