The Manhattan Declaration: Continuing the Culture War
Last week a group of Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical leaders and scholars gathered in our nation’s capital to sign a new declaration. Trouble is, there’s nothing new in it. Drafted by culture war guru Chuck Colson and others, and signed by a broad range of Evangelicals, both cranks and royalty (Jim Dobson, Tony Perkins, Tim Keller, Ron Sider), the Manhattan Declaration begins with soaring and inspiring prose extolling the courage and heroism of the church from the Roman period to the 1960s. It begins, “Christians are heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s word, seeking justice in our societies, resisting tyranny, and reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed and suffering.” So far so good.
But that’s as far as it goes. The document then descends into the same old shibboleths about abortion, gay marriage, and religious liberty that have characterized the narrow agenda of the Religious Right for over a generation. So much for heroism.
Don’t get me wrong. The declaration is fine as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go very far, like a huge cannon that hisses and booms and turns out to be nothing but an oversized peashooter. Continuing the Evangelical culture war begun in the 1970s (now in the guise of an ecumenical confession), Mr. Colson et al. give full vent to the old paranoid rants over how Christians have been forced to violate their consciences due to a government overly officious in its devotion to the separation of church and state. Yes, to be fair, there have been such cases.
The declaration justifies passive resistance to governmental authority. Fine. Yet nowhere does it address the other glaring sins and wounds of our society, such as poverty, the growing disparity between rich and poor, racial prejudice, corporate greed, drugs and violence, AIDS, government corruption, imperialism, torture and the victims of war.
Why the silence? Well, as I’ve repeated ad nauseam in this blog, when one profits from a system, however broken it may be, one feels reluctant to rock the boat. The agenda of the “culture war” is perforce limited, since to do otherwise would involve our having to look at ourselves, repent and—gasp—change our own selfish lifestyles.
Like monkeys we hurl coconuts at the most broken elements in our society– the poor, the sexually broken, an incompetent government—but when placed in front of a mirror, we’re convinced the image reflected is some other monkey. And the corporate powers that really run this country like it that way, hence their having funded the Astroturf Summer (another brainchild of Mr. Perkins). It keeps the heat off the real bogeymen while giving us all a tidy sense of having done our religious duty.