The Manhattan Declaration: Distorting the Gospel


The context of this post is that it’s a reproduction of something I recently posted as a note on Facebook. As it contains a sizeable amount of research, I’ve decided to also post it here. I was first made aware of the Manhattan Declaration on an excellent blog site: www.pjmiller.wordpress.com, where several articles have been written on this topic (please refer to the end of this post for links to those articles). This post deals with the Manhattan Declaration and also the topic of nationalism in general. Some of what I’ve written here is a reflection of my own process of searching my heart to see where nationalism has [1] distracted me from what is more important (the message of Christ and Him crucified), and/or [2] tainted my perspective on things which are eternal. I’m still on that journey.

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–by Adam Maarschalk–

In my previous note, “Has Nationalism Taken Priority over the Gospel in Our Hearts?” I expressed some of my views regarding nationalism and the high priority that it has for many professing Christians here in the US. To be clear again, my point is not that all political involvement is illegitimate. I also have my own political opinions, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. At the same time, my growing sense is that for many of us who say we follow Christ, nationalism has both overshadowed the gospel and distorted its message in our minds. Here is a statement I made in my previous post:

I think that too many of us [i.e. followers of Christ] in this nation have become more passionate about taking on political causes, proclaiming the superiority of the United States, and fighting ‘liberalism’ than we are about proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and upholding Biblical truth.

Recently the national media has given some coverage to The Manhattan Declaration (http://www.manhattandeclaration.org/), an ecumenical initiative dealing with [1] the sanctity of life [2] the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union between husband and wife [3] the rights of conscience and human liberty. While there are points of social concern outlined in this declaration which I could agree with, these same points could be agreed upon by many who don’t even claim to be Christian. The greater issue at stake here is again this: the distortion and even redefining of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and of our purpose as God’s people here on earth. This is again evident in the issues surrounding the Manhattan Declaration.

In the Preamble to this document, it is said that Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical Christians are united “as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” To be sure, this is a wonderful thing to be united upon, if only it were true that these three groups are united in this way. This statement clearly makes light of the Reformation led by Martin Luther in the 16th century. What has fundamentally changed so that Catholicism now clearly stands firm on the gospel of Jesus Christ? This is an issue which deserves its own post, so I will say no more at this point (however, it is dealt with at more length in one of the links I will provide below).

Then in the FAQ section (under #8), we read:

So the signatories are happy to stand alongside our LDS brothers and sisters who have worked so heroically in the cause of defending marriage, our Jewish brothers and sisters, members of other faiths, and people of no particular faith (even pro-life atheists such as the great Nat Hentoff), who affirm our principles and wish to join us in proclaiming and defending them.

Mormons and religious Jews are our “brothers and sisters”??? Really? The issues highlighted in this declaration are NOT more important than clarity regarding the gospel of Jesus Christ and what it means to be His followers. It gets worse…

Jim Daly, the President and CEO of Focus on the Family [and I don’t have to tell you how influential this organization is], is one of the principle signatories of this declaration. Please pay close attention to how he explains his rationale for signing it, keeping in mind that Christians in the US are his target audience:

Given the magnitude of this document…I’d like to share with you now why I was so eager to sign it—and why I hope you will, too.

It is important, first off, to note that the Manhattan Declaration is not a partisan or political statement… Instead, it addresses and elevates four specific areas of universal consensus. Some have referred to these as ‘threshold issues,’ meaning they represent the foundation of our faith and the pivot point from which everything else flows. This is the bedrock. If we can’t agree on these areas of doctrine, everything else will be of reduced value.

These four areas are:

1. The sanctity of life
2. The sanctity of marriage
3. The protection of religious liberty
4. The rejection of unjust laws

Sources (emphasis added):
[1] http://christianresearchnetwork.com/?p=14254
[2] http://biblicalthought.com/blog/discussing-the-manhattan-declaration/

If you’re a believer and reading this, I hope you find Daly’s statement as disturbing as I do. The foundation of my faith is Jesus and Him crucified and the truth revealed in Scripture, not four political/social issues. The last two areas listed by Daly aren’t even doctrines, by any stretch of the imagination. Ephesians 2:19-21 tells us very clearly what the foundation of our faith is.

Daly wants you and I to place our faith on a foundation other than Christ. Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, and unbelievers of many persuasions could agree with these four “areas of doctrine.” No thank you, Mr. Daly. You’re preaching another gospel. I’ll keep my faith on a foundation that can’t be shaken when politics fail.

