Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration: A New Revelation and A False Gospel?

What if some of the most prominent Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant leaders in the world reduced the Christian faith to three tenets absent from the Bible ... and then announced to the world that the fate of Christianity will stand or fall based on these three (non-biblical) tenets?

Imagine no more. It has happened.

This past Friday a coalition of fundamentalist Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants (Timothy George, Tony Perkins, James Dobson and Al Mohler are among the Protestant signers) staked Christianity on "the three most important issues" (according to Chuck Colson) in the world (the "first principles," according to Southern Baptist leader Richard Land), none of which are even referenced in the Bible:

1) Opposition to "abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, and euthanasia."

2) Homosexual marriage, because "marriage is the original and most important institution for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all."

3) Freedom of religion and rights of conscience for conservative Christians above all others.

You can put down your Bibles now. Faithful Christianity, according to the Manhattan Declaration, is summed up in the three non-negotiable, non-biblical statements listed above. That abortion (and modern end-of-life issues), homosexual marriage, and special rights for conservative Christians are not even mentioned in scripture is irrelevant. The Manhattan authors have replaced the Bible with their own scripture.

Perhaps a new "god" has emerged in the 21st century, and we are now blessed to hear his spokespersons offer a new revelation? Perhaps "Manhattan" is an apt metaphor for this new revelation? Whereas the Manhattan Project of the last century ushered in the very real prospect of global annihilation, perhaps the Manhattan Declaration ushers in the era of a new, politically correct deity whose job is to "unify" Christians around ... what?

If the creators and signers of the Manhattan Declaration had chosen to use the Bible as their moral and ethical guidebook, they could have easily done so.

The Bible is quite clear, for example, that championing and advocating justice for the poor, oppressed, marginalized, and sick is the very essence of the valuing of "human life," as thousands of scripture verses testify. However, the Manhattan Declaration pays lip service to "special concern for the poor and vulnerable" while arguing, at length, that a zygote cell is a human being. Declaring the meeting of sperm and egg to be a human person does injustice to the serious ethical and moral dimensions of abortion and the sacredness of humanness.

In terms of marriage, instead of sticking with the whole story of what the Bible says about homosexuality (unfavorable by most interpretations) and marriage (arranged nuptials, polygamy sometimes allowed, childless widows commanded to bear children by their brother-in-laws, Paul's admonition that singleness is better than marriage, etc.), the Manhattan folk fuse contemporary Western marriage norms with covenantal, full-quiver theology as validated by "vast human experience", philosophy, and rationalism. Furthermore, civil unions between homosexuals will (it would seem) destroy the world, and clearly violate the religious liberty of conservative Christians.

Speaking of religious liberty, the Manhattan signers insist that those who oppose their religio-political views are not deserving of equal rights under the law.

In short, the Manhattan Declaration's willful ignoring (if not disrespect) of scripture is breathtaking. But why? What do the authors of the Manhattan Declaration want? To whom is their self-righteous anger directed?

For starters, the Manhattan signers proclaim themselves the saviors of society, the defenders of life and truth in the face of barbarianism that is threatening today's Western world. Who are these modern "barbarians"? The Obama administration ("present administration" within the Declaration) and Democrats at large ("secularists" according to Chuck Colson), it seems, aided unwittingly by many young evangelicals whose holistic views of justice are ... well ... too biblical (not to mention that many voted for Obama).

One Manhattan supporter explains the political nature of the Manhattan Declaration this way: "It is very well written and calls out many of the liberal policies our current administration is pushing on us." In a similar fashion, one supporter labels the statement simply as a "political Christian declaration."

Another supporter goes into more detail regarding what he views as the political underpinnings of the Declaration: "We are at a tipping point and that something needs to be done to bring about a renewed spirit within our culture and Nation for the very survival of our culture and Nation. Obama has acted as a lightning rod for these new movements and phenomenon and as well he should. He is a man completely divorced from American tradition, culture, history as well as its Constitutional values ... a believer of a grotesque and miserable radical left wing Marxist philosophy and must be stopped before he can implement any more of it on this great Nation any further. These new and non-violent revolutionary movements are exactly what we need at this point in time. American’s realize now that unless we unify and confront this attempt by Obama and this Congress to launch America 50 years further down the path towards a final socialist utopia over the next 1 year, which is what they are trying to do, that something needs to be done."

For the record, many fundamentalist Christians (individuals and organizations) refused to sign the Manhattan Declaration. John MacArthur refused to sign, noting that "The Gospel is barely mentioned in the Declaration." Another conservative sees the Declaration as "blurring the Gospel." And a few signers, such as Ron Sider, are not fundamentalists.

Sider aside, some non-fundamentalist Baptists are criticizing the Declaration, their observations regarding the political nature of the document mirroring that of many supporters:

Bruce Prescott notes that the Manhattan signers claim a lock on God and reserve full religious liberty only for Christians. He also suggests that the signers view a democratic, pluralistic society as "heresy."

Aaron Weaver (The Big Daddy Weave), after noting the Christian nationalistic underpinnings of the Manhattan Declaration, finds "Noticeably absent ... any real concern for the poor and oppressed in society" ... and "Some legitimate concerns mixed in with a bit of fear-mongering, vivid imagery, hyperbole, and apples and oranges comparisons."

In summary, there is little to be thankful for in regards to the politically-oriented Manhattan Declaration. The few helpful portions of the statement (well-noted by Brian McLaren) are overshadowed by the over-arching non-biblical construct, approval of Christian nationalism, and enmity toward religious and political pluralism.

Well, on second thought, maybe the colonial Puritan theocrats would approve.

But one cannot help but wonder: Is this "Christian" response to Obama and the Democrat Party the best that today's religious fundamentalists can put forth? Sure, the Tea Partiers will love it. But where is the Bible, not to mention Jesus?

Perhaps we are witnessing the dawning of Christian Atheism. What term better describes self-proclaimed Christians whose world view is primarily political and self-serving, and exists independent of scripture and Christ?

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