Friday, 27 November 2009

The Manhattan Declaration

I have just read the Manhattan Declaration. This document has been much discussed by Christian bloggers in America. In this country, Cranmer has written about it, but has not really commented. Some people that I respect have signed it, others have declined.

As a Christian, I agree with pretty much everything in it. I certainly have no problem with the concluding paragraph:
Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.
I completely agree. And yet I can't get enthusiastic about the document as a whole. I find myself wondering what the point of it is. Is it a call for Christians to stand firm when ordered by Caesar to do what is wrong? Or is it a call for politicians to change direction and legislate in a more Christian manner? And what will it achieve? And I find it disconcerting that the three issues that the Declaration highlights - respect for life, respect for marriage, and religious freedom - are really three separate issues, and that the only connection between them is that they are under attack in modern America.

And so I find myself basically agreeing with Professor John Stackhouse:
. . 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 . . ."
And that about sums up my unease with the Declaration. Philosophical and political coherence is important.


indigomyth said...

It is nice to know that there are Christians out there that do genuinely love liberty. Of course, I knew that they existed - Ron Paul for example. However it is rare to actually talk to one. A lot of the Libertarians in the blogosphere are atheist (Very British Dude, Devil's Kitchen etc). It is refreshing to read a view of liberty from a different direction.

Stuart said...

I just simply don't believe this, what a coincidence.

I have been having an inner conflict or turmoil over certain issues that have been bought to the fore by this document.

Recently I found myslef making these sorts of comments on blogs:-

I have learnt that we will never legislate morality anymore, those days are finished as God removes his restraining hand.

Our battle is to defend our freedom to proclaim the full counsel of God no matter who is offended and this obviously requires quid pro quo. We cannot demand freedom of speech and then legislate to stifle others. We cannot legislate for so called ‘offense’ and so called ‘hatred’. We should all be mature and confident in our beliefs and lifestyles to rise above this, period. No one has a ‘right’ not to be criticised anymore.

Many Christians are (in my opinion) rightly concerned with the changes they view in society, however, they are wrong in their approach to attempt to wield power through legislation, privilege and state appartatus.

The world has changed and all that is left is to proclaim the full counsel of God, without state interference and fear of prosecution, too all people until the Lord returns.

I’m sorry if that sounds defeatist. Perhaps I am slipping into Christian libertarianism and if I were, would that be a bad thing do you think?

I will qualify this by saying, that we must legislate in the protection of the vulnerable.

Perhaps I am just going through a very public act of confusion.


Well this conversation (especially with Brett – cheers) has caused to me to try to define what I believe (again) and much to my shame I have only just discovered Christian libertarianism in my investigations.

What a relief to get myself a nice new shiny label, I feel much relieved.

And now I find you on Cranmer?

I have been very disturbed that on political blogs I am finding myslef side with libertarians more than the traditional christian approach.

I have come to a point whereby I don't want all of the legislation on my life and beliefs and others (even if I disagree wth their choices)

I'll stop there, but I think I am on the road to a discovery.

Anonymous said...


I think it was Devil's Kitchen that first introduced me to Libertarianism. I am coming at it from the opposite direction to you - I was the typical "liberal" student type (though I did go through a UKIP phase in college), and I was never an eco-mentalist. However, discovering the magnificence of liberty has revolutionised the way I view things. I see the subtle hints of authoritarianism where I never before have seen them. Hell, I can even start to appreciate the heritage of the Republican Party!

Young Mr. Brown said...

Hello, indigomyth.

Yes, Christian libertarians are somewhat unusual in Britain, though there are a few of us in the LPUK.

Ron Paul has had a huge influence on me. In fact, without Ron Paul, I wouldn't have become a fully fledged libertarian - even though I did have some libertarian tendencies.

Stuart said...

It all just makes perfect sense to me. Without realising it, I have been thinking and arguing in a libertarian fashion.

I have noticed Christians are becoming more and more authoritarian, wanting to impose their beliefs on society (in a legislative manner) but not wanting to accept the quid pro quo.

I understand legislating for the protection of the vulnerable.

I shall check out the Devil's Kitchen, but what started this for me was listening to some gay folks on Harry's Place and thinking that I couldn't fault their logic and that ironically we wanted the same thing...freedom to live our lives in the way we choose free from government interference, especially the freedom of speech.

Stuart said...

Hi Young Mr Bear, you are now in my feedreader and I look forward to learning much from you and sharing with my readers also.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Hello to Stuart, too.

And welcome to the road to discovery! I completely agree with those comments that you've been posting.

Cranmer was actually the first blog I ever started reading - or at least the first political blog. Cranmer is actually pretty libertarian for a member of the Conservative Party. But I don't read his posts as much as I used to. (Too many other things to do, too many other things to read!)

p.s. And I'm sure you know that there is no such thing as a coincidence.


Young Mr. Brown said...

p.p.s. Learning much from me?

Er, well, I'm flattered, but I'm not sure that I have much knowledge to impart.

Stuart said...

Yes I agree, there are no real coincidences :)

As I learn I like to share with my readers, is there the opportunity to cross post articles onto our blog with references and links to you?

I have found the wiki entry for Christian Libertarians and will start there.

Young Mr. Brown said...

If you want to borrow anything from my blog, help yourself.

Philip Walker said...

Providentially, my browser is currently letting me post. We shall see whether this situation perpetuates: I have low hopes.

I'm not really libertarian, although I would define myself as classically liberal so I'm something of a political cousin. Certainly we agree on some basic political principles. But where my liberal instincts have come from theologically was through discovering proper, confessional, historic Reformed roots.

The threefold use of the law gave me the concept of 'civil righteousness', which squared up a lot of confusion I had about the purpose of legislation. You can be civil-righteous without being a morally good person, and that's what politics is about.

Kuyper's doctrine of 'sphere sovereignty' (roughly equiv. to Luther's 'two kingdoms' or the old S. Presbyterian 'spirituality of the church') gave me the idea that the church and the state have different areas of influence, and the way that the church operates is distinct from the way that the state operates. The church is engaged in calling sinners to repentance, and thus, to the extent that God shows his grace, making a country of Christians.

The concept of 'natural law' showed me that we can make political arguments without needing to appeal to Scripture: in fact, I'm sceptical of using Scripture as a political end-run even with Christians.

Amillennialism, which I had always believed, suddenly made sense as a whole-Bible call to eschew the use of worldly power in the name of Christ, not just as a narrow view on how to read certain portions of Scripture. Christian lawmakers are not to think that they can 'make a country of Christians' through their callings: simply helping us all to rub along together better is enough.

It's not hard to see how those things on their own push one to be more in favour of liberty: then there were political factors as well, but they're not so germane here.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Thanks for that, Mr. Walker.

It was indeed a smiling providence that permitted you to post such a stimulating comment.

I was certainly influenced by Kuyper's doctrine of 'sphere sovereignty'. At least, I was told (rightly or wrongly) that Kuyper took the view that education came under the sphere of the family, rather than the state. That had quite an effect on my thinking.

I shall ruminate on your other points - though I do like the comment that you "always believed" in amillennialism. I take it that you mean that you cannot remember a time in your life when you didn't believe in amillenialism, that you just grew up with it.

I remember when I first heard of the premil and postmil positions in my late teens. I just knew that they were wrong, without doing any exegesis.


Phil Walker said...

Oooh, look at this. Perhaps upgrading my browser was a felicitous inconvenience! (That's it, you know. You're plagued with me now.)

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