Muddling the Manhattan Declaration

The Need for Firm Foundations Originally published at BreakPoint

The way the New York Times tells it, the Christian leaders behind the Manhattan Declaration have declared same sex couples un-persons.

Laurie Goodstein writes:

Citing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to civil disobedience, 145 evangelical, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders have signed a declaration saying they will not cooperate with laws that they say could be used to compel their institutions to participate in abortions, or to bless or in any way recognize same-sex couples. [emphasis mine]

What they actually say is they will not “bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent.”

The difference in wording is fundamental, if not immediately obvious. Far from refusing to recognize any human being who has entered into a homosexual partnership, the signers are convinced that they recognize such a person’s full humanity—as a creature made in the image of God and designed by God for certain purposes and not for others, meaning that the human person tends to flourish through certain activities commensurate with her design and purpose and is damaged by certain activities that run contrary to her design and purpose, even when those activities feel right.

This Christian anthropology, not some Orwellian refusal to “in any way recognize same-sex couples,” prompted the signers not to bless or condone same-sex partnerships. The signers are convinced that such partnerships are not only forbidden by God, but also do harm both to these couples and to society at large.

Goodstein and others are free to disagree with this perspective, and undoubtedly Colson, Princeton professor Robert George, and other signers are hoping for a robust discussion of the issues raised in the declaration. But what any lover of truth should want to avoid is setting up straw men in place of her opponents’ actual positions.

A first step toward a conversation that generates more light than heat is understanding the central role that a Christian anthropology plays in the Manhattan Declaration.

For instance, when the signers insist that religious freedom, traditional marriage, and the sanctity of life are more basic for Christians than certain other important issues, such as global poverty, it’s not because the signers don’t care about those suffering daily in the developing world. Anyone familiar with the work Prison Fellowship is doing in places such as Rwanda, for instance, knows better.

When Colson and the other signers say that a commitment to these principles is more basic, they don’t mean that doors or walls or kitchen cabinets or dining tables are bad or useless. They mean the house cannot long stand unless the foundation is sound. Neglect the foundation and no amount of concern for the poor will do any long term good, as evidenced by the damage inflicted by 50 years of government-to-government aid to developing countries—aid filtered through a faceless and highly secularized global development complex.

If this isn’t sufficiently concerning, consider the Millennium Development Goals, the U.N. document that stands behind the One Campaign and supports more of the same failed strategy of government-to-government aid transfers. One of its goals is global access to “sexual and reproductive health.”

If you dig into the proverbial fine print of various U.N. committees and commissions tasked with realizing this goal, you find that this goal is a euphemism for contraceptive chemicals and abortions funded by the taxpayers of developing countries.

Those who want this don’t have it in for poor people, but they do have their human anthropology wrong. They see the poor as primarily consumers, as burdens on their nations and upon the ecosystem. They’ve let go of a foundational Christian truth, a foundational human truth—that humans are creative beings made in the image of the Creator. Overpopulation isn’t the problem. War, tyranny, and corruption are the problems, since they limit human creativity.

Pope John Paul II put it this way: “Besides the earth, man’s principle resource is man himself. His intelligence enables him to discover the earth’s productive potential and the many different ways in which human needs can be satisfied.”

Miss this and before long, you’re helping the poor by killing the unborn poor.

The Manhattan Declaration is a call back to foundational truths, truths in danger of being set aside as unfashionable, truths essential to human flourishing.

Priceless at any age, made in the image of God, male and female, creatures whose nature calls for religious liberties commensurate with their inherent freedom and dignity: Get the human person right and other goods things can follow. Get the human person wrong and things fall apart.

Jonathan Witt

Executive Editor, Discovery Institute Press and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Witt, PhD, is Executive Editor of Discovery Institute Press and a senior fellow and senior project manager with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. His latest book is Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design (DI Press, 2018) written with Finnish bioengineer Matti Leisola. Witt has also authored co-authored Intelligent Design Uncensored, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, and The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. Witt is the lead writer and associate producer for Poverty, Inc., winner of the $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award and recipient of over 50 international film festival honors.