The Common Good

Affirming the Footnotes: What the Manhattan Declaration Gets Right

Although there are several points I find troubling, inaccurate, or misleading in the recent Manhattan Declaration, and although I noticed the relative homogeneity of age, race, and gender of its signors, I want to focus on a section of the document I find positive and helpful:

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Around the globe, we are witnessing cases of genocide and "ethnic cleansing," the failure to assist those who are suffering as innocent victims of war, the neglect and abuse of children, the exploitation of vulnerable laborers, the sexual trafficking of girls and young women, the abandonment of the aged, racial oppression and discrimination, the persecution of believers of all faiths, and the failure to take steps necessary to halt the spread of preventable diseases like AIDS.

In his response to the declaration, Jonathan Merritt, a younger evangelical in age as well as spirit, wrote in The Washington Post, "Older evangelicals have been largely silent on these issues and in similar fashion this declaration has relegated them to little more than a footnote."

He's right: even though the Declaration mentions this broader range of issues, the same "big three" (abortion, gay marriage, and religious liberty -- defined rather oddly in relation to the first two issues, by the way) do remain at the top, demoting all other issues to near footnote status. Chuck Colson says it with characteristic clarity: "We argue that there is a hierarchy of issues... these are the three most important issues."

But I'm at least happy that a footnote-level acknowledgment of a broader range of issues was included, because that's a step up from where things were even a few years ago. It's an encouraging sign when committed Christian leaders like these take a stand against the suffering of innocent victims of war -- without excluding innocents who have suffered and are suffering because of wars planned and launched by the U.S. It's a good sign when they oppose -- along with child abuse and sex trafficking -- the exploitation of laborers. It's a good sign when leaders defend not only their rights but also the rights of the racially and religiously "other."

Again, I differ with some of their diagnoses, prescriptions, and assumptions. For example, I think we need to raise the question whether the criminalization of abortion is the best or even a good way to reduce it. I remember being shocked to learn that even if the goals of the signors were achieved and Roe v. Wade were overturned, it would have relatively little effect on the number of abortions performed in the United States. And I still can't shake the feeling that the polarities of "pro-life" and "pro-choice" conceal as much as they reveal. But I wholeheartedly agree with the Declaration that our culture suffers from a "loss of the sense of the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of life."

I would add that the sanctity of human life is what motivates many of us to be so deeply concerned about the status of the environment, including non-human life with which human life is inextricably interwoven. And I would add that this same sense of the dignity of the human person makes many of us want to work harder to seek nonviolent solutions to global problems and avoid wars that make so many suffer as innocent victims. And it is the dignity of human persons who are gay that motivates many of us who are straight to work against violence and discrimination against gay human persons, including in their desire for access to legally protected civil unions (some of us would say) or marriage (others of us would say).

So even though many of us differ -- in varying ways -- with the priorities, policies, and approaches held by the signors of this document, we can agree that much evil flows from a loss of "the sense of the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life." Like these signors, we have proven ourselves willing to risk criticism, danger, and even arrest for our convictions, which we believe no less strongly than they do to be rooted in our faith, in the scriptures, and in our great tradition.

[to be continued...]

Brian McLarenBrian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is a speaker and author, most recently of Everything Must Change and Finding Our Way Again.

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