Monday, January 18, 2010

Missing the Forest for the Trees

In church this past Sunday, the pastors asked the people in our congregation to read over something called the Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, and, if we felt led, to sign it.

The Declaration is an attempt by a group of thoughtful individuals from Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical Protestant backgrounds to issue a strong statement in support of Life, Marriage, and Religious Freedom.

It is not a document explaining what these people believe regarding various theological issues that have divided the Christian Church down through history. Nor is it a document trying to define what it is that makes a "Christian" a "Christian." It is a document trying to communicate to political leaders today why people who call themselves Christians from a very broad spectrum of theological beliefs agree on three critical issues facing our society.

I read the Declaration - it was written by academics, so it takes a long time to say what it says. (Because of that, I'm not really sure that it will accomplish what its authors actually intend - but that's a different issue.) However, I agree wholeheartedly with its premise and with what it says regarding each of the three issues it addresses.

But, I was saddened to learn today that several "Christian leaders" who I have respected for many years felt they could not sign the declaration when they were asked because it was not theological enough. They did not oppose the content of what the Declaration said on the issues. They were against the fact that it was too "ecumenical" and did not define the "Gospel" properly - according to their theological systems.

When I read what they said, I honestly felt that they totally missed the point.

The document was not intended to be a theological treatise. It was intended to be a statement by a broad range of people who have called themselves Christians historically to say that Life is important, Marriage is important, and Religious Freedom is important - and each of these areas is under attack in our modern culture.

No one needed to sign the Declaration. I'm not sure if I will sign it or not. But, those who decided not to sign it didn't need to undermine the effort of those who drafted it by coming out publicly against it. Their stated reasons for not signing the Declaration highlight the fact that they view the world through a very narrow set of glasses, and don't really know how to engage a culture.

I am reminded of a comment attributed to a well-known Christian leader in the early days of the abortion controversy. He said he would not comment on the issue of abortion because he did not speak out against "sins" - he spoke out against "sin." Unfortunately, you can't really speak out against "sin" unless you are willing to speak out against the specific forms that it takes.

Our society needs strong statements in support of Biblical morality. In this case, we should applaud the efforts of everyone who speaks out in favor of Life, Marriage, and Religious Freedom, even if we don't always agree with their theology.

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