The Manhattan Declaration may be called the Manhattan Division if Christians don’t get their act together. The document released last week called for unity among Christians on three distinct issues: life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty. Over 200,000 people have added their names to the 152 original signers, but many others have not.
It is to be expected that some Christians would not sign. Obviously those who claim Christ but who do not stand for pro-life or pro-traditional marriage would not agree with the conservative statements therein. The Declaration clearly divides on these issues, and people generally won’t sign something with which they disagree. But some of those electing to abstain, and some of their reasons for denial, are surprising. For some dissenters, the three primary issues raised in the manifesto are not the dividing line; the gospel is.
The distinguished teacher and pastor, Alistair Begg, wrote on his website, Truth for Life, “In accord with others who have chosen not to sign, my reservation is not with the issues themselves, or in standing with others who share the same concerns, but it is in signing a declaration along with a group of leading churchmen, when I happen to believe that the teaching of some of their churches is in effect a denial of the biblical gospel.”
Yet the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Albert Mohler did sign, and he explains his reasoning in detail on his website. One of several reasons stated by Mohler: “I signed The Manhattan Declaration because it is a limited statement of Christian conviction on these three crucial issues, and not a wide-ranging theological document that subverts confessional integrity.” He adds: “I want my name on that list. I surrendered no conviction or confessional integrity to sign that statement. No one asked me to compromise in any manner.”
These two men I respect greatly have very different opinions. Therein lies a lesson. We must stand as individuals and prayerfully walk our own faith walks. We are fortunate to have educated men like Begg and Mohler to follow and to learn from, but we must think and act for ourselves.
I’m active on Twitter and openly proclaimed my favorable support of the Declaration. Like Mohler, I do not read in the manifesto anything that, by signing, compromises my own faith or witness. I believe it is time to unite under the cross, not further divide. We must not let doctrinal differences stand in the way of furthering the basic biblical principles that helped found and grow our great country. If we are to remain “one nation under God”, we must unite to positively influence our America, her morality and her future.
Some on Twitter replied to me expressing their strong opposition to the Declaration. But when questioned, they were weak in defending their position. They only knew that this leader or that leader did not sign, so neither would they. Some did refer to controversy over the gospel message, yet they could not articulate the debate at hand, and sadly inferred incorrectly that the Declaration was some sort of biblical heresy. The leaders who have taken a stand against the Manhattan Declaration are accountable for the misguidance of masses.
Still other Christians question the Declaration’s language which suggests civil disobedience as an appropriate response to the government if and when necessary to comply with God’s directives. The Manhattan Declaration closes with this statement: “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 understand the concern surrounding such a call, but when examined through the lens of Scripture, this statement stands up to scrutiny. (Mark 12:17) God’s reign is above all reigns.
Certainly there are those Christians who have not signed the Declaration simply because they have yet to hear about it. A quick search on the Internet finds little media coverage beyond Christian websites and blogs. People cannot join the effort if they don’t know it exists. Pastors and preachers of every Christian denomination have the responsibility to share this movement with their congregations, and encourage them to prayerfully consider their support.
Finally, there are Christians who fear the consequences of taking a stand. This is an age-old problem. “Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.” (John 12:42-43)
If you are one of the millions of self-proclaimed Christians in America who has not signed this historical document, why not? In which category do you fall? This Declaration is dividing people on many fronts, but only one is truly important: Will you stand with others who claim Christ as Lord, and who long to better our country, or will you stand with those who oppose us?
Bill O’Reilly made a profound claim in his Nov. 24 Talking Points Memo: “Will Americans of faith rally to this provocative point of view? If they do, the culture war will become very intense.”
I say, “It’s about time it did.”