I will not be signing the Manhattan Declaration

First, some various posts on the Manhattan Declaration:

Essentially, it is this:

  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.

I find it politically motivated and useless. First, you can guess about the motivations. Second, it is useless because the Scriptures already cover this. If you take a hard line (not necessarily even fundamentalist) view of Scripture, then what they have said will be ‘self-evident’ but if you do not, then no declarations or petitions or edicts will matter. By issuing this ‘edict’ I feel that they are drawing a line on morality. Morality is only ‘this.’ The nation’s moral issues are only ‘these.’ Further, I believe that the focus, especially on marriage, is only about preventing homosexual marriage with lip service given to the issues which matter to traditional values.

Marriages predate Christianity, and the examples of the Jewish Patriarchs leave us open to ridicule when we mention ‘Traditional Marriage.’ Traditionally, marriages were little more than property transfers, finding this even in the Hebrew Scriptures. And what do we say of the majority of Christian history with cultures who have used arranged marriages, which again, account for little more than property transfers. Note, I do not believe that the bible promotes this idea, but instead sees marriage as a ‘profound mystery’ which symbolizes the love of God and humanity; however, traditionally, marriage has not fallen under the purview of the Christian religion. We cannot assume, then, to judge marriage by our religion.

The issue, as I see it, is that we currently have two marriages. One civil, one religious. All religious marriages are recognized by the State (except polygamy, of course) but not all civil marriages are recognized by religious institutions. Example: A marriage after a divorce is not recognized by many churches. Marriages between religious affiliations (Say, Catholic and Judaism) may not be recognized by one religious group or another. I find it odd that several groups which have signed this document would normally, in their conservative wings, not recognize marriages between their group and another.

Yet, this Declaration wants to impose a very loosely defined and agreed upon marriage ideal upon a political system. They speak about religious liberty and the rights of the conscience. I assume that this means only the Christian religion and the Christian conscience, as long as you agree with them. What if the religious liberty of one ‘Christian’ group is to allow for and affirm gay marriage? Or polygamy? There are groups who claim Christianity and one of these ideas. Now, under this Declaration, you are supposed to allow for religious liberty, but what of the above mentioned folks? Does this Declaration then assign ‘Christian’ and dictate to whom religious liberty applies? I quote,

Immunity from religious coercion is the cornerstone of an unconstrained conscience. No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will, nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions.

Well said, but they then would require, seemingly, that those who wish to hold liberty of religion be of the same religion(s) as those of the signers of this document. Indeed, they speak well of a ‘civil society’ and ‘rule of law’ and yet even in this document they call for repeal of civil rights, and a destruction of the fragile line between Church and State. For them, the State would protect their religious views, and deny others their own.

They are correct in that something must be done to protect religious groups from being forced – unless a life is at stake – to do work against their conscience. They are correct in more than just this stance.

Their focus is centered on preventing gay marriage, politically/legally I assume. But what about supporting and defending marriage between one man and one woman? Our Sunday Schools have classes for children, women, and men, but what of families? And where is the public outcry over divorce, shotgun weddings, and actually building a good marriage? Or the proper relationship of a husband and a wife. Yes, this Declaration covers some of this, but where is the great emphasis on the beam that is in our own eye? Namely, the destruction or ‘traditional’ marriage.

The sanctity of human life is of the utmost importance to me, yet, how many of these religious groups support the death penalty? Or believe that health care reform is evil? Or support abortion in the cases of rape, incest, or etc…?

Further, I personally agree with many of the positions that are found in this document, but the application, the focus, the ignoring of other moral issues besides those which are likely to appear in political elections as wedge issues, and in the end, and the goal which appears more overtly political than religious, I cannot sign it nor recommend and call for others to sign it.

On a side note, I find it odd that they quote the Epistle of Diognetus but forget the tenth chapter… I believe that the Gospel would better be served if more time was spent preaching Christ than writing these types of documents, especially since we do have a whole book about these things. I reckon that’s the end of my soapbox.

Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

67 thoughts on “I will not be signing the Manhattan Declaration

  1. I would also add the words of Steve Camp at Expanded Definition of Evangelical Co-Beligerence He is an RB (reformed Baptist) as opposed to the typical CLB (Calvinistic Leaning Baptist).

