It's extremely rare indeed that I will sign a public petition of any kind, or that I will affix my name to some document or declaration that promotes a personal or party perspective or position, especially one that openly advocates any kind of radical societal shift (even though I might totally agree with the proposed shift and the underlying spirit that was calling for said change). However, I have made a singular exception to that previous firm stand in the case of The Manhattan Declaration. After some very careful, prayerful soul-searching, as well as a line-by-line examination of and reflection upon this declaration itself (13 pages [MS Word format], 4728 words) and its stated objectives, I have chosen to sign The Manhattan Declaration, along with 281,015 other concerned persons (at last count). Will this action on my part make a real difference in the "eternal scheme of things"? Probably not (though God can do wonders with much less). However, it is eternally significant for me personally because I'm convicted that it's essential for an increasing number of spiritual leaders to take a public stand against the ever-growing spiritual and moral darkness that is overwhelming our society. It is time for God's 7000 souls who have not bowed the knee to Baal [1 Kings 19:18] to become a voice crying out in the wilderness for societal reform: a nation-wide return to GOD.
I won't get into a lengthy tirade against our political leaders in this issue of Reflections; no need -- you're all painfully aware of their abuses and excesses. Suffice it to say, they have failed us. Worse: we have failed ourselves by empowering and emboldening such men and women over the years who are ever more openly and unashamedly leading us away from our God. Edmund Burke (1729-1797), an Anglo-Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher, quite often thought of today as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism, rightly observed, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." We have done nothing long enough; it is killing us! It is time for good men and women to take a stand, to speak out, to demand change!! And if our political leaders won't turn our nation around, then we the people need to turn our politicians out ... of office, that is!! We are in desperate need of a purifying purge from the very top of our government down! And we need it ... yesterday! I am not in any way at all advocating any kind of a militant insurrection, although some perhaps might favor such radical measures. I believe a more reasoned, rational approach, but no less determined, is required!! It is time for God's people to be HEARD, rather than huddling helplessly in a herd outside a house of slaughter. Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), a Welsh poet and writer, declared: "Do not go gentle into" that dark night, but rather "rage, rage against the dying of the light."
During the final days of September, 2009 a number of Christian leaders met together in Manhattan, New York. From out of that meeting came the determination to produce a rather carefully worded, well-reasoned, yet respectful document declaring the grave concerns of a large number of religious leaders throughout our own nation (and indeed around the globe) regarding the deterioration of spiritual values throughout the United States and the world. The draft was produced on October 20, and it was released in its final form on November 20. Because of the location of the meeting at which the need for such a public statement was expressed, it has become known as The Manhattan Declaration. The primary framers of this declaration (the "Drafting Committee") are: Chuck Colson (Founder of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview), Dr. Robert George (Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University), and Dr. Timothy George (Professor of Divinity at Samford University). Though the liberal media is largely ignoring it (no real surprise there), it is nevertheless receiving significant attention and coverage from more responsible journalists and commentators, and tens of thousands are daily signing this passionate plea for a spiritual awakening and revival in societies that are becoming increasingly depraved and godless.
If you have not yet done so, please take a little time to study this declaration (you may access it by clicking on the link in the first paragraph of this article). Whether you choose to sign it or not, at least examine it and begin doing some serious reflection upon the tenets and principles contained therein. Let's rouse ourselves from our stupor and shake off the apathy that so easily sweeps over a people at ease in their abundance. The godly prophets of old cried out to those who were "at ease in Zion" [Amos 6:1f] to turn back to their God. They refused, and were destroyed. That same call is going out to us today. Will our fate be the same as theirs?! The answer, sadly, is "Yes!" ... unless we can turn our nation around. It will not be easy ... and it may already be too late (God alone knows) ... but we must at least try. This declaration is an attempt, by a few good men, to do something. Let us join hands with them. A lone voice may never be heard, but the cry of millions is hard to ignore!
