Posts Tagged ‘Manhattan Declaration’

Manhattan Declaration Issues Not High on Jesus’s Priority Stack

December 10, 2009

Ellen Haroutunian’s recent piece about the Manhattan Declaration, posted on her blog site (Seeking Our Living Orthodoxy), is a powerful call to Christians to live their faith.

The Manhattan Declaration, crafted by a group of conservative Christian leaders, identifies three main areas of concern for modern Christians: abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious liberty. Has anyone noticed anything strange about this selection? Yes, that’s right. It doesn’t map to the concerns of Jesus, the founder of Christianity. Jesus did not even mention them.

This is not to say they aren’t important, but why are they so high on the priority stack, and why is there no mention of Jesus’s own priorities?

For starters, I would have expected to find a list of concerns based on Jesus’s teachings about how we treat the poor, the sick, and those who suffer persecution. The Manhattan Declaration might have called for universal healthcare, an end to genocide and human rights abuses, and a concerted effort to end poverty and hunger throughout the world. Instead, the three issues spotlighted in the declaration reflect the political agendas of its authors, for whom poverty, healthcare, and human rights abuses are apparently peripheral or unimportant.

Once again, I would like to know when conservative Christians and the Catholic Church are going to speak out against Uganda’s persecution of homosexuals. Is the Church silent about this because of Uganda’s large Catholic population, or is it because the Church doesn’t really believe the words of its catechism about homosexuality? (Homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” and “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”) New legislation requiring the death penalty for homosexual acts will probably be enacted soon. I would expect that Christians, whose savior died at the hands of his persecutors, would speak out against the persecution of homosexuals. If not, then I would like to know what Christianity is for? Is it only about condemning abortion and homosexuality and constraints on its own power?  

I found the following paragraph from Ellen’s piece particularly compelling:

To take a real “stand” that flows from love would mean an incarnational and consistent engagement with the people that this document affects. Seriously, how many babies are we willing to adopt? How much child care will we subsidize out of our own pockets? Have the declaration writers invited their gay neighbors to dinner yet? Have you? Are the authors willing to move to the Congo and die alongside those being extinguished by ethnic hatred there? Are any of us willing to go that far? You have to admit, a bunch of middle- to upper-middle-class white guys doing that would certainly grab media attention and maybe make an impact that would shake the core of this self-centered world. It might even make a real difference the way that sanctions and bombs have not. Call me cynical, but something tells me this is not in the plans for the writers of this document.

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Gay Marriage in the Manhattan Declaration: The Same Dull Edge as Before

December 7, 2009

About a month ago, a group of conservative Christian leaders penned a document identifying three main issues of concern to modern Christians: abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious liberty. The document, called “The Manhattan Declaration,” has been publicized and disseminated through conservative news and opinion media, and supporters are urged to sign on for what is hoped will be a massive display of resolve and solidarity.   

It will come as no surprise that the declaration opposes same-sex marriage. But one might expect that, after years of intense debate over this issue, opponents would finally have honed their arguments to the point of maximal clarity and persuasiveness. Instead, their case has the same dull edge as before. The only thing that has been perfected in this document is its sickening and insidious “love the sinner, hate the sin” veneer. 

Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum has been urging his site visitors to sign the declaration. “Read its carefully written and quite sober defense of traditional moral and social realities,” he writes.

I would emphatically disagree that the Manhattan Declaration is “carefully written.” In particular, the key paragraph justifying the privileging of heterosexual marriage is verbose and nearly incomprehensible. I believe it could be reduced to a single sentence. Here’s the unreduced version:

Marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman, and the comprehensive, multi-level sharing of life that marriage is includes bodily unity of the sort that unites husband and wife biologically as a reproductive unit. This is because the body is no mere extrinsic instrument of the human person, but truly part of the personal reality of the human being. Human beings are not merely centers of consciousness or emotion, or minds, or spirits, inhabiting non-personal bodies. The human person is a dynamic unity of body, mind, and spirit. Marriage is what one man and one woman establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life at every level of being–the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual—on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which the spouses become one flesh, not in some merely metaphorical sense, but by fulfilling together the behavioral conditions of procreation. That is why in the Christian tradition, and historically in Western law, consummated marriages are not dissoluble or annullable on the ground of infertility, even though the nature of the marital relationship is shaped and structured by its intrinsic orientation to the great good of procreation.

In the first sentence, we read that “marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman…” This highly subjective opinion is presented as a “given,” and the authors quickly move on, apparently in the belief that no clarification is needed. But we are entitled to point out that sexual complementarity does not always occur between men and women, and so the authors’ generalization is unwarranted. Sex is about much more than gender. It is driven by a host of psychological and hormonal factors. Therefore, any gender combination (M-F, M-M, or F-F) can experience sexual complementarity—a mutual experience of attraction that is expressed sexually. The authors are plainly wrong to assert that sexual complementarity can be experienced by only one of these combinations.

But wait, there’s more. The clause also asserts that this particular sexual complementarity (between some men and women) makes marriage possible. Well, no, it doesn’t, unless we redefine marriage to include only recognized unions between men and women who experience sexual complementarity. But marriage is not universally defined that way. Same-sex marriage is legal in many locales, including five European countries and Canada, with more to follow before long. The definition of marriage has already broadened to include same-sex unions.

The author (Chuck Colson, perhaps) appears to be expressing a belief rather than presenting an argument. His belief is that marriage should be reserved for male-female couples.