    I remained concerned with this continuous attempt to forge a cultural mandate where there is none. The church has a role to play, expanding the Kingdom of God, not playing politics. Man is not justified by the law, rather condemned by it.

    I am certain I will have more to add, I am just not doing well right now so hopefully tomorrow. Plus I need to work on Sundays message (Sunday school, not the normal worship service I am not licensed yet by the PCA) in James 2 – “Practical application of faith”

    1. I think that the topic fits, don’t it?

      Well said, R.K. My fear is that people are focusing on the temporal and forgetting the eternal.

  2. Dear Polycarp, although I cannot argue with your reasoning, I still find it sad that you won’t sign. Here in the UK many of us are deeply impressed by this declaration as we see this as more of a rallying call.


    We do need something here in the UK to wake the Christian community and get us unified and motivated and active once again.

    We have just been informed that the EU will force the UK government to ensure that all organisations will not discriminate on sexual orientation grounds for employment so churches will be forced to employ.

    Although the Manhattan Declaration may not be perfect, we really need something like it here in the UK, for the Christian world to announce that enough is enough and that we will not obey the law when it contravenes God’s.

    1. Stuart,
      That something you are looking for to unify the church is the Gospel. Preach the Gospel, espouse it, live it share it and see that it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. We do not know whom God has chosen to believe to tell it to everyone. You will see the individuals and families around you transformed. Abortion rates will drop, marriages will last and most importantly God will be glorified. The Manhattan Declaration is at best a distraction and potentially the route to another gospel.

      1. I can’t disagree with that at all R.K, your words are an encouragement to me, however, this is the crux of problem, how do we motivate the church (and the preachers) to preach the gospel?

        The church feels like it has ‘bunkered down’ and gone ‘politically correct’ under the onslaught of the ‘spirit of the age’ and somehow we need to re-embolden the church and I suppose that I was looking to something like the Manhattan Declaration (perhaps wrongly) to fulfill that role.

    2. Stuart, if you can understand my reasoning – and others – then why is it sad that I will not sign?

      What more do we need than the Scriptures themselves? Do we need to sit in rooms and come up with more creeds, confessions, declarations, and petitions? Or do we take the gospel to the world, proclaiming Christ? Even then, we know that the great swell of humanity will not be swayed by the Christian message, but how arrogant is it that we believe that some purely man-made document will?

      We have a document which declares what we believe in the sanctity of life, that we believe that marriage is a gift and then ordered by God, and that we would rather follow God than man – the Scriptures. What more do we need?

          1. Stuart,

            ESV Genesis 6:3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

            NAU Genesis 6:3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”

            NLT Genesis 6:3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. In the future, their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years.”

            And check out 2nd Thess 2.1-9

            Here, we know that the Spirit must be withdrawn for the evil to work, for the rebellion to take place.

    3. Stuart, et al
      There is something like the MD in the UK, it’s called the mayflower declaration, and came out of the movement for christian democracy, and is used by the christian peoples alliance. I used to be a part of the cpa, even stood in a local bye-election. It all fell on deaf ears, however, and none more deaf than the churches. In northampton there are over 100 churches, and only two got involved. We stood in the 2005 election and attained less votes than the green party.
      This is sad, because the mayflower is a mature political document, not a mere reactionary media event that right wing christians will sign in their droves, and think they have done their bit.

      1. Ah, I didn’t know that, thanks Antony.

        Yes, I think wer almost have the reverse problem to the US in the UK, whereby, Christians in general are so apathetic and ill informed that they tend not to get active at all.

  3. I reached pretty much the same conclusion. I was especially disappointed in the lack of vision regarding life. Frankly, the fact that they quoted Pope John Paul II’s line about a “culture of death” while not saying anything about the casual disregard for the lives of those in other countries or capital punishment, both of which were major concerns of his AND WHAT HE WAS TALKING ABOUT, is very disappointing.

    It read very much like it could have said, “You know all those political positions we’ve been taking? Yeah, we’re saying that again. There’s nothing new here.”

  4. Your reasoning lacks one thing: if you believe that signing such a declaration takes away from preaching the gospel, then would the world not be better served by you (and all who call Christ Lord and Savior) preaching the gospel rather than blogging about political/religious issues?