This bold document -- this "Call of Christian Conscience" -- is divided into five distinct sections: Preamble, Declaration, Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty. The first section is a brief (six paragraphs) overview of the strength of Christian conviction down through the ages. We, as the disciples of Christ, "are heirs of a 2000 year tradition of proclaiming God's word, seeking justice in our societies, resisting tyranny, and reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed and suffering." As individual believers, we are each far from perfect; each of us are flawed ... so also are our various religious movements and institutions. Yet, throughout history God's Spirit has moved and operated within such earthen vessels to shine forth His love through our feeble efforts to impact those about us in a positive way and to push back the darkness with the Light from above. In the face of a host of societal ills such as racial oppression, slavery, infanticide and genocide, sexual trafficking, diseases and starvation, God has always raised up saints among us to confront those forces and circumstances that would overwhelm us and ultimately destroy us. Mother Teresa, and her work with the poor and afflicted in Calcutta, is a perfect case in point. Such noble, godly spirits are a powerful witness to the mercy and compassion of our heavenly Father.
The Preamble concludes with this statement -- "Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person, and to stand for the common good." This, the framers declare, is an integral part of our call to discipleship. It is through our service unto others that we can each make the most "profound contribution to the public good." I genuinely appreciate the reference to the "Gospel of costly grace." Although God's grace is truly a gift to man, it was not without cost. It cost Him the death of Jesus on the cross. And what is the "cost" to us? -- a life fully surrendered to His will, not ours! When Paul commanded the disciples of the Lord to "present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice ... which is your spiritual service of worship" [Rom. 12:1], he was "counting the cost" of discipleship. God's grace is free, but it isn't cheap!! This doesn't mean we do anything to merit it or earn it, but once it has been bestowed our response of faith and love is manifested in our willingness to give our all in service to Him and others. It is this spirit of self-sacrifice to a higher good/cause that permeates The Manhattan Declaration.
Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty are actually sub-sets of the Declaration, although in this review I shall examine them separately. The Manhattan Declaration is primarily concerned with three great social ills of nations today (although there are certainly many others that are in need of being addressed as well): the slaughter of the unborn, the breakdown of marriage and the family, and the legislation and/or suppression of religious conviction. "We are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, and the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; and that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions."
"Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense." I believe this expresses their case quite well, and it should be a reflection of our sentiment also. The framers have declared, as have the signers, that it is their right ... indeed, their obligation ... "to speak and act in defense of these truths," and that "no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence." Amen!! The apostle Paul declared that he was "put here for the defense of the gospel" [Philp. 1:17], and Jude, the brother of our Lord Jesus, urged his fellow disciples to "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" [Jude 3]. We today must do no less, and we must "join together across historic lines of ecclesial differences," united as one people under one Shepherd, if we hope to accomplish this mission. Satan has divided us into warring camps of schismatic sectarians far too long. It is time to come together as a people of common purpose, party and personal preferences and traditions set forever aside as unworthy of our fratricidal feuds, and to present ourselves as a united Family, strong in the Lord, to a world gone mad. Only then will change become a reality. Preaching patterns and pontificating on party preferences has caused the world to turn away from us in disgust (as indeed they should) -- proclaiming a Person can turn this around, but it will take a united effort. The world does not need a message of Law, it needs a message of Love!! It doesn't need more rigid religious rituals, it needs a renewal of relationship with its Redeemer. If we're preaching the former rather than the latter, we're aiding and abetting the enemy!
Pope John Paul II declared some years ago that we are living within a "culture of death." The pontiff specifically had reference to a growing lack of commitment to the sanctity of life. We live in a time (and perhaps this has always been true to some extent in various societies) where some of our fellow citizens, born and unborn, are viewed as "inconveniences" in need of being removed. Precious little souls are literally being ripped from the womb and dismembered as little more than a "birth control procedure." Millions have been slaughtered in this manner. "A culture of death inevitably cheapens life in all its stages and conditions by promoting the belief that lives that are imperfect, immature or inconvenient are discardable." Assisted suicide and "voluntary" euthanasia are on the increase globally, and some are even considering the legalization of such procedures. Genocide and "ethnic cleansing" are claiming the lives of countless men, women and children who are perceived as "in the way." All of this horror "flows from the loss of the sense of the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life." The noble framers and signers of The Manhattan Declaration vow to remain silent about these godless crimes no longer. We shall become the "voice" of those unable to speak for themselves, and we shall cry out for radical reform so that we might become a culture of life, rather than death.
