The Manhattan Declaration: A Waste of Everybody's Time?

Friends and students have asked what I think about The Manhattan Declaration. Not all friends or students have asked, to be sure! Indeed, many readers of this blog won’t know what I’m talking about. But some will know that it is the recently released statement of a range of conservative American Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic Christians.

It’s a strange document, this Declaration. Indeed, it seems to me to be strangely useless. Here’s why.

1. The original signers include some Big Names among evangelical popular culture, a few eminent Catholic intellectuals, some institutional presidents, and assorted others. Missing are heavyweight evangelical scholars or prominent Christian politicians. Missing also is almost anyone to the left of the Religious Right, with a few conspicuous exceptions, such as  the estimable evangelical activist Dr. Ron Sider. As such, it is difficult to take the document seriously as representing the best Christian thinking available on matters of ethics and politics.

2. Given the provenance of the document being the American Religious Right, therefore, it will surprise precisely no one that the document declares that such people are (still) prolife, (still) pro-traditional marriage, and (still) desirous that their way of seeing things is put into American law. It’s not evident to me that anyone needed a big declaration that such people still feel this way.

3. The document gives no clear direction about what anyone is supposed to do once they have read it–besides sign it, I suppose. Is anyone now going to campaign for prolife positions any differently than he or she did before? Is anyone going to change his or her mind about homosexual marriage? Is anyone going to seek new legislation or, if the law swings against conservative Christians, engage in civil disobedience of some unspecified sort? Who knows?

4. Finally, the document seems philosophically and politically incoherent. It argues for religious liberty for Christians to dissent from views they don’t like (and this point, alas, needs increasing emphasis in America as well as here in Canada). But it also argues that these particular Christian views of abortion, euthanasia, marriage, and more should be enshrined in American law. It says nothing about the liberty of those who would dissent from those views except to assert that because these Christian views are right, they should be the law of the land. What, then, happened to religious liberty on these important matters? The document doesn’t say.

I’m conservatively prolife and have traditional Christian views of marriage also. But just because I think those views are right doesn’t entail that I believe they should be law. Deciding what ought to be law in a pluralistic, democratic society that welcomes immigrants from, and seeks to influence helpfully, countries all over the world, requires careful political theory. Indeed, it requires fundamental and detailed consideration of a variety of related subjects, including the nature and intentions of divine providence over nations, what God expects of human beings individually and corporately short of the return of Christ, what is politically feasible in a given situation, and more. There is none of that sort of thinking evident in this declaration, but rather a strong sense—common enough among conservative evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox around the world—that particular Christian convictions are simply right and therefore ought to be law.

Furthermore, America is not an officially Christian nation, but rather a Christian-majority one. So if we apply the same logic elsewhere, then Muslim-majority countries should enshrine shari’ah as their laws, since Muslims are equally convinced that shari’ah is right, and should brook no exceptions for non-Muslims. The same would go for Hindu- or Buddhist-majority countries. Then what happens then to religious liberty? Or is liberty important only if your views are correct—namely, Christian?

I note that the three drafters are Timothy George, an evangelical historian of theology and academic administrator who shows up frequently in such projects; Robert George, a distinguished Princeton University scholar who is a stalwart defender of Roman Catholic conservative social policy; and Charles Colson, another evangelical whose impressive Prison Fellowship ministry arose out of his previous political career, a career that by any account was extremist and ended in the extremes of Watergate disgrace and a prison term (and therefore not the political expertise one might hope for behind such a document). Such authorship confirms the sense that the project of building a “Christian America” according to the values of the Religious Right, rather than building the best possible pluralist and free society, is the agenda guiding such a declaration.

Others of us, however, will think that God’s will might run to greater liberty for all, greater tolerance for ambiguity and dissent, greater pluralism of belief and practice, and perhaps paradoxically therefore greater opportunity for the Gospel. For it is not clear to us that such declarations, and the outlook that prompts them, really increase non-Christian willingness to respect conservative Christian concerns, let alone to seriously entertain any proclamation of the Gospel. It certainly is not clear that they move anyone closer to prolife, pro-traditional marriage, or pro-religious liberty views.

Indeed, it’s not clear to some of us what good they do at all.

0 Responses to “The Manhattan Declaration: A Waste of Everybody's Time?”

  1. Bene D

    My question is this.

    Very well paid religious right celebrities and political operatives are saying they are prepared to engage in civil disobedience if they don’t get their laws, their way.

    What is that going to look like?

  2. micahtowery

    with all respect, prof. stackhouse, it seems that you’re not being entirely charitable to these men. while certainly it’s fair to look at track records of the drafters, to dismiss them as tools from the religious right doesn’t seem entirely right (or true). while it’s certainly true that these men have been involved in the religious right, and even that some of the causes they’ve supported at times were questionable, isn’t it similarly partisan to dismiss them as such? i have an immense amount of respect for robert george as a thinker. the man has got a steel trap for a mind, and his logic is razor sharp. regarding colson, i would refer you to this interview in time (,8599,1925795,00.html ), in which he seems to repudiate much of his political goals as a “religious right” man.

    second, from what i read, the document was not advocating for an explicitly Christian rule of law. it seemed rather that they were highlighting the Christian roots of law in the West. to me, this seems like an extremely important point to make and reaffirm. while we certainly live in a pluralistic society, i think the political incoherence actually arises when we cut ourselves off from the assumptions that Western law is, in part, built upon.

    i do not see a demand that christian beliefs be enshrined in law anywhere in the document so much as an assertion that falling away from these will be disastrous. but it’s more than that. i see this as a “here i stand” document. to me, the tone of this sounds somewhat like they expect to lose battles on issues like gay marriage. to me this statement is not strident, but simply a declaration that they will not participate in society’s growing approval of gay marriage.

    the question certainly arises why this is necessary. if your interpretation is that this is merely another statement from the religious right, then you’d be correct in pointing out that it doesn’t say anything new or outline any new political strategy. but i’m seeing this from a different angle. consider robert moynihan’s comments on pope benedict’s overtures to anglicans (among others), via crunchy con ( ):

    Benedict is rallying his troops. He is trying to reunite all those factions and denominations and groups in the West that share common beliefs in the eternal destiny of human beings, in the sacredness of human life (since human beings are “in the image and likeness of God”), in the existence of a moral standard which is true at all times and in all places (against the relativism of the modern secular culture), in the need for justice in human affairs, for the rule of right, not might.

    And so he is doing his best, in what seems perhaps to be the “twilight of the West,” to build an ark, centered in Rome, to which all those who share these beliefs about human dignity may repair.

    so, with these movements possibly afoot in rome, i would not be surprised if they were going on in other places. as i see it, this document may be more about being ecumenical than anything.

    i think if it were truly another document of the religious right, it would have had a different tenor. i think it would have been much more strident and goal oriented. this document seems quite the opposite.

  3. John Stackhouse

    Brother Micah, I’m not “dismissing” anyone as “tools.” Moreover, to say that not to put into law what we recommend would be disastrous sounds like recommending what we recommend be put into law. And I just don’t understand the point you’re trying to make in the last half of your comment.