Chuck Colson, one of the three framers of this document, has also repeatedly referred to these tenets as being part and parcel of the gospel. In one place, he says,

Just imagine what could happen if we could say to the world that a million Christians have made this pledge—that we will not compromise the faith, no matter what. I think that would have an extraordinary impact on American culture. And just as important, I believe the Manhattan Declaration can help revitalize the church in America. One great weakness of the Church today is its biblical and doctrinal ignorance. This document is, in fact, a form of catechism for the foundational truths of the faith. Now, opponents of the document have tried to paint it as a political tool—a way to resurrect the religious right. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Source: http://www.breakpoint.org/commentaries/13626-just-the-beginning (emphasis added)

Why would the framers and key signatories continue to equate these tenets with the gospel, and then invite unbelievers to commit to them? Not only that, but all who sign are now told that they have pledged to never compromise the gospel (even if they are unbelievers!). On the MD’s official website, there is now a “Message to All Signers of the Manhattan Declaration,” where one will see the following words:

We believe God is looking for good men and women who will pledge (as those who have done in signing the Manhattan Declaration), never to compromise the gospel, and to become well-informed, effective advocates of true and godly principles.

Source: http://www.manhattandeclaration.org/for-signers-whats-next

Now wait a minute! How can this be? This goes far beyond affirming Catholicism as holding to the Biblical gospel (which it does not), and calling Mormons and Jews our “brothers and sisters” (in the faith?), which is compromise enough. Remember that the framers of this document invited “members of other faiths, and people of no particular faith (even pro-life atheists…)” to sign. How can Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, and others who are not followers of Christ never “compromise the gospel”? They haven’t yet believed the message of the gospel, much less been transformed by it, much less be in a position to never compromise it.

If the framers had kept this document purely political, that would be one thing (although I still wouldn’t sign it), but they are providing one of the muddiest definitions of the gospel I’ve ever seen. This document has a political agenda, pure and simple, despite what Chuck Colson has said. Here is Colson in his own words, as reported in the New York Times:

‘We argue that there is a hierarchy of issues. A lot of younger evangelicals say they’re all alike. We’re hoping to educate them that these are the three most important issues’ – abortion, marriage, and religious liberty.”

Source: http://www.newsmax.com/headlines/wuerl_colson_christian/2009/11/21/289471.html

There are plenty of reasons why Colson’s statement is not necessarily true (especially regarding religious liberty) and should be debated, but I’ll leave it alone. Artificially fixing these or any social ills through legislation and heavy political action won’t ultimately change the hearts of people in this nation. The gospel will, and that’s what is being marginalized and distorted by this and many other initiatives. I can’t and won’t sign this document, for the reasons already given and others. I could say a lot more, but I’d like to instead point to two excellent articles on this subject. The first one can be found here—it’s a comprehensive list of 19 thought-provoking questions for professing evangelicals who have signed, or are thinking about signing, this document:

http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2009/11/nineteen-questions-for-signers-of.html

This in-depth post from Steve Camp, a former recording artist whose lyrics might remind some of Keith Green, is also very good:

http://stevenjcamp.blogspot.com/2005/08/new-downgrade12-dangers-of-ecb.html

These statements near the beginning of this article jumped out at me right away:

In John 18:36 our Lord says these surprising words in answer to an inquisition by Pontius Pilate, ‘…If my kingdom were of this world, my disciples would be fighting…’ These words cut straight to the heart of the matter before us today. Clearly, the Lord’s kingdom is not of this world. Jesus did not come as a social revolutionary to clean up the culture from lascivious delinquents; or as a religious zealot to overthrow the Sanhedrin; or even as a political agitator to dethrone the Emperor. His kingdom is eternal; it is not of this world…

But why then is it today, beloved, that we do see His disciples fighting? –and fighting not for eternal things, but for the temporal things of this earth. Fighting for religious rights; fighting against unregenerate people for acting like unregenerate people; fighting against the secularization of public policy; fighting for a social moral imperative; fighting against senate filibusters; fighting for family values, etc. And yet, with an eerie wholesale silence we don’t see them contending for the faith, boasting in the cross, heralding the good news of the gospel of grace through faith in Christ alone, and proclaiming Jesus Christ and Him crucified as the answer for the social ills plaguing our society today.[1]

Of course, Steve Camp is speaking generally here, and not saying that no one is preaching the gospel. Just like in my recent note, he is asking what we as believers in this nation are most passionate about. Which one overshadows the other: politics/nationalism or the gospel? Steve Camp goes on to list 12 dangers of what he calls “Evangelical Co-Belligerence.” I find his points very thought-provoking… All are very good, but #5, 7, 9, and 12 perked my interest the most. Here are his points in skeleton form (he elaborates on all of them in the link I provided, and this is well worth reading):

