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The Manhattan Declaration

Last week saw the release of The Manhattan Declaration, a document crafted by Chuck Colson, Robert George and Timothy George and signed by a long list of Evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox leaders. I have not been able to gauge the interest in the Declaration or whether it has had an immediate impact. But I have seen a bit of buzz about it through the Christian blogosphere. Today I want to address it, even if only briefly.

Here is a brief description of the document:

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.

It is, then, a declaration on these crucial issues of the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of religious liberty. Among the more notable signatories, at least to readers of this site, is Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Unfortunately a portion of The Manhattan Declaration site is down now so I cannot refer to the list of signatories to reference other names.

Some Evangelicals have chosen to decline signing the Declaration on the basis that it is a joint statement by Evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox leaders. I am among those whose conscience will not give me freedom to add my name to the 100,000+ who have already signed.

Rather than write a lengthy defense of my refusal, I thought I would direct you to some useful articles.

John MacArthur offers this explanation as to why he will not sign. “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. … [It would] relegate the very essence of gospel truth to the level of a secondary issue. That is the wrong way—perhaps the very worst way—for evangelicals to address the moral and political crises of our time.”

James White writes “There is no question that all believers need to think seriously about the issues raised by this declaration. But what is the only solution to these issues? Is the solution to be found in presenting a unified front that implicitly says ‘the gospel does not unite us, but that is not important enough to divide us’? I do not think so. What is the only power given to the church to change hearts and minds? United political power? Or the gospel that is trampled under foot by every Roman Catholic priest when he ‘re-presents’ the sacrifice of Christ upon the Roman altar, pretending to be a priest, an ‘alter Christus’? Am I glad when a Roman clergyman calls abortion murder? Of course. But it exhibits a real confusion, and not a small amount of cowardice, it seems, to stop identifying the man’s false gospel and false teaching simply because you are glad to have a few more on the ‘right’ side of a vitally important social issue.”

Frank Turk also declines, saying “It assumes a big tent for the definition of what it means to be a ‘believer’, 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.”

To varying degrees I agree with each of these critiques though on the whole my thoughts line up mostly closely with John MacArthur’s. In my view, this line says it all: “Going back to the earliest days of the church, Christians have refused to compromise their proclamation of the gospel.” It is good to speak of the gospel, but what does the term mean if used by Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox? Each has their own understanding of the term—the term that stands at the very heart of the faith. I just cannot see past this issue.

I see that there is much more to lose than to gain in joining together across these denominational boundaries. I would not and could not sign it.