  4. micahtowery

    my point is this: i think you’re largely correct if you look at this document as just another attempt by the religious right to build a Christian america. but i don’t see it that way. instead, i see it as an ecumenical body seeking common ground with each other. the reason i see it this way is that it seems there is a increasing desire among catholics, orthodox, and evangelicals to unite around these important issues in the face of a growing secularism. not that this hasn’t happened in the past, of course. but i suspect that there is a renewed effort because there is a renewed sense of attack. sorry…that wasn’t clear. and to be honest, it’s mostly speculation on my part, to read these motivations into it. perhaps that’s foolish on my part.

    it’s just that when i think religious right, while people like colson and robert george do come to mind (i don’t know much about the third drafter), some of the signers don’t at all (like metropolitan jonah, patrick deneen, or even tim keller). that, i suppose, is what made me think that this document had greater significance than just being part of the religious right. sorry i wasn’t clear about that the first time.

  5. micahtowery

    i should further clarify, i think, the quote about benedict that i brought in. i thought the quote about benedict wanting to “reunite all those factions and denominations and groups in the West that share common beliefs” because, at this moment, i feel benedict is at the forefront of the ecumenical dialogue i’m talking about.

  6. micahtowery

    doh!…the problem with changing a thought mid-sentence. it should be: “i thought the quote about benedict wanting to ‘…’ WAS RELEVANT because…”

  7. David

    While I agree with most of your assessment, I wonder if you could more fully explain what you mean by “heavyweight evangelical scholars”. I would say that JI Packer, Cornelius Plantinga and Tom Oden are certainly heavy-weights. John Woodbrige, Al Mohler, Wayne Grudem and David Dockery aren’t slouches, either (no matter what might be thought of the nuances of their theological perspective). So like I said, I would be interested in knowing more fully what you mean by ‘heavyweight’?

  8. John Stackhouse

    Well, Brother Micah, the Religious Right is already “ecumenical,” so I don’t see any reason to change what I’ve written. And I’m not sure how widely Pope Benedict is understood as a welcoming ecumenical figure, not least because of his recent initiative toward dissident Anglican clergy.

    As for Brother David, well, I suppose we might disagree on who counts as a heavyweight. I’m referring to people who have established careers of high-level scholarship that other scholars feel they must reckon with. Tom Oden has certainly inspired scholars to take the early church more seriously, and Neal Plantinga has written some pithy stuff. But with those allowances, I’ll have to stand by my characterization.

    Compare this list with the likes of Miroslav Volf, Mark Noll, Alvin Plantinga, Stephen Evans, Nicholas Wolterstorff, George Marsden, Christian Smith, or the like, and perhaps my meaning is more clear.

  9. Joe


    In reference to the paragraph after point 4,”common enough among conservative evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox around the world—that particular Christian convictions are simply right and therefore ought to be law”

    Quick question for clarification:

    Does seeking justice (part of Shalom) entail legislating orthodox christian beliefs?


  10. micahtowery

    i think our fundamental difference in interpretation is that you see this (if i understand you correctly) as a document coming primarily from the “religious right,” whereas i see it as being connected to a larger movement that extends beyond the traditional religious right. your point about benedict, however, is well-taken. benedict is up to something quite different than ecumenicalism, a term that seems to imply a sort of interdenominational politeness for the sake of a larger cause. if that quote about benedict is correct in its analysis, there is a movement on his part (and others i would assume) to resist the rising tide of secularism. i see his latest overture to dissident anglicans as an aggressive move to build this alliance. but, perhaps i’m reading wayyyy too much into this document (i probably am). but if i’m not, then this document extends beyond the religious right, indeed, even beyond american politics.

    but even if it were as i suggest, i suspect you would ask again “who cares?” or more pertinently, how does it “move anyone closer to prolife, pro-traditional marriage, or pro-religious liberty views?” these are definitely important questions…and i’m not sure i have a good answer! i think it might be an attempt to preempt the powers that seem to be assembling against them, to be like peter and john, stating they will continue to proclaim the truth. but is this a good strategy? i don’t know. i think you’re right that it would have benefited from the presence of more “heavyweights” (though i think jonah’s a heavyweight).

  11. lukesimmons

    There seems to be a big difference between creating “Christian law” and creating laws that protect unborn people and define marriage the way that human beings throughout history have always defined it. The example of shar’ia law is unconvincing. Nobody in the declaration is arguing to make the 10 commandments into law, or dictate minute behavioral regulations.

  12. John Stackhouse

    Brothers Joe and Luke, I appreciate your points. I appreciate them enough, in fact, that I wrote a whole book to respond to them: Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World (Oxford UP, 2008).

    More briefly (!), however, let me say a couple of things.

    First, I agree with both of you that working for justice is part of the Christian calling–indeed, it’s part of our even more basic human calling–and that does indeed mean legislation that cares for the oppressed and protects the institutions of society. Just how we do that, however, is what’s under discussion here.

    Second, I find the Manhattan Declaration incoherent particularly in terms of providing a consistent approach to public policy. I agree with you, Brother Luke, that it doesn’t call for the wholesale transfer of Torah into American law. But it’s not clear what it is calling for, what it is not calling for, and on what basis would the Declarers decide to tolerate something less than their particular Christian ethics on a particular subject.

    (Note, for example, their disturbing reference to “parental rights” when it comes to whether their children should be taught something other than what they believe in a public school. “Parental rights” are important, yes, but other rights and obligations matter here, too–such as other parents’ rights, children’s rights, the state’s legitimate concern for the education of its citizens, and perhaps more. What kind of public schools can we have where everyone insists that their values be taught therein and none other? And if that’s not what the Declarers mean to say, then what do they mean to say?)

    Part of the problem with the Manhattan Declaration is its linking of issues that are of quite different importance, moral clarity, political feasibility, and philosophical “level.” Whether to allow abortions is not the same thing as allowing assisted suicide, which is not the same thing as allowing homosexuals to marry, which is not the same thing as protecting free speech, which is not the same thing as putting up with different values being taught in the public schools, and so on.

    That’s why I’m honestly bewildered by it. I know some of the signers and they’re good people, intelligent people, and serious people. (In particular, I do not mean any disrespect to any of the scholars who signed it when I do not identify them as “heavyweights.” I trust my comment in #9 makes clear what I mean. I certainly would not number myself among the “heavyweights” either, just in case anyone’s wondering about that!) My fundamental point is that I just don’t know (a) what to make of the document theologically and ethically, nor (b) what to make of it practically, especially politically. What good does anyone think it’s going to do?

  13. David Strunk

    Dr. Stackhouse,

    I agree that any political document on life-issues must have a coherent call to action, but I could not tell whether you were just attacking the logic on a flawed political theory, or if you actually agreed that these 3 issues shouldn’t be law. I’ll punt on homosexual marriage, but surely we can agree on matters of life and death?

    Have you read Francis Beckwith on abortion? I believe his book is entitled “Defending Life,” perhaps? I read it last year, and it’s a first-rate scholarly work.

    At issue is the fact that all governments have a stake in moral issues, because all governments possess a worldview. If murder is wrong, a government has a right to administer justice accordingly. If we reasonably define abortion and embryonic stem-cell research as murder, defined scientifically and philosophically but not necessarily religoiusly, then doesn’t the government have a stake in administering justice?

    At the very least, while I didn’t construct an argument for the life-existence of a fertilized embryo (such arguments exist and are well-constructed- again, see Beckwith), I think I did articulate a brief view of political theory from a Christian worldview.