    My point is only this: we write and read books about the Bible and God, as well as read the Bible. Why can’t we both preach the gospel and put up a rallying call to those who might be inspired by such a thing? We can certainly do more than one thing.

    Sure, there’s not concensus about certain things (such as what is the gospel, which is ‘kinda’ important) but should that prevent us from working together on the thing we DO agree on? If so, then we probably shouldn’t work together to build a more perfect union, vecause there is not consensus on ecerything and it is not preaching the gospel.

    As far as whether it has political motivations, should Chrisrians be silent in the political arena? I do not believe we should.

    1. Wb, that was only one of my reasonings, but since you choose that one, I’ll address it.

      What this declaration does is to make the gospel as cultural issue – and not even the full gospel. Further, in this declaration, where is the blood of Christ? Of the Deity of Christ? The salvation without works? Instead, it lumps all Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox into one ‘gospel’. The declaration marginalizes the Gospel to the political arena. It calls for making laws, but the Gospel is about about legalism of any sort, but about the change of heart.

      If anyone needs anything else but the Gospel as a rallying point or cry, then they are adding to the Gospel. The blood of Christ, the banner of His glorious name is our standard, not some man-made piece of paper.

      ‘Kinda’ important?

      Further, if the only three things that ‘Christians’ agree on are political wedge issues which must only be met with more man-made laws, then we are indeed in a sorry shape. We have then lost Christ and His cross, replacing it with man and Congress.

      Political motivations? Dobson said that what precipitated this was the election of Democrats to the White House and Congress? So, this is not a world wide thing, nor a long projected look. This thing is motivated only by the election of Democrats? That is using the Christ and His Gospel for political gain. Further, under the previous ‘Christian’ administration, we were told civil obedience (God loves war and all that) but now, civil disobedience? Hypocritical, I believe.

      We are not called to create a theocracy, which is what many who sign this document want to do. Christ said that His kingdom is not of this world. Further, as James White preached on Sunday (I posted it) when Paul was hauled before Kings and Queens, did he preach about political issues? No. He preached the only thing that still matters today – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If this is not our rallying cry, if this does not change the heart, then nothing, and I mean nothing, will.

      1. The “‘kinda’ important” was sarcasm – I figured you of all people would be able to recognize it. Other than God, there’s nothing as important than God having provided the only way for us to be reconciled to Him – faith in the saving work of Christ.

        The focus of the document is not the gospel, but certain cultural problems which need to be addressed. Should slavery have not been addressed in England or America? Of course it should have! And it should have been spoken against by all people, but especially by Christians. And it was, by many Christians. Should Christians not speak up in the public arena to stop abortion or erosion of morality? Yes, the basic underpinning of all morals is God, and hearts need to change from sin to God through faith in Christ. But does this mean we do not address things like murder through laws while sharing the gospel with murderers? Of course not.

        I do not see anyone adding to the gospel. I simply see people addressing issues that people who love God should hold in common.

        I have no idea if Dobson is right regarding the motivation. It matters not. What matters is that this country appears to be moving away towards embracing things God has said is wrong. The best way to address this is through people coming to Christ. However, I dont know about you, but I dont share the gospel 100% of the time. I do other things as well. I work. I talk to people. I blog. I read. I help people in need. I visit the sick. I teach. I preach. I pray. But I also vote. I also talk to others about political things.

        Christians are called to be holy, should they compromise their beliefs because of laws? Should I be a party to murder because the law says someone who wants to murder can do so but they need my assistance? At what point do I say no? At what point do I stop bowing to Christ and instead bow to Cesar?

        Christians are called to love God and love others. Should I stand by and watch someone try to murder someone while I share the gospel with them, or should I stop them and share the gospel – which is more loving and more effective? Should I allow institutionalization of murder to stand while I share the gospel, or should I share the gospel while trying to change the institutions?

        Many have been killed by government agents/employees because they failed to follow the law, but chose to follow Christ. I am not an anarchist, nor am I an ecumentalist. But I see nothing wrong in working together with people with whom I agree on something to accomplish a common goal – if I did, I would never have entered the navy, or joined a secular company. I dont agree with some people I work with regarding certain things, but this does not stop me from working with them to get something accomplished. Should it be any different in the political arena? If I love someone, but fail to try to stop their murder, how can I say I love them? If I love, but fail to try to stop the institutionalization of murder, how can I claim love? Words without deeds are empty – just as faith without actions is dead.

