Monday, February 21, 2011

The Manhattan Declaration Is Not Biblically Or Historically Sound

I originally wrote this on Wednesday, May 19th, 2010. I am posting it now with minor edits, mainly for grammar. The Manhattan Declaration is required reading. I mean, you don't have to read it, but this post won't make much sense if you don't. Anyway...

The Manhattan Declaration is chock full of historical inaccuracies, misleading statements, and a downright lack of logic. I'm going to go through it, and hit key points. I won't bother with the smaller things, and I'm not going to quote them so this will make more sense if you at least scan the declaration before reading.

Okay, historical inaccuracies:

Christians didn't preserve the Bible, literature, and art of Western culture alone. The Muslims did so equally. This is one of the very first statements, and it struck me that the first thing they want to tell you is so misleading. It's very indicative of the whole declaration.

Yes, some Christians denounced slavery, but many more embraced it and used cherry-picked verses from the Bible to support the practice. (It’s sad to see the authors engaging in the same practice of cherry-picking.) Wilberforce and his followers were the minority political group of their time, and it took them more than fifty years to see anything done.

Jumping ahead for a second: I find it very incredibly sad that they mention Wilberforce’s work in the early 1800’s, with the insinuation that his work was successful, and then praise Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil disobedience almost a century later. Specifically, they mention Martin Luther King, Jr.’s incarceration in Birmingham, where he was imprisoned by Christians who disagreed with Wilberforce, under the sort of laws that Wilberforce worked against. Twisting history that way takes a special sort of liar, and it’s very sad that good people are swallowing this tripe with the belief that it’s ambrosia.

Okay, moving on, the idea of the divine right of kings comes largely from the Bible. Specifically, in the Old Testament, a line of kings was created by God through the prophecy of Jacob/Israel who created his son Judah to be king and retain the scepter until the coming of the Messiah, alongside the line of priests created in his other son, Levi. Later, a line of Judges (who were, in effect, kings) was created alongside the line of High Priests created by Moses through Aaron. After that, the Prophet Samuel re-instituted the line of kings in Saul, under the inspiration of God.

In the New Testament, St Peter, commands that Christians obey the Roman Emperor, who was pagan. (1 Peter, 2:13-17) Likewise, Jesus Christ proclaims in the Gospel of Matthew that Christians should obey and submit to the proclaimed worldly king. (Matthew 22:20-21). In addition, Christians have endorsed an incredibly long line of emperors, beginning with Constantine and Theodosius, and going all the way to Charlemagne.

So while some Christians in history may have worked against the idea of the divine right of kings, you certainly can’t truthfully claim that they all have, or that the Bible teaches that you should. Seriously, some of the lines from the Bible that they use to support their theories are couched in lines that denounce their theories. This kind of cherry-picking is all over this declaration. Why do you need to cherry-pick, if you’re right? But, I digress. I’ll touch on this more later…

In regards to the site's statements about the work of Christians today:

Respected Christian leaders are supporting the death penalty for gays in Africa, which is leading to entire countries with people afraid to seek help for their illness. That's a long way from Christians bringing compassionate care to AIDS sufferers. That’s sort of the opposite.

Also, ending the dehumanizing trades of sex slaves is all well and good, but it's negated by the dehumanizing of gay people. Gay people may be sinners, but all sinners are equal in the eyes of God. You have all fallen short of the glory of God, remember?

Gay people and straight people are all equally loved by God, and are all equally sinners together. There isn’t any reason to pick on them, rather than adulterers. And, really, there are a hell of a lot more adulterers than homosexuals so it’s not even logical to pick on them. Adultery (Which, according to Christianity and the Manhattan Declaration, is sex outside of marriage, including premarital sex) is much more widespread, and a much larger cause for the changes in our culture. The declaration spends two LONG paragraphs agreeing with that, and then shrugs it off to pick on gays again.

So, what I’m saying is that there isn’t any reason to throw stones. Work on yourself first, then your family, and community. If Christians everywhere follow this, they’d find less of a need to make grand, sweeping, nonsensical declarations in order to feel righteous.