    The government can administer and arbitrate matters of justice and morality. Where would I draw the line? When the government “dispenses” justice. While I know that’s vague, I’ll leave it there for now. Suffice to say I’m very influenced by Herbert Schlossberg in this area.

    Thanks as always!

  14. dave

    Prof. Stackhouse, With all respect, I have to disagree. I think the purpose of the declaration is a response to the serious attack on three main issues: the sanctity of life, marriage and liberty. It is not a push to establish power for the religious right. I think the attack on these issues are real and hence the merits of the declaration of a line on the sand that should not be crossed. With this alone, it’s worth the effort. It may not be a basic doctrine of the church, but should be part of the core value of faith. There may be implications on the law of the country, but this is secondary.

  15. Mathew Block

    Professor Stackhouse, I find myself in general agreement with you – in particular your comment that the Manhattan Declaration is philosophically incoherent. One of the great travesties in Canada and the United States is the too-often-held assumption that the political system (and philosophy) of the West must somehow be intrinsically connected to the Christian worldview. So much effort has been put into defending and enforcing Christian morality as necessary for the nation (eg, regarding such matters as homosexual marriage) wasting effort that would be better spent in actually proclaiming the Gospel. It appears we have forgotten Christ said his kingdom was not of this world. Luther’s theology of the two kingdoms is an excellent wake-up call to such political theology. Canada and the USA are hardly “Christian” nations.

    I think the political attention of Christians should be devoted to ensuring continued religious freedom – not to wasted effort in attempting to make non-Christians act like Christians. In a pluralist society (which is indeed what we have), the best we can hope for is the principles depicted in John Stuart Mill’s classic work ON LIBERTY: freedom of thought and expression, freedom of action – even “immoral” action (a category religion finds itself more and more placed in as society continues to be secularized) so long as the action doesn’t harm others, and freedom of assembly.

    That all said, I feel the issue of abortion doesn’t quite match up the same as does the issue of homosexual marriage. In the latter, homosexuals exercising freedom of action doesn’t impinge on the physical rights of others. But arguably abortion impinge on another’s rights: the unborn. If Christians want to defend the rights of the unborn, perhaps its time we started quoting people like Mills rather than simply quoting the Bible at non-Christians.

  16. Mathew Block

    @lukesimmons (#13) – You write that there is a difference between “between creating “Christian law” and creating laws that protect unborn people and define marriage the way that human beings throughout history have always defined it.” Unfortunately, the Christian definition of ‘marriage’ has certainly not been universally accepted throughout all of history. Consider, for example, the existence of polygamy. Moreover, there are suggestions that same-sex marriage may well have existed in various parts of Ancient Greece and Rome (for example, the Theodosian Code outlawed homosexual marriage, implying that it had been previously practised by some). And of course, some cultures do not have a concept of ‘marriage’ at all, nor even the idea of ‘life-long partners.’

    Since the Fall, all creation has been subjected to frustration… including the understanding of ‘marriage’ across cultures. As humans are born sinful and unclean, it should not be surprising that our individual and cultural concepts of morality should frequently be tainted.

    • lukesimmons

      Matthew, I appreciate your candid pushback. I’m not the slightest bit surprised that individual and cultural concepts of morality are frequently tainted. Totally agree.

      One of the things that gets lost in this discussion is that it gets framed in terms of what is “right” versus what is “better.” I thought the Manhattan Declaration did a good job of describing the destruction that has followed in the wake of re-definitions of marriage and the disintegration of the family. If heterosexual marriage is not just right biblically, but also a better thing for society (as proven by numerous studies from secular researchers), then expressing a desire to protect people from a life-destructing reality of same-sex marriage is a loving thing.

      I love the gospel. I love proclaiming the gospel. I agree that the root issue behind all of our dysfunctions and problems is our sin and that the only eternal solution is the gospel. But I love my neighbors and city too much to just ignore these issues and preach the gospel only. I want people, even those who don’t know Christ and won’t ever come to embrace the gospel, to experience the best life possible. And, just like we work hard to enforce laws that protect people from life-and-society-destroying behaviors like illicit drug use, child pornography, theft, etc, we should hope to protect society from institutionalizing a behavior that has proven to be destructive. I’m not arguing for making homosexual activity illegal (totally implausible) — but I am saying that it would be a bad thing to institutionalize it through marriage.

      Doesn’t your love for your neighbor factor in here?

  17. Roll Tide

    I read the document. Not sure what the big deal is.
    Moral principles are important, and laws should reflect this. I am not a Rushdoony Dominionist, but our laws are based on Judeo-Christian tradition.
    I am sure they can get more to sign it.

    Theft, murder, stealing are all on our books, and they reflect our Judeo-Christian tradition

  18. Joanna Tipple

    It is interesting to note how many people declare that our laws are based on Judeo-Christian values. This is true to a point but what seems to be forgotten in declaring such to be the case is that the 10 Commandments themselves actually were adopted/adapted from other codified expectations, the Code of Hammurabi comes to mind.
    What I find so ironic is that the framework for our living within our communities are not solely the providence of the Judeo-Christian history which seems to be the foundation of or justification for why we do any of the things we do.
    I agree with Prof. Stackhouse in his reflection on the Declaration based on his discussion. However, and I completely acknowledge that there is no scholarly essence to my reaction to it but reading it gives me the chills. I can’t put my finger on it and perhaps I am reading too much into it but there is something about this statement that just doesn’t sit right. The name sounds as if it were some highly classified project and the presentation of these views as being fully representative of Christian understanding is inaccurate. It seems to be attempting to proclaim that those who subscribe to its premise are the majority voice of the Christian faith community. It seems to be a further attempt to co-opt the Christian voice and stance in our country.
    I am not prone to paranoia – but there is just something about this which makes me very uncomfortable.
    Grace & Peace

  19. William Millsaps

    This whole discussion has made me think more deeply which is a always a good thing. I had already affirmed the statement and I am not inclined to recant, but I understand better now why a Christian could decline to sign on. One thing that had troubled me is that it seemed that the original invitees might have thought of themselves as a somewhat elite group. That does not mean that all of them think they are at least slightly smarter than the average bloke, but the body language on the videos was very troubling to me and now I think I know why.

  20. treemoss

    One of the important things I see in this document is attention to the rights of those physicians, clergy, etc, who believe abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, adoption by gay couples, etc, to be wrong. If the government legislates (or voters choose) that euthanasia is OK, gay marriage is OK, adoption by gay couples is OK, what happens to those physicians, clergy, adoption agencies who disagree? Can the govt, becs of these laws/judgments, force a doctor who believes those to be wrong to provide them as “services”? In Massachusetts, Catholic Charities closed their doors rather than be told they must provide services they believed wrong. MA lost much more than simply another adoption agency.

  21. John Stackhouse

    Again, friends, my point is twofold: (1) the document is incoherent on several axes; and (2) it’s not obvious what the point of it is.

    Does everyone involved now feel better because they’ve made a Big Public Declaration? Okay, I guess.

    But maybe not . . . because if we spend a lot of time and money merely assuring each other about how bold we are and how we’re not going to stand for any more nonsense, we’re dissipating energies that might have actually gone into saving some children or marriages or civil rights or whatever.

