I am completely opposed to the Manhattan Declaration.
From its first word to its last, I believe that it is nothing but a self-righteous attempt for the signers to put themselves on a pedestal as the victimized last bastions of American morality while demonizing anyone who disagrees or disobeys, all wrapped in transparently faux-pious language.
I’m not going to go into a longer explanation of why I’m opposed to it, but I encourage you to read Ellen Haroutunian‘s explanation of why she didn’t sign. An excerpt:
My theory is that it is easier to write a document or pass a law than to get your hands dirty by actually moving into a poorer neighborhood and making friends and having a direct and yes, sacrificial but real impact on people’s lives. I know that even speaking that way freaks people out but that’s what God did. He went slumming – He moved in and actually became one of us and gave up quite a bit of His entitlement. We already know that story. So, why do we think we can hide behind a document or law when it comes to people’s lives and call it Christian?
So you’d think that I would be happy to find out that some prominent Christians (aside from Ellen and Fred Clark of Slacktivist, in my blogroll) had refused to sign it. So would I. And we would both be wrong.
The one and only positive part of the Manhattan Declaration was that it was ecumenical: it called Christians to unite towards a goal, albeit a lame goal. The most prominent person who refused to sign was R.C. Sproul. You may already see where this is going.
Does R.C. Sproul think that documents decrying abortion are a poor way to defend human life? Does he think that, even if gay marriage were wrong, it has never been our job to enforce others’ morality? Does he think that championing our religious rights is the exact opposite of our Biblical call to take up our crosses? Of course not. He agrees wholeheartedly with the issues in the declaration. His disagreement is based on something else entirely:
The Manhattan Declaration confuses common grace and special grace by combining them. While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel.
Translation: He didn’t sign it because Catholic and Orthodox people did.
The Manhattan Declaration states, “Christians are heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s Word,” and it identifies “Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelicals” as “Christians”…Without question, biblical truth must be proclaimed and the gospel preached prophetically to our nation. But how could I sign something that confuses the gospel and obscures the very definition of who is and who is not a Christian?
R.C. Sproul thinks that the Catholic and Orthodox churches are not Christian and what they teach is not the Gospel. By this, he means that they are not Calvinists, because he believes that only people who embrace the correct mechanism for salvation can be saved. Moreover, he believes that he knows exactly who does and does not believe the correct salvation-bringing doctrines, and that anyone who says otherwise or postulates a different definition of Christianity is just plain wrong.
He tries to soften it up a bit, but only comes across as insulting:
I believe there are true and sincere Christians within the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches. But these people are Christians in spite of their church’s official doctrinal positions.
In other words, there are people in these churches who believe in R.C. Sproul’s understanding of the mechanism of salvation, and are therefore saved.
So why does he care so much about this document? If he agrees with all the points the document is trying to make, why does he say things like “I have dear friends in the ministry who have signed this document, and my soul plummeted when I saw their names,” and feel the need to actually clear their names:
Nevertheless, I remain in fellowship with them at this time and believe they are men of integrity who affirm the biblical gospel and the biblical doctrines articulated in the Protestant Reformation.
In this quote lies the answer. Notice that the Biblical gospel is “articulated in the Protestant Reformation”–not in the Nicene Creed or even the Bible itself. For R.C. Sproul, the Reformation is the gospel. We are called, not to preach Christ crucified, but to preach TULIP. Thus, Catholics are the same as heathens who put babies on spikes. I will definitely elaborate more on this point later.
R.C. Sproul has a slippery-slope sort of mentality. Any statement or action that could possibly be construed as implying the legitimacy of another doctrinal position would leave him with no choice but to commit seppuku. Signing a document implies solidarity with the other signers, which in turn could imply doctrinal agreement, and is therefore absolutely unacceptable.
If you’re keeping score, the R.C. Sproul/Reformed order of priorities goes:
- Asserting doctrinal superiority over the Catholic and Orthodox churches,
- Preventing gay marriage and abortions, and finally
- Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for widows and orphans, etc.
This passage and others have lead me to the conclusion that R.C. Sproul is a self-righteous, bigoted hypocrite who believes he holds the key to salvation and gets a self-satisfied pleasure out of saying who’s in and out. I hope I get a chance to meet him some day so I can tell him so to his face.
A brief Google search reveals some additional people (both among the original 150 invited signers and not) who didn’t sign the Manhattan Declaration: John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, Mike Horton, and Douglas Wilson. There’s also Niel Nielson, who did sign, but only with great reluctance.
Every one of these men (side note: I’ll bet you my life savings that not one name out of those original 186 was female) is Reformed. And every one didn’t sign the declaration because Catholics and Orthodox signed it. Some of them went so far as to suggest that we Protestants should put together our own declaration with the exact same content, but without all those Catholic and Orthodox signatures.
These people make me ashamed to call myself a Christian.
(Addendum: I found a third sort of non-signer: David Bayly, who agrees with the content of the declaration but thinks that it will mostly serve as a tool to stroke the egos of the signers and that the people who sign are unlikely to actually do anything about these issues. Obviously I disagree about whether trying to save Terri Schiavo was the best use of his time and resources, but I respect him for living out his faith humbly and actively, rather than bombastically.)