Biblical windows on Manhattan Declaration

(’76 Editor) The Manhattan Declaration on sanctity of life, dignity of marriage, and religious liberty was faulted by my colleague Kevin Miller at the Vanguard Forum on Feb. 5 for insufficiently addressing such issues as the divorce culture and the idolatry of the state.

I agree with Kevin that those issues must be honestly confronted, especially since Christians have been passively and actively complicit in the worsening of both for at least a century now. But I am proud to be a signer of the Manhattan Declaration, imperfections and all, since on balance it does the Republic and the Church far more good than harm.

Believers agree, as former Sen. Bruce Cairns quoted from Prov. 14:34 at Vanguard, that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” So isn’t a proper balance in rendering to God and to Caesar (Matthew 22:21, the explicit aim of the Manhattan Declaration) one condition for strengthening America’s righteousness? Again, we can agree that it is—hardly a sufficient condition, as Kevin correctly warns, but surely a necessary one.

Americans in general, Christian and otherwise, grossly over-render to Caesar at present. It’s this mistake alone that the manifesto seeks to warn against and begin correcting, as best I can see. For the many other mistakes and omissions of which we believers are guilty, another manifesto may well be needed—a Vanguard Declaration, perhaps—but that is no reason to withhold our support from the worthy and urgent aims of the Manhattan Declaration.

Are Manhattan’s drafters and signers guilty of the hypocrisy and false pretense which Jesus condemns as like “whited sepulchres” (Matt. 23:27), or the inverted priorities which he likens to overlooking the log in one’s own eye while criticizing the sawdust in another’s (Matt. 7:3)? Not at all. The declaration does express repentance for Christians’ complicity with rampant divorce. In giving relatively more attention to the threat of judicially-imposed same-sex marriage, it merely addresses the proximate danger of Caesar’s next arrogant overreach. Everyone who values the family as society’s core institution for stability and health can only applaud.

I agree with Kevin Miller’s expanded agenda for Christian self-correction and resulting social betterment—virtue fostered non-coercively by changing hearts, starting with our own—but I don’t see this as an either/or with the Manhattan agenda. Rather it’s a both/and. Jesus again: “These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matt. 23:23).

Finally, let’s apply the Lord’s own “By their fruits ye shall know them” test (Matt. 7:20). Will the ever-widening support and discussion of the Manhattan Declaration (now with 420,000 signers ) tend to trouble and cleanse the conscience of Christians, stir us up to repentance and good works and walking the talk—or will it only serve as an excuse for smugness, complacency, and pharisaical superiority? I’m confident of the former result.

Naming the name of Christ, daring to engage with him, starts one on a process of living up to his standard more and more fully. So with Nicodemus, Zaccheus, Matthew, and Peter, the divorced woman at the well and the weeping woman at the feast. “Going public” for the faith, even before we may be fully ready or presentable, takes on a positive logic of its own.

And as for the concern voiced at Vanguard by a rigorous Reformation Protestant who asked if the Catholic understanding of the gospel (deficient in his view) may not defeat the whole Manhattan Declaration project, I will go with what Jesus told John: “He that is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50). Even allowing that he seems to have said the opposite in Luke 11:23, we can take the “by their fruits” test as a tiebreaker—for to repeat, no one has shown me how the Manhattan Declaration is going to do harm.

One way or the other, what matters, said Paul, is that “Christ is preached” (Phil. 1:18). Amen say I.

Have you signed the Manhattan Declaration? You can do so here.

Want to know more about Kevin Miller, his Vanguard Forum once a month in suburban Denver, and his National Freedom Initiative for “freedom nationally, virtue locally”? You sign onto all that as well, as I have done, by clicking here.

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