    Because this Declaration doesn’t actually call anybody to do anything except agree with it–or perhaps also be put on notice that the Declarers really mean what they’ve been saying for years and years–it still seems to me a strange waste of time.

  22. dave

    Prof. Stackhouse,

    Why should it be a waste of time? Is Luther’s proclamation a waste of time? Is John 3:16 a waste of time? Is teaching in a seminary a waste of time? Why should it be either-this-or-that? Why not both, a proclamation and see what actions need to be done? Why so timid? Is keeping silence can make the difference?

  23. Tom Kragt

    Your piece is sanctimonious, slanderous, self-congratulatory, and judgmental. When the argument does not favor you, then try to destroy the people… you have a different play to run?

  24. John Stackhouse

    Brother Tom (#24), hurling adjectives isn’t very conversational, is it?

    As for your question, well, yes, I can think of something else to do than release a Declaration–can’t you?

    Here’s the sort of thing I do (let’s just take a sample from the past month or so): teach students at Regent College how to think better about such matters; give interviews to mainstream media helping the public interpret such questions (e.g., a radio interview this past week on Vancouver’s largest secular talk radio station about the anti-blasphemy movement emanating from the regimes of Pakistan and Algeria); write for mainstream media about such matters (e.g., a blog I wrote for The National Post about crucifixes in Italian public schools); write for people on my blog, whether they like it or not (!); write for academic media about such matters (University Affairs, Canada’s version of the Chronicle of Higher Education, accepted a piece from me this week defending Christian higher education against the Canadian Association of University Teachers); speak to Christian politicians and staffers about how to view their work (as I did in a recent lecture in Ottawa); speak to Christian professors at secular universities about how to negotiate that kind of public space (ditto); consult with two of the major orthodox Christian activist organizations in Canada (Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Centre for Cultural Renewal)…I trust you get the picture. And that’s just what I can do as an ivory tower intellectual, let alone someone who really does understand and practice politics.

    So yes, I think there are other “plays to run” than standing on the sideline leading cheers, which is pretty much what this Declaration amounts to, to borrow your metaphor.

    • Harris

      That there are other, less extreme measures to take offers another reason for skepticism of the Declaration. Why take what is, at the least, a rhetorically maximalist position, when a more moderate or prudent steps are available.

      Indeed, taken on its own description of the issues we may better formulate it as a conflict between First and Fourteenth Amendments. By rejecting the possibility of a Constitutional resolution, the Declaration rejects the possibility (or perhaps, better the potential) of politics. It is this political nihilism, so present our moment, that gives the document its incoherence.

  25. Dan Stringer

    Excellent thoughts, Dr. Stackhouse.

    While there’s certainly a diverse range of theological perspectives represented among the MD’s signatories, not everyone in the evangelical world who typically contributes to these types of ecumenical public policy collaboratives has endorsed the it.

    Ron Sider, David Neff, Cornelius Plantinga and Dennis Hollinger notwithstanding, I haven’t noticed much support from the evangelical “moderate” camp, including some who were instrumental in drafting last year’s Evangelical Manifesto.

    Noticeably absent from the Manhattan Declaration’s signatories are respected evangelical scholars like Richard Mouw, David Gushee, Jim Skillen, Mark Noll, Stephen Monsma, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Dallas Willard, J.P. Moreland and Os Guinness.

    This doesn’t mean it isn’t an amazing feat of coalition-building (Neuhaus would be proud), but the narrow range of policy emphases could be a reason why some evangelicals, myself included, have yet to sign on.

  26. Brandon

    Dr. Stackhouse:

    I fail to understand your why wanting to do things like legally ban abortion is so wrong. Isn’t part of the point of a democratic government to allow individuals or groups lobby for their interests? And like N.T. Wright/Lesslie Newbigin and others have argued doesn’t the gospel have radical “political” implications that we should fight for? If our faith is “public” why not make case for a Christian take on marriage, abortion, etc and at the same time allow other worldview to give their perspective. I thought this is how freedom works?

    I share some of your critiques. And the framers should have widened their agenda to include many other moral issues. But I would imagine they see this document as a platform that undergirds the work that many of these individuals are involved in.

  27. The Manhattan Declaration | Growing in Grace

    […] Professor Stackhouse’s comments about the difference between being right & law, however,  are also apt: I’m conservatively prolife and have traditional Christian views of marriage also. But just because I think those views are right doesn’t entail that I believe they should be law. Deciding what ought to be law in a pluralistic, democratic society that welcomes immigrants from, and seeks to influence helpfully, countries all over the world, requires careful political theory. Indeed, it requires fundamental and detailed consideration of a variety of related subjects, including the nature and intentions of divine providence over nations, what God expects of human beings individually and corporately short of the return of Christ, what is politically feasible in a given situation, and more. There is none of that sort of thinking evident in this declaration, but rather a strong sense—common enough among conservative evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox around the world—that particular Christian convictions are simply right and therefore ought to be law. […]

  28. John

    Dr. Stackhouse,

    As an original signer of the document and a big fan of your writings, especially Humble Apologetics, I am mystified by your uncharitable assumptions about the motives of the authors (there is nothing in the statement about wanting “Christian” laws), your uncharitable claim that the scholars who contributed and/or signed are not up to par (as if only your scholars are acceptable and pastors or other religious leaders don’t count), and your harsh and unfounded statement that there is no plan from here (how would you know?).

    I will assume that you posted from a knee-jerk reaction rather than careful consideration of the document and the individuals behind it. I have benefited so much from your various books, especially your ability to critique with such terrific insight. This post simply seems out of character.

    John Stonestreet
    Summit Ministries

  29. John Stackhouse

    Please, folks, respond to what I actually said and don’t oversimplify it in order to make your critique more valid.

    Brother John, I think it’s obvious that the whole way the Declaration argues is on the basis of Christian presuppositions. Of course they want Christian laws understood in a Christian way: they don’t argue like Buddhists or Marxists or sociobiologists, do they? And I don’t think this is “uncharitable” to say so. It may be wrong, but why is it lacking in love?

    You charge me with saying that “my scholars” are the only ones who are “acceptable,” but I don’t say that. What I note is who signed it and who didn’t, and why that strikes me as interesting and important. This kind of document should emerge from certain kinds of expertise, and I don’t see much of that expertise backing it. Some, to be sure (e.g., Robert George, Ron Sider), but not much. Again, I may be wrong in my judgment here (I could be shown that signers A, B, and C really do have expertise in a related field, such as social ethics or political science or politics) but I don’t see that I’m being uncharitable.

    I’m sorry you find the quality of writing and thinking in my post explicable only as a “knee-jerk reaction”–I will charitably take that as your interpretation, rather than as an insult intended to injure me. I am glad others find it more worthwhile.

    So we’ll have to keep disagreeing, at least for a while yet, and I’m glad others of my writings have been of greater use to you!

  30. TheDisciple

    The state is not bound by any religious group or its sets of beliefs. It can and will make laws that it sees as advantageous. Yet there is a precedent for believers and the Church to point out any state action which is immoral. (For immoral actions are detrimental to society and to the individuals.)