1. The Lack of Biblical Foundation (for engaging in “culture wars”)
2. The Removal of the Offense of the Cross
3. The Secularization of Being “Salt and Light”
4. The Promotion of a Moral Human Imperative
5. The Denial of the Efficacy of the Gospel
6. The Condoning of Unequally-Yoked Alliances
7. The Alienation of Unbelievers for “Acting Like Unbelievers”
8. The Body of Christ Turned Into Political Agitators
9. The ECB Political Entitlement—“Religious Rights”
10. The Pagan Co-Belligerents—Still “Safe” in Their Sin
11. The Church Turned PAC/Lobbyist/Voting Force
12. The Inevitable Conclusion: Win the Culture War; Lose a Voice for the Gospel

Camp closes his post with these words:

When one eliminates the centrality of the gospel from the social cause; or amputates the call to repentance to unregenerate people they’d rather play politics with, share picket lines with, boycott corporations with, legislate morality with, and strong arm politicians by militant means with—rather than deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus Christ with; when one tries to focus on everything from family; to culture wars; to filibusters; to elections; to religious rights; to a bankrupt social moral imperatives; rather than on focusing on the Lord and His ‘once for all faith delivered to the saints’, where does this all lead? …May the church turn away from this defection from Christ and His Word and come back to the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel as the cure for the sin sick hearts of mankind.

Finally, I would also like to close by referring to an interview by Charlie Rose with Greg Boyd, a pastor here in the Minneapolis area, regarding his book, “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church.” For those who know of Boyd, you probably know that he embraces what is known as “open theism,” and I’m certainly not on board with that. Setting that aside for now, I do appreciate and agree with what he says in this interview, found here (the total running time for these three video segments is 21 minutes):

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIWs_G4oJaA&feature=related
[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLTsefTbL1I&feature=related
[3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBQPN0rVs1I&feature=related

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Further recommended articles:
[1] http://mytwocents.wordpress.com/2009/06/15/for-god-and-country-politics-and-the-gospel/
[2] http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/why-electing-palin-or-huckabee-makes-more-sense-to-you-than-reforming-your-church
[3] http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/the-tactics-of-failure-why-the-culture-war-makes-sense-to-spiritually-empty-evangelicals
[4] http://pjmiller.wordpress.com/2009/09/03/is-obama-really-the-problem/
[5] http://pjmiller.wordpress.com/2009/09/05/confession-of-a-radical/

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Articles to date on PJ Miller’s site regarding the Manhattan Declaration:

[1] http://pjmiller.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/christian-leaders-unite-on-political-issues/
[
2] http://pjmiller.wordpress.com/2009/11/25/around-the-blogosphere-the-manhattan-declaration/
[3] http://pjmiller.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/another-reason-why-ill-never-support-the-manhattan-declaration/
[4] http://pjmiller.wordpress.com/2009/11/29/the-manhattan-declaration-a-parable/
[5] http://pjmiller.wordpress.com/2009/12/01/is-there-ever-an-exception/
[6] http://pjmiller.wordpress.com/2009/12/04/the-manhattan-declaration-our-regretful-inability-to-become-a-signatory/
[7] http://pjmiller.wordpress.com/2009/12/04/covenants-oaths-promises-and-pledges/
[8] http://pjmiller.wordpress.com/2009/12/06/the-dangers-of-cobelligerence/
[9] http://pjmiller.wordpress.com/2009/12/12/the-dung-of-our-own-righteousness-the-manhattan-declaration/
[10] http://pjmiller.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/the-new-ecumenism/
[11] http://pjmiller.wordpress.com/2010/01/16/the-manhattan-declaration-drum-beat/


[1] In a similar way, I posed this question in my previous note, and I still present it as an open challenge to fellow believers:

“I think our priorities are misplaced. Let’s say I publicly question the teachings of high-profile preachers who claim to be anointed yet distort the gospel, preach heresy, and dishonor the name of Jesus every day on TBN, GOD TV, The Word Network, etc. Surely I will hear “Don’t judge”, “touch not the Lord’s anointed”, “that’s not loving,” etc. But if I were to blast away at President Obama (whose authority has been instituted by God—Romans 13:1, Daniel 2:21, John 19:11), the policies of this administration, or anything deemed liberal, I would get all kinds of “amens” and thumbs up [from my Conservative friends on Facebook]. Something’s wrong, and to me this is a clear double standard [as well as illustrating what is and isn’t so important to us].”

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