In regards to statements in the declaration itself:

Marriage has been through 2,000 years of repeated redefining, to accommodate fashionable ideologies, whether it was getting rid of Moses and his flock of wives or the millions of couples in America today who are most certainly married in the eyes of God, with or without governmental consent.

Our licensing system is so very different from the Biblical examples of marriage that it's laughable to compare the two, and to tell us to protect one because of the other. In fact, this illogical declaration first praises the Bible's idea of marriage, and then spends the next three paragraphs denouncing it. This whole section is specious.

Next, this declaration talks about medical professionals who are being forced to go against their conscience in the workplace, with the idea that making less money or having to find a different job is an infringement on religious freedom. That's just silly. If you feel that a service or part of a job is immoral, don't take the job. It's that simple.

Complaining that you can't take the job you want because it's against your religion is like saying, 'Well, I'm morally opposed to selling street drugs, but I deserve the income that a drug dealer gets, anyway.'. That just doesn't make any sense.

Yes, standing up for what you believe in may even mean that you're ineligible for certain jobs, like selling illegal drugs, or working for certain employers, like drug dealers, and it may bar you from accepting funds from people who have different views from you, like people who want to buy illegal drugs. That's not an infringement on your religious freedom. You're not entitled to that job, that employer, or that money and you’re not required to take that job, that employer, or that money. You’re free to choose a different action.

I don't have any sympathy for someone who takes a job for an employer that involves tasks that they find immoral, and then complains that they can't complete those tasks. Go into private practice, or find another employer. You, unlike millions of Americans, have options. You're not going to starve because you choose not to perform abortions, fill prescriptions for the morning after pill, or to accept federal funds.

Yes, your hospital may go out of business if you choose not to do those things. Yes, you may find it hard to find an employer who’s willing to let you do less than what your co-workers do. That sucks, but it’s not an infringement on your right to religious freedom. It’s just simple economics. Your freedom lies in your ability to make that choice in service to God.

Okay, next, nobody is compelling you to perform marriages that you think are immoral. If you don't want to perform gay marriages, then don't take a job as a Justice of the Peace. Private officiates can pick and choose whom to marry on whatever grounds they want. (I know. I'm an officiate.) Nobody is insisting that you recognize those marriages as valid, either. You’re welcome to denounce them from the pulpit and to refuse to perform them. You just can’t take government funds to perform those marriages, and then refuse to perform them.

Oh, and nobody, not even New Jersey, is forcing you to let gay couples use your property to have their ceremony. You have options. Yes, if you offer your space for rent to the general public, you can't discriminate. So what? Offer it for free.

Yes, you might make less money in a private practice, and you might really, really want those extra rental funds, but you're not entitled to them. As the declaration states, Martin Luther King, Jr. was willing to go to jail for his beliefs. But the authors of this declaration don't even think that they should have to take a lower salary for theirs. That’s pretty sad, and makes a sad statement about the quality and depths of the beliefs of the authors.

Okay, I was wrong. I’m going to quote the declaration here. Because it’s sooo horrible.

“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.”

This is the biggest misleading section of all.

As I’ve gone into above, there are no edicts that compel people to do any of those things. This paragraph insinuates that there are laws forcing people to commit these acts and that is absolutely untrue. I mean, it’s so misleading that I can’t believe that it doesn’t qualify as a lie.

This declaration seems to be leading to the idea that it’s okay to disobey the law to protect Christian beliefs. I agree with this. This is supported by the Bible, in many places. However, they take it a step further. They seem to be saying that you should disobey the law as a convenience, whereas the Bible only allows it as a last resort.