    As believers we have an obligation of discerning the truth of morality and seeking to live it by the power of the Holy Spirit–realizing our imperfections and shortcomings to then seek forgiveness. We may have to engage in peaceful civil disobedience if the state requires us to disobey God, while understanding that it may lead to a loss of resources or liberty. This is different than disagreeing with the morality of a law. If the state allows homosexual or polygamist marriage–there is nothing compelling us to act. If it requires a church to approve of a marriage that disagrees with the beliefs of that church–then the church or leaders will probably face a penalty.

    We also understand that those outside of Christ cannot live in the power of the Spirit to overcome sins–and that laws, no matter how righteous, can not empower anyone to obey them.

    Nevertheless, the state will find it advantageous when enacting and enforcing laws that promote righteous acts and not sinful acts. Believers who have opportunity to influence the state in this regard should so act to the degree they can as citizens of that state, in accord with the methods set up for citizen involvement.

    Understanding that all such actions (being political in nature) are not the same as promoting the Gospel. This was not made clear in the Manhattan Declaration (MD). The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about having or following right laws but about being reconciled to the Father through faith in what Jesus did for us by his death and resurrection.

    I think it is vital to continue to clearly make this distinction when believers as individuals or as a community make such statements as the MD. Salvation is by grace and forgiveness. The MD is not the Gospel but a line in the sand against unrighteous acts gaining influence in our culture.

    No doubt the waning influence of the body of believers has contributed to an increase of unrighteousness in our society–of which believers and church leaders have contributed to by conflating the Gospel with political positions and by watering down the Gospel and the call to truth and holiness.

    No doubt I have had a part in that demise.

  31. John

    Dr. Stackhouse,

    Please clarify where I misrepresented or oversimplified your words. While you backpedal a bit in the comments from the harshness of your original post, you submitted the following in your original post:

    (1) “Missing are heavyweight evangelical scholars…” There is no mention here of who signed it and who did not. In fact, the list of signers includes several brilliant evangelical scholars and pastor/scholars as well, just not the ones you prefer. How else could this statement be understood?

    Later, you offer a definition of “heavyweight” scholar by which several signers of the document would qualify (“I’m referring to people who have established careers of high-level scholarship that other scholars feel they must reckon with.”).

    Regardless that there are more signers who fit that description than you identify, how many are necessary for it to be a good statement? In fact, is it relevant at all who wrote it? It is possible that Volf, Plantinga, or another you mention are among the 150k current signers whose names are not being released. Would that change the quality of the statement?

    On a side note, I just noticed how you dismissed Colson in your initial post as a political commentator because of the Watergate scandal. This is known as “poisoning the well,” isn’t it? Several points to consider: (a) Watergate was pre-redemption in his story; (b) What does personal failure have to do with expertise? And, how many political commentators must now be dismissed if so? (c) He has lobbied politically for prison reform (including dealing with prison rape) with great success for many years – shall we disqualify these political efforts, also? (d) This is not an exclusively political document anyway.

    (2) There is no mention in the Manhattan Declaration of asking for laws to be passed. You assumed this while implying this was simply another effort of the religious right. Several of the signers, despite your claim in your post, are in fact left of the political right. While I am certain that many of the signers would like to see “Christian laws” and a Christian nation, others (like myself and many others who signed) want to see re-humanizing laws and more humane culture – celebrating that which contributes to the human good. This is not forced morality, but rather wanting a culture (including laws) that correspond with the reality of human nature, dignity, and value.

    Still, none of this was part of the Declaration – you assume things not written or stated anywhere in interviews about this Declaration.

    What are the motives offered in the Declaration? There are movements in the United States that would require some of us to violate our consciences about life and marriage. Catholic charities in Massachusetts had to choose to go out of business or be forced to adopt to same-sex couples. International law, as well as the health care legislation being currently debated, potentially will identify abortion as a right that medical providers must offer. It is one thing for abortion to be legal. It is another to be forced to provide it against one’s conscience.

    It is to this particular threat that we offer this declaration. We simply state that we will not violate our conscience if asked to by law. You assume we have different motives without any evidence from the document. You also could have asked some of us what our motives were before assuming they were different than what was written.

    Dr. Stackhouse, I have read and re-read your initial post and subsequent posts numerous times. I have tried, and I think I have, responded to what you actually have said. At least it should be clear why I am reading your posts as I have. But, I am happy to be corrected.

    Also, I apologize for the lengthy post. These things, and my brothers and sisters whom the statement represents, are close to my heart.


    John Stonestreet

  32. John Stackhouse

    Well, Brother John (#32), I don’t know what more I can say. You’re clearly distressed by my post and I’m sorry about that, but I’m not sure you’re actually doing much to refute it. I’m not “backpedalling” from what I wrote, although I trust my comments are clarifying what I wrote. I’ll try once more with you.

    1. I would indeed be impressed if people who meet my definition of “heavyweight scholar”–and, since no one has said otherwise, I assume that my pretty standard definition of this colloquial term is acceptable?–had signed the Declaration. I’m not going to go fishing through thousands of names for them, however. I did read through the 100+ original signers and wrote what I did.

    I made this point in light of a larger one: to try to understand why the Declaration is so confused. As I looked to see who had written it and signed on early, it was pertinent to observe that few people involved in its genesis were what I would recognize as experts in one or more of the most pertinent fields. Some commentators have been upset by my remarks in this regard, but no one (including you) has actually made a case against what I said by showing several actual examples of people who do so qualify. (Brother David in #8 at least tried to do so, and I responded.)

    Writing something like that was no fun for me: I respect and like a number of the signatories. And I did qualify this general judgment in the original post and subsequently (e.g., in regard to Robert George and Ron Sider). Still, as others have agreed, we don’t see the scholarly vanguard of American evangelicalism represented here, and I think that fits with the quality of the Declaration.

    2. I mentioned Charles Colson’s Nixonian past not to score him for past sins (who among us is not a sinner?) but to point out that his previous political experience, widely touted among his fans and publicists as qualifying him to address a very wide range of subjects, was in fact within one of the most extreme Administrations in American history. Brother Colson and I have tangled recently precisely over the question of “all or nothing” in politics, with my suggesting an evangelical philosophy of Christian realism and his responding that a Christian politician must always vote according to her Christian position on any issue or get out of politics–which advice I find extreme, naive, and ultimately useless. (This exchange was in the pages of Christianity Today a year ago, around the time of the American election.) So that’s what I meant, and mean.

    3. If you think that this Declaration does some good, specify it, please. That’s the fundamental point of my post, from the title on down.

    Does it make clear something that wasn’t clear before? Does it call for clear action? I think it doesn’t do either of those things. So what’s the point of it?

    I’m open to a third suggestion, but I’m afraid that all I read is how upset people are about abortion, same-sex marriage, and the threat to Christians’ civil rights (all of which I have already said concern me, too) and how this Declaration articulates those concerns. Well, okay: If it makes you feel better to have prominent evangelicals write something like this and hold a news conference to publicize it, then fine.

    –Or not, as I say in comment #22. And now I am almost literally repeating myself, so I’ll stop there.

  33. Brendon

    Well, Johnny, you’ve done it this time. We’ve always heard you’re a bit grumpy, but at least you’re insightful (and entertaining).

