Friday, November 27, 2009

Manhattan Declaration & Canadian Anglicans

I have been pre-occupied with preparing for my January doctoral residency. At the same time, I unwittingly awaken my 'geek spirit' as I twiddle with computer upgrades, backups and all those Windows 7 stuff. That is not all. I am also in the process of upgrading my Vista Home Premium to Windows 7 Professional, which requires a custom upgrade. With Black Friday deals all around, I am surely distracted. Eek!

Rest assured, my readers that I am still mindful of my humble little blog. This week, I read a couple of books by some heavyweight theologians: Miroslav Volf, NT Wright, ...... (you know). At the same time, I am reflecting on two events. The first is on the Manhattan Declaration and the second on the latest result of the unpopular law court case between the main Anglican diocese and breakaway churches.

Published on November 20th, 2009, this declaration is essentially a statement that supports the following:
"We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are: (1) the sanctity of human life, (2) the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, and (3) the rights of conscience and religious liberty."
According the the press release, the 4700-word document calls all Christians to "to adhere to their convictions and informs civil authorities that the signers will not—under any circumstance—abandon their Christian consciences." Most prominent in such a declaration is the list of religious leaders that support the statement. Some of the signers include prominent figures like Church Colson (Prison Fellowship), James Dobsom (Focus on the Family), Al Mohler (President of Southern Baptist Seminary), Richard Mouw (President of Fuller Seminary), David Neff (Editor of ChristianityToday), Ravi Zacharias, Ron Sider, William Donohue, Joni Eareckson Tada, and others often associated with the 'religious right.' Two professors of schools I am directly associated with, Dr JI Packer (Regent-College) and Dr Dennis Holllinger (President, Gordon-Conwell) also signed the declaration. This statement seems to be gathering momentum even as this is being written. Within a week, the number of signers are approaching 170,000.

The first issue is essentially a support for pro-life. The second is for the traditional view of marriage being between a man and a woman. The third is for freedom of religion and the need to exercise one's conscience accordingly. While the document is not something that is legislated by law, it can be seen as an attempt to make the voice of the religious right heard. This is especially when the political establishment in the US appears to be leaning more to the left, (the more liberal side), thanks to the political rise of Obama and his adherents. I have heard several comments from religious leaders down South that the US is heading toward more religiously liberal lifestyle. Just last week, someone shared with me about the growing suspicions conservatives have over Obama's faith, that he is leading to US to greater secularism.


1) Firstly, is it a necessary document?
I think we need to remember one benefit, that this document is something that is drafted to make a stand for future generations. 'Not making a stand' is already an opinion. While I may not classify this in the same category of the ancient creeds (Apostles, Nicene), this essentially highlights the troubles that many Christian leaders have to face in the light of a post-postmodern era. In other words, what is traditionally believed are no longer automatically believed. The younger generations are beginning to ask why. Youngsters are beginning to question the practicality of holding on to traditional beliefs. In other words, if nothing is done, the sacred cows of yesterday will be slaughtered in the secular abattoirs of tomorrow. If Christians at large do nothing to stem the tide of liberalism, traditional beliefs will be history. From a political standpoint, the timing of the press release tries to apply pressure on the senate not to support abortion funding.

Personally, one does not have to make an official statement in order to prove one's conviction. Yet, I will not be too quick to dismiss the significance of such a document. If we do not agree with it, do not sign it. However, let us not be too loud with our disagreement that our actions undermine the intent of the document. In other words, what may not be helpful for us, may be helpful to others. Whether this is necessary or not, depends on where we come from. As far as the future generations is concerned, I think it is necessary for our younger generation, our children to know about our stand. Otherwise, when people ask our kids about their stand regarding abortion, same-sex marriage and conscience, they may reply: "I don't know." Worse, they may shrug it off by saying: "Whatever!"

2) It will probably create a backlash, (even from moderate evangelicals)
I know that some other respected evangelicals are skeptical about it, like Tim Challies and my Regent professor Dr John Stackhouse disagree with this statement. The latter even says it is a 'waste of time' and his blog has generated quite a vigorous discussion. Dr Stackhouse makes some pertinent observations, which I tend to agree with. However, I have this nagging feel that even if we do not agree with it, we should not block others from doing it. That said, by questioning whether it is a 'waste of time,' it may further discredit the statement. I would prefer Dr Stackhouse to put 'not necessary' instead of the more provocative 'waste of time.' Tim Challies highlights some insightful views by non-signers such as John MacArthur and James White.