The largest section of The Manhattan Declaration deals with the "social pathologies" manifesting themselves within the very core institutions of a society: marriage and the family. Sexual promiscuity and marital infidelity have always been besetting evils within the world's societies, and these can be deadly if left unchecked. Just as human lives are being discarded, so also are covenants of marriage. As hard as it is to believe, there are actually places renting wedding rings (paid for month by month), with the expectation that these rings are temporary commodities, soon to be returned and/or recycled. Same sex and multiple partner relationships are on the rise, and efforts are being made to legalize and legitimize such perversions. Sexual intimacy is viewed as little more than a casual "fling," often with total strangers -- party favors and door prizes! The marriage bed is dishonored and defiled [Heb. 13:4], and the divorce rate climbs. So also does the number of children born out of wedlock (and this doesn't even factor in those pregnancies terminated by abortion). Fifty years ago the birth rate of unwed mothers, in comparison to those born within wedlock, was only about 5% ... today it is well over 40%. We have a problem!! Somebody needs to begin speaking out about this blight upon our society. Should that someone be you? Me? God's people collectively? If not, why not? If not, then who? Should not His people promote His will?
Tragically, mankind has lost sight of God's Ideal for marriage (as well as His purpose and intent for the family), and this is causing the inevitable breakdown of the very foundation of society. Little wonder that nations collapse when the family fails. Today, rather than address the problem in such a way as to restore God's divine design, our leaders seek to recreate these foundational institutions in the image of their own perverse ideologies. "The truth is that marriage is not something abstract or neutral that the law may legitimately define and redefine so as to please those who are powerful and influential. ... the last thing we can afford to do is to redefine marriage in such a way as to embody in our laws a false proclamation about what marriage is." Therefore, in the words of the framers of this declaration, "it is out of love (not 'animus') and prudent concern for the common good (not 'prejudice'), that we pledge to labor ceaselessly to preserve the legal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and to rebuild the marriage culture. How could we, as Christians, do otherwise?!"
"Christians confess that God alone is Lord of the conscience. Immunity from religious coercion is the cornerstone of an unconstrained conscience." No person or group, and especially no government agency, has the right to impose upon another individual or group his/their personal religious and/or irreligious convictions. And yet, this has been done throughout history, resulting in the religious bondage and martyrdom of countless believers. Even today, our own government is seeking to increasingly legislate, and in some cases forbid, religious conviction. For example, "In Canada and some European nations, Christian clergy have been prosecuted for preaching biblical norms against the practice of homosexuality. New hate-crime laws in America raise the specter of the same practice here." Several Christian institutions here are now being stripped of their tax-exempt status for refusing to perform, or allowing their buildings to be used in the performance of, a homosexual union. I personally faced this possibility when preaching in Hawaii (1992-1998), when the state sought to legalize "gay marriage." We were told that if we refused to perform such a marriage we would be stripped of our permits to perform weddings in Hawaii. Thankfully, the people refused to allow the state to adopt such a view of marriage, but the ministers in the state were largely united in our resolve to oppose the will of the state in order to abide by the will of our God, regardless of the personal price we might be called upon to pay.
Why is this so serious? Well, there are a great many reasons, not the least of which is that our God is quite displeased by such departures from His will. But there are some very practical, closer-to-earth, concerns as well -- "Disintegration of civil society is a prelude to tyranny." The more society declines, the more we give way to the ascendancy of tyrants. We literally become the breeding ground of our own oppression and enslavement. When this happens, as it is now happening in our own nation, Christians must be willing to take a stand for God's will, even if it means they may find themselves in opposition to the will of their own government. The Manhattan Declaration concludes with this extremely powerful 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!!" This could well require some degree of "civil disobedience" on our part, both as individual disciples and as congregations of disciples, for which we may appeal to the example of the apostles. The Jewish high court ordered them to cease their public proclamation of Jesus and His teachings, to which they replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God" [Acts 4:19]. Later they declared, "We must obey God rather than men!" [Acts 5:29], for which they were severely flogged [vs. 40]. And yet, "day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ" [vs. 42]. Dear Lord and Father, give each of us, we pray, that same strength of conviction and resolve, so that we too may make that same bold declaration and then live by it daily to Your glory and to the common good of all men! Amen!
This response was written by Al Maxey found in his Reflections #42, December 11, 2009
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