    Of course I wouldn’t want to be sitting in your office these days. Watch your back, Stackhouse! Packer might make his way down the hall to your office and give you a swift kick in the back-end. That would be a sight to see. That guy’s got big feet! Must be tough to fill those shoes. Ah, don’t worry about it. Everybody suffers from professional jealousy. I know I do.

    Well, I got some time to waste. I guess I’ll go sign the declaration.

    Brendon, M.D., Ph.D. (man, that makes me feel important)

  34. John

    Dr. Stackhouse,

    We do seem to be talking past each other at this point as I think I addressed each of your three points. I will only add a list of signers that I think are quite qualified to speak on these issues: George, George, Woodbridge, Mitchell, Sider, Anderson, Culpepper, Dockery, Thornbury, Edgar, Gallagher, Hollinger, Kreeft, Mouw, Nielson, Oden, Olasky, Packer, Plantinga, Sirico, Sloan, Sunshine, Tennent, Weigel, and yes, even Colson. I won’t limit the qualified to professional scholars, so I am sure you won’t agree with everyone I list.

    Since we are both at the point of repeating ourselves, I’ll end here. Thank you for the dialogue, and I will continue to look for your books and articles. I do think it is worth repeating that I, and my students, have found your work to be very helpful.

    With respect,

    John Stonestreet

  35. John Stackhouse

    Brother John, thanks for this firm but friendly “sign-off.” As an author yourself, I’m sure you know the feeling I have in a situation such as this: “I’m pretty sure I was clear and cogent: How come all right-thinking people aren’t agreeing with me?!” 😉

    Ah, well. I expect we’d have a good conversation over such matters–and there are, as we both agree, a number of balls in play, even perhaps a number of whole games!–and maybe only such a conversation would suffice. I’ll hope, then, that our paths cross such that we can have that good conversation.

    And I will keep thinking about what you’ve been saying. Thanks for each comment.

  36. Beth


    Thanks for this post. It is good to see that not all Regent profs would rush to sign this document. I am saddened that the three issues addressed in the declaration are the things the “ecumenical church” wants to be known for. I am also worried by Rev. Akinola’s signature, considering what is currently happening in Africa on the same-sex legislation front …

    Anyway, thanks for providing some clarity with this post.

  37. Daniel Ginn

    Well, I’m down at the bottom of the chain of replies. Congratulations if you’ve read this far. 😉

    I grapple internally (maybe not often enough) about freedom and control, especially since I am a perfectionist. Desiring perfection in myself and in others leads me to be a “control-freak” that people don’t like. Laws define political control. Laws are primarily concerned with behavior-modification and not so much about hearts. Is this just simply Might making Right?

    And if we do have the political freedom to vote actions which we deem ethical into the law or which we deem unethical out of legality, what guides whether we should or should not do it? I think you’d say “The respect of the freedom of others who don’t share our worldview.”

    From having been there and tried to do some of that in a much more limited way, I confess that it is not a fun job to see yourself as the parent of a bunch of unruly children who desperately need your control. Being the man with the hammer who must keep watch in order to tap down any nail that sticks up out of alignment is one of the most depressing things I’ve ever done. Everybody else views me as a sanctimonious fascist when I assume that role. Kind of like how some people view God as a fun-hater.

    Prof Stackhouse, I haven’t read “Making the Best of It” yet, but I do own a copy of the book. I’ll get to it one day, I promise you.

    I sympathize with the man who wields political power to make people do things they don’t want to do for their own good. The implication is that he knows what is better for them than they know what is better for them. His knowledge is better than their knowledge. What he would do with their freedom is better than what they would choose to do with their freedom, and so their freedom becomes enslaved to his power and control over their lives. Frightening, no?

    God is much more patient with us than we are patient with each other. Thank you, Lord, for your mercy. And by His grace, we don’t get into Heaven (or, rather, bring Heaven down to Earth) by passing a theology test or an ethics test.

    But until the fullness of His Kingdom is revealed by Him in His own good timing, we still have to live with each other somehow. And somebody else’s mess can still foul up my backyard. NIMBY? (Not In My Back Yard).

    I find myself wondering what the millenial reign of Christ on Earth will be like, and I know that not every Christian believes that the Bible prophesies this. What laws will He legislate? What kind of politician will Jesus be? Rule over us with power, he will. To what extent will our freedom to deviate from what He commands, because our worldview is different from His, will He permit? Will Jesus be a sovereign fascist dictator, too?

    Regardless, we still need to submit to Him to have Him change us from the inside out. Having Him rule over us doesn’t save us. Having him make us regenerated new creations is what saves us and makes us fit for unrestricted fellowship with Him.

    I’ve given many questions without answers, and for that I beg forgiveness. When I think about these things, it makes my head hurt and my eyes fill with tears. I don’t have it figured out yet. May God grant me wisdom.

  38. Paul

    Wowsers! Lot’s of reactions here to your original post, Dr. Stackhouse.
    While I may not share all of your sentiments, I do feel strongly they are worthy of consideration and give me much more to think about. I agree the document does not speak to next steps regarding action, nor does it adequately address the rights of others of different persuasions (a rather important aspect in a democratic society heralded as a Republic!). However, I signed it for what it does affirm, not for what it fails to affirm. It’s a first-step, as I see it; not a final one.

    Thanks again, Dr. Stackhouse, for your careful critique and I shall take it under prayerful advisement.

  39. Sarah


    An interesting response. I personally think that the Manhattan Declaration accomplished a number of things — none of which are probably important for Dr. Stackhouse but all of which are important to people like me.

    1) Puts others on notice about the unity of certain Christians regarding their stances on three issues that — for those certain Christians — are most certainly related and of deep importance [though not of equal importance for certain other Christians like Dr. Stackhouse].

    2) Makes clear — and this is also important — in advance that civil disobedience will be practiced by these certain Christians when push comes to shove from the secular authorities.

    3) Lends strength to those — like me — who are deeply concerned about these issues. It’s good for people to speak up — and obviously speak up these people did, to the tune so far of more than 215,000. Courage breeds courage.

    4) Compiles a helpful database of those committed to these principles from which to hopefully have volunteers for actions associated with this declaration.

    After all, the site already offers opportunities to book interviews and offers a newsroom so I’m not particularly concerned that nothing will be done afterwards.

    On to a little analysis of a few of the assertions in this essay:

    RE: “Missing are heavyweight evangelical scholars or prominent Christian politicians. Missing also is almost anyone to the left of the Religious Right, with a few conspicuous exceptions, such as the estimable evangelical activist Dr. Ron Sider.”

    Even were we to grant Dr. Stackhouse’s defnition of “heavyweight evangelical scholars” I’m not certain how that makes it a “strangely useless” document. Perhaps in order to accomplish the above things, the document did not need any “heavyweight evangelical scholars” — why add more horsepower when it is not needed to accomplish the purposes of the document.

    RE: “As such, it is difficult to take the document seriously as representing the best Christian thinking available on matters of ethics and politics.”

    I should think so. I don’t think the document was attempting to represent “the best Christian thinking available” — it was attempting to accomplish other things [see above], and I would suggest that it has accomplished that.

    RE: ” It’s not evident to me that anyone needed a big declaration that such people still feel this way.”

    No — but I think that probably the call to civil disobedience was new and needed to be said — at least, again, by people who believe that way, which again I understand might not be Dr. Stackhouse, but then this wasn’t written for someone not having those concerns.