Many on the evangelical right may have no qualms in signing the document. Those who oppose will not sign. What remains to be seen is the silent moderate majority. This moderate party can become a bridge not only between these two sides, but also with non-believers. One of the most prominent moderates is the Emerging Church movement. They remain silent. Perhaps, their views are still 'emerging.' Perhaps, they do not feel it necessary to be involved directly. For me, any public and visible press release will create an equal and opposite reaction. This is how the world is. Freedom of speech always means that people are free to agree or disagree. This is a good thing. 'A backlash' is not necessarily a bad thing. It can keep one humble and to recognize that we need to keep one another in healthy check.

Let me say that merely signing the declaration by no means a magic solution to the three complex issues. It is a statement. Period.

3) Declarations Potentially Polarises
While it strengthens current convictions, it also fortifies the opposition. In a nutshell, it polarizes evangelical camps further from each other, forcing some to take sides unnecessarily. This is for me the single most distressing effect of the Manhattan Declaration. Evangelicals are not known to be completely united. This statement may further distance any fragile truce between parties that disagree. This leads me to the next thought about the Anglican Church in Canada further below.

In summary, I feel that the Manhattan Declaration is a document made with the intent to preserve traditional beliefs which is increasingly being threatened. While it may not be the most palatable piece of draft for some, it remains a statement that one can freely sign or not sign. There is no compulsion on anyone that one has to decide. Having said that, this statement forces us to examine our willingness to make our convictions known, especially to a growing and questioning younger generation. Those of us growing up with traditional upbringing do not have to deal with a 'whatever' culture, that our younger generations have to deal with. Without specific statements of belief, people can hop onto any bandwagon of beliefs (and unbeliefs), without a proper sense of what is right or wrong. Too much swimming in an ocean of 'gray,' can eventually drown one's sense of identity. In other words, be prepared to make your stand, albeit a quiet one, especially when others ask us about our opinion. I am ready to sign the document, as a symbol of what I believe rather than to militantly influence others. This I do so, without wanting to condemn or discredit others who will not. I respect them for their reasons for not doing it. By understanding the reasons why each of us do or do not sign, it cultivates an understanding that moves toward unity.

My advice: Do not look at names of people before you decide. Ask your conscience. Let your faith in God determine your action. If you want to sign the Manhattan Declaration, click here. Otherwise don't bother.

Just today, I learned that the main Anglican diocese has won the lawsuit against several breakaway Anglican Churches in BC Canada. At stake are four properties owned by the Anglican Diocese based in New Westminster. While the courts declare that these properties are owned by the Anglican Church, the present parishes were told to 'settle' with the diocese concerned.

Legally speaking, if the breakaway parties no longer belong to the Anglican Church, they have no right to occupy the properties.  I think the decision was made that allows both parties (diocese and the breakaway churches) room to practice their convictions. The diocese gets to keep the title deeds, while the breakaways get to keep their convictions intact. Here are three brief thoughts.

1) In the first place, I feel that the moment the case went before the law courts, it is already a lose-lose situation for all. Why let the secular courts decide on matters of faith?

2) Secondly, this may be the best way forward. It lays to rest the polarising topic of same-sex marriage and allows the respective churches to move ahead with other more pressing matters of faith, like pastoral care, spiritual growth, community outreach among the parishes. It is costly for the parishes to move to another location. Yet, do not underestimate the people of God when they come together. Like the early Church, the more they were persecuted, the more the Word of God flourish.

3) Thirdly, I remember a recent conference at Gordon-Conwell seminary on "Renewing the Evangelical Mission." One of the memorable takeaways is that a revived Church needs to have a "willingness to suffer." A Church that is too comfortable often does not grow as much. Like what they used to say about the early Church in Jerusalem. The reason why there is Acts 8:1, is because the disciples fail to obey and follow through on Acts 1:8.
"And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria." (Acts 8:1)

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

I pray that the churches who lose their properties will indeed gain a revitalized faith. Perhaps, their flock will grow even more.



Tsk said...

Nice to hear from the canadians. Thanks

YAPdates said...

Thanks for your comment.

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