        1. Wb,

          Dobson, who endorsed McCain who has a shoddy record, stated that his motivation in promoting this was the election of the President. Plain and simple. That ‘bunker mentality’ is troublesome as best, and frightening at worse. The previous administration was no more friendly to Christians or morals than this one, over all anyway, yet for this administration, people are acting like it is the end of the world and that all of America’s might will come crashing down against Christianity. That’s a shame.

          I never said we should not speak out about decline morals, or great moral issues of the day, however, signing worthless documents as ‘rallying cries’ does add to the Gospel and creates tension with Romans 13 where there needs not to be. If the Gospel alone is not enough to rally under then nothing is.

          Where is the real Gospel mentioned in this document? All it is is a campaign piece – which uses the glorious Cross for a vulgar attempt at retaining power and influence?

          What issues? Yes, let’s all hate gay marriage, but, um, what about Godly marriage? Gay marriage is being used, again, as a wedge issue when the attention should be directed to securing godly families, building marriages, and supporting relationships.

          What this document does is to try to force laws on the the heart, on sins committed by individuals against themselves. That is legalism to the highest degree. This country has not been about that, and neither should Christianity. Only in a theocracy do we find such things. Instead, it must be about the heart. No laws – not even the vile ones such as Ugandu – will bring homosexuals to repentance, if that is our desire. Instead, this takes those efforts of sincere believers and turns Christ into a tyrant. Murder is recognized as a criminal act because it is a crime against another. This requires law.

          Again, if someone needs a document to say that they will not bow in the things of God to Caesar, then the Gospel is made null and void. Further, where was this worry when Caesar was a Republican? A Republican who did nothing to stop gay marriage, abortion, or the infringement of rights on basic freedoms? Only when the Caesar is a Democrat do people worry. They need to get their heads out of the GOP and read the bible. If not the bible for them, then nothing. Name me a time when Christians in this country have been killed because they refused to surrender their Christianity?

          I have never said not to stand against sin. What I have said is that this document does not do it. It takes sin and creates it as a political wedge issue.

          Speaking of slavery, what do you think it was which helped to end Slavery in England, as opposed to here? Remember, here it took a very bloody and costly war? What happened in England was a revival. Look at the Welsh at that time, and the Wesley’s, and John Newton. It was public sentiment which changed the laws, and not the laws the public sentiment. It was revival, not men, not documents, but revival based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

          1. You claim that the document adds to the gospel. I see nothing in the manhattan declaration that adds to the gospel. Your argument is not compelling.

            Does it address enough issues, not for some. For others, it addresses too many issues. *shrug* It addresses the issues it addresses. For some, its obviously a good starting point. I think stopping both abortion and euthenasia are good things to speak out about.

            The document makes the sentiment of some people known. This is a good thing in a society which is supposed to be a representative democracy. If the representatives realize that many of the people they are supposed to represent do not agree with the direction they want to take this country, then maybe they will listen when it comes to creating/discussiing/passing/signing bills.

            The current fad of argument is to claim that people who want laws based upon their religious beliefs want a theocracy. That’s nonsense, has little or no basis in reality, and seems intended to try to denigrate and/or divide and/or ostracize people rather than being intended to try to communicate effectively. All people want laws to reflect their beliefs, including the people who have created and signed this document. No one has asked to institute a government by religious leaders, nor have I ever heard it being intimated this was a desire, other than by those who do not like what they ARE proposing. Laws push the morality of the people who have created said laws upon the general poplation. so whose morality do you want reflected in the laws of your country?

            Public sentiment in England changed as those who were opposed to slavery publicized the issues and worked to have it abolished. This was a political movement that lasted decades. It did not change just from prayer, but by christians put into practice their faith in practical ways – through the legal and political system. http://www.victorianweb.org/history/antislavery.html

          2. Considering that my main argument is not that the MD adds to the Gospel, I find no reason to make it compelling. Further, the argument about the existence of God is not compelling to an atheist, so the idea that my argument must be compelling is rather uncompelling.