    RE: “The document gives no clear direction about what anyone is supposed to do once they have read it–besides sign it, I suppose.”

    Again — I am not certain why that would make the document “strangely useless.” The creators of the document apparently did not wish to give “clear direction about what anyone is supposed to do” but rather wished to offer a trumpet blast — and accumulate 215,000 plus names who also wish a trumpet blast. I would say that they accomplished their purposes.

    RE: “Finally, the document seems philosophically and politically incoherent. It argues for religious liberty for Christians to dissent from views they don’t like (and this point, alas, needs increasing emphasis in America as well as here in Canada). But it also argues that these particular Christian views of abortion, euthanasia, marriage, and more should be enshrined in American law.”

    I’m not certain how that makes the document “philosophically and politically incoherent.” Stating that one will dissent from future bad laws and arguing to change those laws is not “philosophically and politically incoherent” as Martin Luther King and all such dissenters and reformists would, I assume, assert as well.

    RE: “Others of us, however, will think that God’s will might run to greater liberty for all, greater tolerance for ambiguity and dissent, greater pluralism of belief and practice, and perhaps paradoxically therefore greater opportunity for the Gospel.”

    Finally we get to the real objection to the document — for all of the protestations that the document is “strangely useless” are mere filler. Dr. Stackhouse simply does not agree with the author’s desires for laws in America. In fact, it is precisely because the document is *useful* — for the signatories — that has impelled Dr. Stackhouse to write his own response, albeit using an initially odd claim that the document is “strangely useless” — which I suppose is true, in a sense — the document is “strangely useless” in promoting Dr. Stackhouse’s viewpoints rather like Mein Kampf is “strangely useless” in promoting my own viewpoints.

    RE: “For it is not clear to us that such declarations, and the outlook that prompts them, really increase non-Christian willingness to respect conservative Christian concerns. . . ”

    I hadn’t thought that that was the purpose of the declaration. Trumpet blasts are usually “calls to arms,” not arguments designed to increase one’s opponents “willingness to respect” one’s concerns.

    RE: “It certainly is not clear that they move anyone closer to prolife, pro-traditional marriage, or pro-religious liberty views.”

    That is certainly true. It probably was not meant to be, again, a persuasive document. Often documents are not meant to persuade unbelievers but are meant for other purposes.

    But that merely serves to highlight this essay’s purpose — which is to say “the document does not do what I wish it to do, and further does not promote the ideas that I believe and therefore it is a “strangely useless” document.”

  40. Sarah

    On a tangential note . . .

    RE: “And I’m not sure how widely Pope Benedict is understood as a welcoming ecumenical figure, not least because of his recent initiative toward dissident Anglican clergy.”

    As an evangelical Episcopalian, I have deep respect for Benedict’s response to the requests for help from various Anglicans groupings. I have no interest in pursuing his response at all — but am thrilled for the AngloCatholics who have been abandoned by our feckless and fickle erstwhile leader, Rowan Williams.

    He will go down in history as the man who lost the Anglican Communion through his own horrendous leadership, amounting to clerical malpractice.

  41. garver

    Prof. Stackhouse,

    I haven’t read the Declaration carefully enough or mulled it over enough yet to know quite what I think, but on the matter of it being “philosophically and politically incoherent,” I do have a few thoughts.

    It seems your difficulty at this point is that the Declaration argues for “religious liberty for Christians to dissent from views they don’t like,” while simultaneously wanting Christian views enshrined in law.

    Now, this could very well be incoherent within certain sets of assumptions about the character of law and the basis for religious liberty (perhaps it is within yours?).

    But it also seems to me that this could be perfectly coherent within other plausible assumptions. For instance, one might see “religious liberty” not merely as a constitutional feature of modern pluralistic democracies, but also as grounded in Christian virtues such as love of neighbor, putting others before oneself, etc. Thus “religious liberty” itself could be seen as enshrining one understanding of Christian values into law.

    In that case, however, it could be perfectly consistent to think that this same love of neighbor (and so on) should extend out legislatively in other ways, for instance, the protection of the unborn or refraining from legal recognition of ways of forming human family that are discerned to be profoundly damaging.

    Each of these matters, moreover, concerns primarily external behaviors in relation to one’s neighbor, attempting to prevent harm — understood in Christian terms, of course, but also (from a Christian perspective) profoundly grounded in the very structure of humanity as coming from and directed toward God.

    That’s all to say “religious freedom” and “freedom of conscience” are not license to do whatever one might like. These too have boundaries (as even US courts recognize, e.g., mandating blood tranfusions for minor children of JWs when necessary). The tricky bit is for Christian prudence to best discern where to draw those boundaries in accordance with love of neighbor.

    S. Joel Garver
    Dept of Philosophy
    La Salle University

  42. John Stackhouse

    Brother Garver, I agree that there is no necessary incoherence in advocating certain understandings of religious liberty and certain laws–as I have set out at some length in my book, already cited above, Making the Best of It. I have indicated in the post and in the comments above some respects in which I think the Declaration is incoherent. I’ll add two more.

    The Declaration champions the right of everyone to worship as he or she pleases, without acknowledging, let alone accommodating, the fact that the way some people practice their religion (or “life philosophy,” which should be protected as much as proper-noun religions are) conflicts with what the Declarers want to see in law: e.g., Muslim polygamy, homosexual marriage, racism/supremacy of one nation/race over another, and more.

    If one replies, “Well, marriage isn’t worship,” Christians of all people should retort that all of life is to be rendered in worship to God, not just Sunday morning church services.

    So how is religious liberty appropriately protected and also curtailed in a diverse society, including Christian religious liberty? The Declaration doesn’t even recognize this to be a problem. It implies instead that everyone will be free to practice their religion AND that Christian understandings of bioethics, marital ethics, and religious freedom–because they are simply RIGHT–ought to be American law. I don’t think that’s coherent.

    I also still can’t understand the rhetorical strategy of the document. Some phrases sound like public theology, meant to commend the views of the Declarers to a broader public than their own constituencies–language about what is Just Plain Right, rather than What We Christians Want. But those phrases are jumbled in with explicitly Christian affirmations and arguments. So is the document meant to persuade non-Christians of anything? Perhaps that Christian affirmations are not crazy but are connected to generic human concerns and values? Well, maybe, but likely not. Then it is a document meant to enthuse Christians with the rightness of the cause and to warn others of Christian intentions–but then why this quasi-public/general language?

    As for Sister Sarah’s response, well, that seems like a lot of words to say, “I like the Manhattan Declaration and I don’t like you for not liking it.” I’m sorry you don’t like me, although I expect I’d like you if we had a chance to talk.

    But really, Sarah, does the importance of the Manhattan Declaration seem to you simply to amount to a “call to arms” (But what arms? To do what?), plus a threat of civil disobedience (Which is supposed to do what? Cow judges, legislators, corporate and educational leaders, and other authorities into backing off from what they intend to do? Seriously?), plus the compilation of a mailing list for “volunteers” (which seems a bit creepy, since the website itself promises, “Your email will not be used for anything other than updating you on developments with the Manhattan Declaration”)?

    You concede most of my concerns and suggest they don’t matter. Okay, but what are you left with? What is going to be different because of this Declaration? What have you thought or done differently as a result of it–short of going after me because I don’t like it?

