Out of nothing but a sense of obligation, I finally got around to paying attention to the Manhattan Doctrine that everybody seems to be talking about. When I saw that the first name on the list of people who signed the document was Chuck Colson, I suspected that I would just be reading a lot more of the same old arguments about abortion and gay marriage which have divided people for too long. Most of my suspicions were confirmed but I was surprised to see some pretty good language surrounding his arguments. They actually addressed injustices in the world, the equality of all people, and even a "special concern for the poor." But I failed to see how those things related to what they were actually arguing against.
In relation to abortion, they rightly said, "the first responsibility of government: to protect the vulnerable against violent attack, and to do so with no favoritism, partiality, or discrimination" but this sounded more like an argument for universal health care than against abortion. Although I believe abortion is unjust and uncreative, I also think war is unjust and uncreative. Who decided that abortion was a more important symptom of the "culture of death" than war? I sense not only a fundamental commitment to moral legislation with which I may be too cynical to agree, but also an inconsistency. Perhaps I shouldn't expect them to say everything in this one document, but how could they, having laid the foundation of the importance of impartial "sanctity of human life", leave war out of the discussion. They said, "we see these travesties [including racial oppression, human trafficking, and genocide] as flowing from the same loss of the sense of the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life that drives the abortion industry..." But I am reminded of the great lyrics from Derek Webb, "are we defending life when we just pick and choose lives acceptable to lose and which ones to defend?" Do we ascribe the "dignity" and "sanctity" to the lives of those we so broad-stroakingly call "terrorists"? The credibility of their argument is lost on me because they don't speak out against war, nuclear armament, and the genocide committed by our own government.
I agreed with them that promiscuity is ruining the "marriage culture" in which we find ourselves but I failed to see how same-sex marriage had anything more to do with that than opposite-sex marriage. if promiscuity is the issue, deal with that. If you think same-sex marriage is an issue, deal with that. But don't expect me to agree with you just because you talked about them in the same breath. Let's deal with promiscuity but let's deal with homosexuality on the same case-by-case level that we deal with heterosexuality. It's difficult for me to see how we can affirm "the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God" and then deny gay people the right to marry in the same breath. I'm not saying it can't be done, I just don't think Colson succeeded in doing so.
And I guess I agree with them about the last issue: Religious Liberty. Although I probably wouldn't use the same language. They said, "No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will" (P.S. why "his"? What decade is this?) but this is the principal which took prayer out of schools which I am sure Chuck would not be too fond of. By this principal we can say that America is not a "Christian nation", it is just another nation. It is precisely because of this and because we are citizens of God's Kingdom that we can practice civil disobedience and see laws changed as a result. "Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required." Remember the great call from Revelation 18:4, "Come out of her, my people!" Though the way they might like to apply this principal and their entire statement about religious liberty much differently than I would, I can still stand in agreement with them.
1 out of 3 ain't that bad for Chuck Colson and me.
Overall this document is a step backward in the work of reconciling the conversation. Drawing lines in the sand has not worked, why should be expect different results this time. So I have to say I officially do not agree with the Manhattan Doctrine.
Read Brian McLaren's thoughts: What they got right and What they get wrong and also read Scot McKnight's thoughts.