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Friday, June 28, 2013

The Log In The Eye Of The Christian Managers Of Society

The Manhattan Declaration, written in 2009, is simply a manifesto on a few concerns that has united the Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical branches of the Christian Church. Like those of us on the Left, it both warns and bemoans over the loss of certain values it sees as being essential to the maintenance of our current society. The difference between the two groups can be found in the set of values it seeks to defend and promote.

The parts of The Manhattan Declaration which will be covered here are the preamble and the section on marriage. I am covering these parts of the declaration for two reasons. First, the recent Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8 have rightfully caused celebration outside the Church and lamentations inside. And second, this declaration will greatly enlighten both those inside and outside of the Church as to why many Christians oppose same-sex marriage in society. 

The preamble is a brief introduction and singles out specific contributions Christians have made to Western Civilization. The section on marriage provides a Biblical definition of marriage along with reasons why the writers think marriage is under attack and why they would deny the right to same-sex marriage.

What the two parts we are reviewing have in common is a lack of awareness of the problems and sins that Christians have exhibited throughout history and on this issue. It is not that my fellow Christians don't display a general recognition of imperfection, that would be unconscionable. But there is a significant difference between including oneself in saying "nobody's perfect" and being able and willing to list ones own sins. The latter awareness carries a deeper awareness of one's flaws and a sharper recognition of one's equal status with those from other groups. 

The preamble starts with a boast that Christianity has imperfectly defended the dignity of human life especially with regard to the most vulnerable. It lists specific examples of how Christians have secured the rights and lives of the needy by mentioning how Christians who risked it all by rescuing babies in the Roman Empire, Christianity battled slavery, Christian societies helped the poor and oppressed, and how Christians worked to end trafficking and other oppressions. However, being opposed to war is a value never mentioned in this document though caring for its victims is.

But saying that Christian institutions were in imperfect in helping those in need doesn't seem to do justice to the atrocities committed in the name of Christ by both its individuals and institutions. Admitting that one is imperfect seems to understate the horrible anti-Semitism that ran rampant in Christian Europe, the European wars over religion, the justification of slavery by some Christians in America, the persecution even to death of fellow Christians who had different beliefs, and the Christian participation in the ethnic cleansing of America of its native population. This partial list contains some specific behaviors that do not support the contention that Christianity has always been a defender of the oppressed and those in need. In fact, when making claims about the rich Christian heritage of America, many Christians are either silent about past abuses or they show an emotional disconnect with past monstrosities. 

There is a reason why Christians who want to manage society are so out of touch with history. That reason is that a full disclosure of our past might rob us of the credentials we need to act as authority figures in society.

In a similar way, the writers of The Manhattan Declaration seem oblivious to what they are saying to gays about marriage. Claiming to be both faithful to God and loving, caring for all, should we ask if their intentions cause unforeseen side effects. One of their intentions is to save gays from themselves. At the same time, they try to gently distance themselves from gays by calling their desire for same-sex marriage a "symptom of erosion" and they relegate gays to an inferior status when society decides on the definition of marriage.

Are there valid points about marriage made in The Manhattan Declaration? Yes, God created male and female to live together in a monogamous marriage. And witnessing the desire to recognize same-sex marriage should bother us. But its charge that same-sex marriage is merely romantic and revolves around adult pleasures while describing traditional marriage as being about procreation and a special kind of relationship between two adults implies that only heterosexuals can experience a holistic intimacy in marriage which homosexuals cannot is questionable. Though there is the obvious about procreation and homosexuals, who says that gays cannot experience a holistic intimacy with each other?

In addition, by claiming to be protectors of marriage in society by opposing same-sex marriage, these Christians are taking a paternalistic role. A paternalistic role assumes one group is above all others and thus have the privilege to make decisions for them. And for those who worry about an abuse of privilege, they should be assured that the privileged group is making these decisions in the best interests of all.

This was the rationalization used to justify dominating the peoples of all of the different nations by the European empires. But it was simply a rationalization because the real reason for dominating is for the benefit of the group in charge. What other benefits fall on the those ruled over are by coincidence. We should mention that along with being opposed to war, objecting to empire was a concern of the Church that was missing in action.

By taking this paternalistic role in society with regard to marriage, what the Church is saying is that gays should not have an equal voice in society in defining marriage. Because their marital views are the result of an erosion of values, they have nothing to contribute to the discussion but have everything to benefit from the Church's pronouncements.

Now apart from this declaration, the Church will respond to the charge of inequality between the Church and all others in society by pointing to the slippery slope of what other groups one must listen to regarding marriage when a society defines marriage. But such a directed focus distracts us from the following. First, that marriage is about much more than just the union of two bodies. Marriage has a social sphere in that it affects the community. Marriage carries with it a psychological component because of the interaction between the spouses. Marriage has a health impact because of the prevalence of STDs in a promiscuous society. And marriage has a legal element because there is a uniting of properties and possessions as well as people. So when we take a look at the bigger picture, same-sex marriage, as unbiblical as it is, has more in common with heterosexual marriage than with any other relationship mentioned in the slippery slope. And we should note that by denying same-sex marriage in society, we are more than encouraging promiscuity amongst homosexuals and thus enabling the spread of STDs in their community.

So though the writers of this declaration have the best of intentions, we should note that sometimes, good intentions can cause blindness. That is because we become so enamored with our own goodness, we fail to see the harm we are doing. And what writers of The Manhattan Declaration are doing include making gays second class citizens, denying them the benefits of what heterosexuals can enjoy for religious reasons in a society based on religious liberty, and contributing to the spread of STDs. 

We should be clear that what the writers wrote in this declaration should be taken with all seriousness by those in the church, there are problems when we insist on all of these views in society. But we should also note that the New Testament recognizes the room needed in society for those who fail to comply with Church standards. This room is recognized both by Jesus and Paul. To unnecessarily eliminate this space is not only unbiblical, it puts the Church in disciplinary roles of the past that it to sin grievously against individuals and groups.

Though the Church must follow the definition of marriage stated in this declaration, society should not. The reason is that it is in society that room must be made for those who don't fit in the Church. For if we don't allow that room in society, then the Church will be rightfully described as an agent of oppression and an opposer to democracy.



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