So, for instance, if there were a law that commanded physicians to perform abortions (there’s not), you would be compelled to switch professions to obey God, but not disobey the law. If there were a law that forced pharmacists to fill certain prescriptions (there’s not), you would simply have to switch to teaching, or supervising, as opposed to disobeying the law. In reality, you can simply choose to work for a company that allows you to refuse those prescriptions, open your own pharmacy, or take a teaching position. There’s actually a shortage of pharmacists, and schools have to decline pharmaceutical students because they don’t have enough teachers. It seems like a great field to be in if you want to pick and choose your tasks, because you’re in high demand. Anyway, I digress…

If there were a law that forced officiates to perform same-sex marriages (there’s not), you would simply have to step away from the legal portion of the marriage and stop signing licenses, as opposed to disobeying the law. In fact, that’s probably a good idea, anyway, since the marriage license is immaterial to a Christian. (Christian marriages are created when vows are said before God, not when the license is entered into the database by a clerk a week later.)

If, and only if, you were personally commanded to go against your beliefs, and you have no other legal avenue for relief, should you disobey the law. That is simply not the case with any of the acts that the authors list.

And talking about Martin Luther King Jr.’s time in Birmingham as a comparison to what the authors want to do is just wrong.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was great, but he wasn’t Jesus. The only reason to mention him is to distract you from what the Bible actually says. In fact, Letter from Birmingham Jail, which the authors mention, doesn’t support the authors’ statements, and more pertains to the point of view of gay folks, rather than Christians. Let’s talk about ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’, which the authors reference.

In ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’, Martin Luther King, Jr. states:
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.”
If you collect the facts to determine if injustices to Christians exist, as I have, you will find that there are none. Christian beliefs have been considered at every step, and the laws have been written to allow Christians, and people of other faiths, to stay true to their beliefs while refraining from favoring any of them.

The next step is negotiation. If you belief that a law is truly unjust, work to change it. For instance, the courts recently upheld the right of students to wear anti-Muslim shirts to school. The ACLU tried the case and won, which reaffirmed the rights of expression for Muslims and Christians. Courts have also recently upheld the right of Christians to peacefully assemble and protest, even at the funerals of soldiers. (I find this sort of protest deplorable, but legal.) I could point out many more examples of successful negotiation, which negates the need for civil disobedience.

Further, Martin Luther King, Jr. only condoned the need for civil disobedience because of the brutal conditions that black people labored under. Christians simply don’t suffer from those types of conditions.

Last, but most importantly, Martin Luther King, Jr. may have taught that you have a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws, but the Bible does not. Let me repeat that: You do not have a moral responsibility to disobey laws that you believe to be unjust. Let’s review the Biblical support for that fact.

In the Book of Peter, Peter says that God has redeemed Christians from the empty lives of their forefathers (1:18). This life was characterized by lust and ignorance of God (1:14), lack of spiritual community (2:10); a life of continual straying from God (2:25) and all manner of immorality (4:3).This, Peter says, is that from which God has freed them.

The question is posed: Since they are no longer bound by sinful lives, should they submit to those who are still bound, like kings and governors? The answer is yes. This answer, with its idea of obeying the leader and law of the land, is reiterated in Proverbs 24:21 and in Mark 12:17. In short, it’s awfully hard to cherry pick your way to civil disobedience.

The Bible is clear:
Be subject to every human institution for the Lord's sake, whether it be to the king as supreme or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the approval of those who do good. Give honor to all, love the community, fear God, honor the king.
This passage is found in the book of Peter. Yes, the same Peter that the writers of the declaration praise for his civil disobedience in Acts, where Peter and Paul were commanded to stop preaching. Peter and Paul were not given a choice, and even Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been happy with their attempt to negotiate with the rulers and elders of the people, and with their prayers for guidance (self-purification) before they began their own civil disobedience.

Of course, after that the Bible states that they shared their possessions and none were needy. Their followers sold houses and land for money, to be distributed as there was need. If the authors are really upset that some Christian institutions may be making less money, maybe they should sell their own property and ask the signatories to do the same, before claiming that they’re going to go out of business because of their beliefs. And maybe, just maybe, they should start repairing their own admittedly failed idea of marriage before knocking what someone else wants to try.

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