But let’s read the entire sentence to see where it takes us:

Marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman, and the comprehensive, multi-level sharing of life that marriage is includes bodily unity of the sort that unites husband and wife biologically as a reproductive unit.

So, in his view, marriage might include procreation. That’s fine. I can agree with that. (I hope he’s not suggesting that marriage must include procreation. A lot of childless couples might bristle at the suggestion that their marriage is sub-standard or inauthentic!)

And then, about mid-paragraph, there’s this gem of verbosity:

Marriage is what one man and one woman establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life at every level of being—the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual—on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which the spouses become one flesh, not in some merely metaphorical sense, but by fulfilling together the behavioral conditions of procreation.

The spouses become one flesh by fulfilling the behavioral conditions of procreation. Is that clear? They can only become one flesh when there’s some kind of underlying biological, procreative…potential? Or mimicry of procreativity? (Going through the motions? Acting “as if…”?) No, that couldn’t be it. Whatever it is, I’ve lost it. I really don’t grasp the concept.

Okay. I think I’ve got it. He seems to be saying that males and female produce babies, so only sex between males and females is good.

Again, if that’s what he’s saying, he’s not producing an argument but stating a purely subjective belief, and the entire tedious paragraph could have been reduced to a single sentence:

Marriage should be reserved for male-female couples because only males and females can make babies together.

He is of course entitled to that belief, but reader beware: If you came to the Manhattan Declaration looking for reasons, justifications, or clarification about the mysteries of matrimony, you won’t find them here. As Alice B. Toklas said of the city of Oakland, “There’s no there there.”

Why Panic Over the Changing Definition of Marriage Won’t Sell for Long

November 27, 2009
Art courtesy of “Dean”

For years, one of the major arguments used by conservative Christians to oppose same-sex marriage has been that the millennia-old definition of marriage will change, causing a near collapse of Western Civilization. Here is a reality check for them:

First of all, the definition has already changed, both in this country and elsewhere in the world. The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, Norway, and Sweden have already granted same-sex marriage (SSM) the same legal status as opposite-sex marriage. In the U.S., five states have recognized same-sex unions, classifying them as “marriage.” The list of countries poised to legalize SSM is growing. These include Nepal, Portugal, Iceland, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Argentina, Venezuela, and South Africa.  If present trends continue, we can expect to see near-universal acceptance of SSM in Western liberal democracies. Resistance will continue in cultural backwaters like Uganda, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, and Jasper, TX.

Secondly, the definition of marriage has been anything but stable over the centuries. Most people now realize that polygamy has been considered a form of marriage in some societies. What many people do not realize, however, is that SSM has been around for a very long time. It was practiced in ancient China, in the early Roman Empire, and during the early Christian era. The historian John Boswell wrote a study called “Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe” (1995).

Third, we shouldn’t be so troubled that a word’s definition has changed somewhat. It happens all the time. Since when did religious conservatives become so alarmed about semantic drift? Anyway, if I thought we could improve the lives of millions of people by changing the definition of the word “apple,” I’d be more than happy to call it a “fubble” or whatever else you like. Words are only our tools, not our masters, and they are not nearly as important as people.

Wikipedia offers the following examples of words that have undergone semantic drift:

“Mouse” was originally a rodent. Now it is also an input device.

“Guy” originally referred to any “person of grotesque appearance.” Then it just referred to any man. Now, it can also include women, as in “What do you guys think about this?”

“Democrat” had all the negative connotations of “demagogue” at the time of the American Revolution.

“Demagogue” originally meant “a popular leader.” Now it refers to a leader who panders to emotion and prejudice.

“Board” (verb) is used to mean, “enter an aircraft” as well as “walk on to a ship.”

“Broadcast” used to mean “to throw seeds out.”

“Kleenex” used to refer to a brand (only), and now it means “tissue.”

And let’s not overlook the words “gay” and “partner.” I am old enough to remember when people opposed to gay rights used to say they would never agree to using the word “gay” as a synonym for “homosexual.” But guess what! They’re doing it, all except a few die-hards who soldier on like aging hippies who swore they’d never cut their hair. As for the word “partner,” I can remember talking to my attorney fifteen years ago and referring to my “partner” in a context that should have made my meaning clear. He tried to correct me, saying, “Your boyfriend, you mean?” I replied that the individual in question was not a boy and was much more than a friend. These days, it is more likely that anyone insisting on “boyfriend” in that context would be corrected with, “Your partner, you mean?”

This panic over semantic drift of the word “marriage” is a sign that opponents of same-sex marriage are running out of arguments and know it. These efforts to stir up fear about a changing definition are doomed to fail because, basically, most people have far more serious matters to worry about. Sooner or later, even fundamentalists will realize that it takes much more than the lexical revision of a single word to bring about civilizational collapse. These days, there’s stiff competition from melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and species loss.

So, what does that leave? The slippery slope argument? Same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy and then on to bestiality and perhaps cannibalism? Apart from inherent weaknesses of the slippery slope argument (which is considered a logical fallacy), we need only look at the record of countries like Canada to realize that SSM has led to nothing else whatsoever. I was there recently and checked the newspapers in vain for any reports of increased bestiality or polygamy.

And what about the argument from Holy Scripture? Appeals to scriptural authority might stiffen the resolve of conservative Christians, but for the rest of us, such appeals are meaningless. The word on the street now is that Scripture is inconsistent and draconian, and that conservative Christians are inconsistent in their use of it. Scripture has lost too much credibility to serve as a guide for public policy concerning SSM.