    I’m sorry, because you’re obviously a thoughtful woman, that I can’t see that you’ve done anything other than prove my point: This exercise is a “trumpet blast,” yes. But it’s a trumpet blast at a pep rally. Everyone who likes it is already on board with the cause, and everyone else who has to hear it is just puzzled or irritated by it. That doesn’t seem like a useful exercise to me.

  43. garver

    Thanks for your thoughts. I’m rather sympathetic toward your concerns.

    I agree that it’s inconsistent to say that “everyone will be free to practice their religion” AND to uphold Christian understandings of various matters in law. But I’m not sure the Declaration was saying that, though it veers close to it when it says that “persons of faith [should not] be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience” while wanting to outlaw practices that some religions permit — though I suspect they have narrowly liturgical and ritual matters in mind when speaking of “worship.”

    I also agree that a number of the issues are more complex than the Declaration recognizes, for instance, upholding distintively Christian norms for marriage (monogamy, indissoluability) as the ideal for everyone within a pluralistic society. God himself allowed for divorce and polygamy within his covenant people Israel because of the hardness of the human heart.

    The new covenant people of God, who share in the renewing work of his Spirit, rightly aspire to a norm that more fully expresses the new way of being human that we find in Christ. But it is another thing to expect that norm to be upheld within society as a whole.

    Indeed, imposing such norms might be damaging given the sin and brokenness that tears apart families who lack the resources of the Christian community and God’s Spirit to work things out. Or, more concretely, our monogamy-oriented American legal norms can sometimes fail to offer full protection for the second wives of immigrants or refugees.

    At any rate, the issues are complex — more complex than the Declaration seems to recognize — and Christians would do well to be thoughtful and discerning, given our context, as we attempt to love our neighbors through the extention or withholding of legal protections and privileges.

    I hope to read your book, Making the Best of It, over the Christmas break. A blessed Advent season to you.

    S. Joel Garver

  44. Mike Stevens

    I would like to know where you would draw the line for your civil disobedience. You have aired your convictions well, what is wrong with these men doing the same. Why is the Christian left out of the debate on moral law and the laws of the land. The American Christians led the fight against slavery in America. You have the right to voice your disagreement but you destroy your argument by forbidding or condemning this document. Are you forcing your belief now? Abortion is a very valid fight to take up even if it cost the praise from the world. God didn’t call us to seek the world’s approval but His. We win the world when we act like the Church of Jesus Christ not like the world. Mike

  45. Sarah

    Re: ” . . . well, that seems like a lot of words to say, “I like the Manhattan Declaration and I don’t like you for not liking it.” I’m sorry you don’t like me, although I expect I’d like you if we had a chance to talk.”


    I like you very much and have met you and passed tapes of your lectures to others — but you consider a response to *your ideas* in this post to be an expression of dislike of *your person*. I wouldn’t have thought that of you but there it is.

    Yes — there were a number of words — which responded to your number of words postulating that the document was “strangely useless” — but as I demonstrated, the document is only “strangely useless” for people who do not agree with its premises and hopes, not at all useless for those who do agree with them.

    RE: “But really, Sarah, does the importance of the Manhattan Declaration seem to you simply to amount to a “call to arms” . . . plus a threat [sic — I would call it merely clear communication, which is rather different from threat] of civil disobedience . . . plus the compilation of a mailing list for “volunteers” (which seems a bit creepy, since the website itself promises, “Your email will not be used for anything other than updating you on developments with the Manhattan Declaration”)?”

    Yes — I think that’s about it, along with the nice lending of strength and courage to folks like me. Again, things that aren’t particularly important to you, but then . . . you don’t want the things that that document wishes, as you’ve already declared, so it’s understandable.

    Yes indeed — the website promises to update signatories on developments — which sort of indicates, again, that there will be some nice followup actions, contrary to what you postulated above. As it’s made quite clear in writing, and as this is fairly standard use of a petition/statement for signatories . . . and as you had expressed concerns that nothing much would happen afterwards, I believe we can lay that safely to rest now.

    RE: “You concede most of my concerns and suggest they don’t matter.”

    Well they certainly matter to you — but then, you don’t agree with the hopes expressed in the document. But I merely pointed out that the purposes that you state were needed for the document, and the things you claim were needed in the document to accomplish certain purposes — “heavyweight” scholars, “the best Christian thinking available,” “clear direction about what anyone is supposed to do,” arguments designed to increase one’s opponents “willingness to respect” one’s concerns, persuasiveness — were not the purposes of the authors of the document.

    RE: “short of going after me because I don’t like it? . . .”

    Again, the equation of your own person with my simply pointing out the issues I have with your assertions is odd. Rejecting your ideas does not mean rejecting your person or castigating you personally.

    RE: “But it’s a trumpet blast at a pep rally.”

    Indeed — and a trumpet blast that actually called together and assembled the pep rally [now at over 230,000], so trumpeting was the blast, and developed a list of names from the pep rally. Pretty powerful stuff.

    RE: “Everyone who likes it is already on board with the cause . . . ”

    Agreed — and now we all know who many of us are and are pretty excited by that.

    RE: ” . . . and everyone else who has to hear it is just puzzled or irritated by it.”

    And believe you me, the irritation shines through. I expect because you perceive the document as a threat to your own ideas of what needs to happen which are not the same as the authors’ ideas. The irritation showed when you started out with a premise that the document was “strangely useless” then revealed later on that the main issue you have is that you simply don’t agree with the document’s hopes and premises, and that you have rather different hopes and premises.

    But . . . why not start out with that, rather than come up with random and essentially meaningless/red herring “reasons its useless for all” rather than “reasons I disagree with the document’s hopes and premises.”

    Again — like my writing an essay on how Mein Kampf is “strangely useless” . . . for me . . . because . . . I don’t agree with its thesis.

  46. John Stackhouse

    Joel and Sarah, thanks for writing back.

    I’m sorry, Sarah, we’re still not communicating very well–puzzling, given that we both are obviously trying hard to do so! I guess when you suggest my concerns are “random and essentially meaningless” (as in your penultimate paragraph) I take that a little personally, and even more the sense in that paragraph that I’m either too stupid or too dishonest to come clean about what I’m really thinking. You say similar things in your original comment, so I respectfully suggest that you are not, in fact, interacting only with my ideas. It seems evident, alas, that more posting and counter-posting isn’t going to help, though, so I hope our paths cross again soon and we can talk this through. I’ll buy the first round (of ice cream, wine, or hamburgers–your choice).

    So I think I’ll call it there, gang. For something I have called a waste of time it surely has taken up a lot of my time–and indeed yours, gentle reader.

    Can I say once more, however, that I do worry about abortion, the breakdown of marriage (on a number of axes), and the curtailment of civil rights (including, but not only, those of myself and my fellow Christians). I hope no one thinks I don’t share these vital concerns with the Declarers. I do.

    I just don’t think the Manhattan Declaration will accomplish anything for any of those concerns, not least because defenders of it do not specify, after 50+ comments and my repeated request in this regard, any particular thing it will accomplish beyond exciting the already convinced.

    But I hope I’m wrong about that. And I’ll now get back to doing what I think I can do instead–as I trust you will, too.


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