            I will say this about the above subject – people are saying ‘Christians must sign’ and ‘this is our rallying cry.’ If so, if Christians are judge on whether or not they sign this, and people are using this as a rallying cry, they yes, for them the gospel is inefficient and they are adding their thoughts and ideas to it.

            The Gospel alone is enough to address every issue we need in this modern world, and without political motivations.

            I noticed that you haven’t commented on the post where I did show that some are using that word – theocracy. Further, we know that Dominionism is about establishing a theocracy. It would be nonsense to not see it as such. Further, we have had ‘Christian’ governments before, and they have all failed. Why do they think this one work?

            Laws, laws, laws… And laws have never stopped anyone from doing what they want to do. Where then is the Gospel preached in all of this legalism? Maybe if Christians would preach the Gospel instead of trying to change laws, laws wouldn’t be needed.

            I never said it changed just from prayer. I said revival. Note the building movement of revivalists in England for the generation preceding. Note also that England at this time was a ‘Christian’ government. The revival built, and the laws were changed in response to the change in society.

          3. I say then that you have not read the declaration.

            2nd to last paragraph states Going back to the earliest days of the church, Christians have refused to compromise their proclamation of the gospel. In Acts 4, Peter and John were ordered to stop preaching. Their answer was, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required. 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. Unjust laws degrade human beings. Inasmuch as they can claim no authority beyond sheer human will, they lack any power to bind in conscience. King’s willingness to go to jail, rather than comply with legal injustice, was exemplary and inspiring.

            By invoking this argument, Coleson George and George are stating that the Manhattan Declaration is at least some part of the Gospel, of equal or similar importance. Otherwise the appeal to Christianity refusing to not espouse the Gospel is of no merit. Further to confuse law and Gospel in the way in which they they go on to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s defiance of civil authorities as exemplary and inspiring in the same paragraph is absurd.

            Now let me take a step back and explain that last statement so you do not take it somewhere it is not intended. As a civil rights leader MLK Jr. is to be praised the work he did to advance civil rights from a legal perspective is astounding. That being said it was most certainly NOT a Christian thing to do. Let me remind you, Paul was not in Jail for breaking Roman law, he was a prisoner because he upheld his Roman right as a citizen to appeal to Caesar.

            The Manhattan declaration makes the continued error of equating Law and Gospel. The Gospel is the message that All of mankind and every individual is a sinner who has completely forsaken God. God chose then, from among a sinful people, wholly deserving of destruction and His wrath, a people for his Son to redeem. He called them for His glory as a gift to His Son on whom he poured out all the wrath that they would have stored up for themselves by the time of the final Judgement onto His Son who suffered and died in propitiation for our Sins. We therefore are Justified by his unmerited grace, sustained by His Mercy and the renewing of our minds by the Holy Spirit until the day of Christ’s return when all will be judged and we will be glorified to be like Christ and the heavens and earth renewed to be free from the corruption of sin. That is the Gospel, not the sanctity of human life, which was given to the government over us. Not the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife which is a joke in as much as the divorce rate in the church is effectively the same as out of the church and to which we have given authority to the state to license and judge. Nor the the rights of conscience and religious liberty, to which i refer you to Romans 14 7-9 “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”

            “To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things” -1 Corinthians 4:11-13 (ESV)

            I have typed a great deal more than this, but I have decided not to continue as I do not believe it will add anything you could not see here or in the associated links.

  5. And the glaring omissions from such a document is that it doesn’t address the milito-industrial complex that has maintained the US as a war economy for over 50 years, the continual institutional racism, the huge gap between poor and rich, Iraq, Guantanamo, ER and torture, immigration, the environment, consumer culture, oil dependency, health care, the World Bank, IMF etc, China, Afghanistan, Cuba. And these are listed from an outsiders view.
    This is not a Christian document. Christians may have written it, and signed it, but it a document of compromise with a certain segment of society, namely right wingers. It is not a prophetic call to repentance and vision, but a media oriented position statement in advance of the next election, when hopefully, for them, Obama will be out.
    The only mea culpa discernable in is is that they didn’t get McCain and Palin in. This time.

  6. Great Article. When I came across this “declaration” It seemed like what you stated but I like your opinion on it knowing that you did a lot of research on it.

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