By Randy Wills
Readers of my previous work here at America’s Right know that I believe it to be a false promise to pursue the spirit of our Founders–”refounding,” as Glenn Beck might put it–without fully recognizing the inseparable spiritual foundation on which our Constitution is based. I believe that we are doomed to failure if we do not face this reality squarely and seek first to regain the spiritual high ground in our national culture.
An important contribution to this effort to reclaim America for traditional Judeo-Christian values was recently composed and published by a group of 152 eminent persons–theologians, teachers, authors, and organizational leaders–within the Christian community under the title of Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience. As much as it addresses the basic concerns of a large segment of those on the American political right, the published declaration has received very little attention other than on the Internet. The declaration reads:
We, As Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities. We act together in obedience to the one true God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image. We set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is grounded in the Holy Scripture, in natural human reason (which is itself, in our view, the gift of a beneficent God), and in the very nature of the human person. We call upon all people of goodwill, believers and non-believers alike, to consider carefully and reflect critically on the issues we here address as we, with St. Paul, commend this appeal to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
While the whole scope of Christian moral concern, including a special concern for the poor and vulnerable, claims our attention, we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, 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; 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. In this declaration we affirm; 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.
We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right – and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation – to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.
The document then goes on to elaborate on the Scriptural and historical societal basis for these articles of faith in reasonable and concise terms. After having read the complete document, one would have to ask: “what Christian could disagree with that?” As it turns out, however, there are a number of well-known evangelical theologians and teachers who do disagree–not with the issues themselves, but rather with the forum in which it was conceived–and have declined to endorse this document.
Now, I don’t dispute their right to dissent on the basis of strict, individually-held theological arguments, nor do I question their motivations, but I do question the wisdom of failing to adequately consider the context in which this declaration is operative — a Scripturally-based moral response to government imposed laws, not the correct interpretation of the Scriptures relative to what constitutes personal salvation. In fact, I personally would agree with the dissenters that the word “Christian” has become almost meaningless as a result of centuries of misinterpretation, misuse, and manipulation by various man-ordained and organized institutions based not on a plain, consistent reading of the Scripture as defined by the Nicene Council but rather on man’s desire to create powerful empires built on the shoulders of Jesus Christ. You know — that unquenchable aspiration of fallen human nature to become “as God” and re-create all that is in man’s image rather than God’s.
That having been said, it brings me to a weighty question: “At what price unity?” My reading of the Manhattan Declaration is that, for the first time, we have a line drawn in the sand that says to those in authority that “beyond this line we will not go, regardless of the consequences.” Perhaps I am overlooking too much, theologically, but I have been yearning for just such an expression of resolve that, in my opinion, must at some time be made to those who would run roughshod over all who would disagree with their plan to “fundamentally transform the United States.”
Please be clear: I am not suggesting that anyone of us should compromise their personal convictions–most importantly, their spiritual convictions–for the sake of expediency or pragmatism, but I am suggesting that we not carry the argument beyond the point of effective convergence within the context of where we are relative to the battle which lies ahead.
Our goal is a return to the values that I believe John Adams had in mind when he said that “our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people; It is wholly inadequate for any other.” I seriously doubt that he was expecting that all persons would believe alike in all matters spiritual. If that were the case, the Framers would likely never have been able to produce the Constitution, because there was obviously a great diversity of religious beliefs and practices among them. What I believe that he was saying was that only a people who are inclined to be self-governed by the laws first spoken by the God of the Scriptures would be capable of preserving the constitutional republic the Framers had created.
Again, it is important to take notice of the context in which Adams set this condition; he was not speaking in terms of personal salvation but rather was identifying a social/civil precondition, most clearly articulated by Christ as the “Golden Rule,” upon which the success of this new form of government would depend. The ever-expanding volume of civil and criminal laws and the obscene national budget attest to the fact that government can never fill the gap left when the citizenry decides to act independent of the Divine law. It will simply collapse under its own unsustainable burden on society.
So I see this as our challenge: can we agree on a point of convergence of beliefs and then agree to move forward from that point as one with a clear goal in mind–not a theocracy but rather a citizenry grounded in Judeo-Christian values of personal integrity and moral behavior–and yet remain faithful to our most deeply held personal beliefs?
Matters of religion and faith have a habit of bringing out strong opinions and fiery passions. Those who choose to forsake God often cite these opinions and passions as they manifest in war and violence in more unstable regions as a reason they choose not to believe. Looking towards the future, this is of deep concern because we are faced with what I consider the most severe challenge to our democracy that we have ever faced in the history of the United States, and I would hate to think that our differences would prevent us from coming together to face our common adversary — the extreme progressive policies of the Obama administration.
I believe that we must identify the point at which our views and objectives converge, much as the Founders did, and then agree to limit our discourse to concerns that fall within that boundary. For some, that may be difficult, but we have to understand the context within which we find ourselves and work effectively within that context rather than hold out for complete agreement by others with our personal perspectives. As someone once said: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” And if we fail to come together, the inevitable fragmentation will accomplish what our political opponents are incapable of doing on their own.
Randy Wills lives in the Northwest with his wife of over 52 years and divides his time between his role as Operations Manager of a software development business founded with his son in 2002 and maintaining close contact with his extended family. Both he and his wife are avid readers and spend as much time as they can together reading and engaging in deep discussion of history, religion, and politics. For recreation, Randy and his wife like to “get away” in their RV.