THE MANHATTAN DECLARATION -
WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH EVANGELISM

July 31, 2010

Cultural renewal requires organizations dedicated to promoting a properly conservative understanding of society based on a proper understanding of God and man, and dedicated to getting people who have this understanding into positions of leadership.

On November 20, 2009 a group of prominent Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical Christians promulgated the Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto of Christian resistance to the legitimization of homosexuality, to abortion and euthanasia, and to the erosion of religious liberty. Although the Manifesto has drawn understandable fire from the Left, it has also been criticized heavily by many conservative Protestants, a group one would expect to support it. And therein lies a tale.

Two tales, to be precise. For one, many Protestants disagree with the Manifesto's assumption that Christendom is in essential agreement on Christian doctrine, as when it says:

We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration . . .

. . . It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season.

Nowhere does the Declaration admit that Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians have fundamental disagreements over just what the Gospel is. The explicit positions of the Declaration concern homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia and religious liberty, issues on which all three of the main streams of Christianity essentially agree. But when it implies that Christendom is in agreement on the Gospel, the Declaration strikes a fundamentally dishonest tone.

But we haven't time to tell this tale, important though it be. There is another issue here, not widely known, which must be brought to light. Many protestant critics say that the Declaration misleads by directing Christians to fight a culture war that is actually a waste of time. In their view, evangelism — urging people to repent and have faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins — is sufficient (as well as necessary) for broader cultural renewal and the fighting of the culture war. In their view the Manhattan Declaration is misguided, or even anti-Christian.

But this view is mistaken. Is evangelism necessary for cultural renewal? Certainly. Is it sufficient? Not a chance. And the belief that it is — widespread within Protestantism — is weakening conservatism, as it discourages many protestant conservatives from challenging the Left's control of American culture. Belief in the sufficiency of Christian evangelism must be opposed.

I will not argue here for the necessity of Christian evangelism for the cultural renewal at which conservative activism aims. Most conservatives understand that we need Christianity for America to flourish. My main point is one most leaders of conservative Protestantism don't seem to acknowledge: In order to renew American society it is not enough that many people have saving faith in Jesus Christ. Nor does it suffice for them to have correct views of God, man and society that result from a proper Christian catechism. And it isn't enough even that they vote for the more conservative candidates and ballot propositions. No, cultural renewal requires organization and action for the specific purpose of cultural renewal. And this won't happen spontaneously.

To be sure, many conservative Protestants are gung ho for political activism of the conventional kind such as voting and lobbying congress. But the historic mainstream of Protestantism has generally held a "two kingdoms" view in which the Kingdom of God is not overtly manifest in the political order and therefore the church is not to be directly involved in politics.

(Granted, the church, when doing its job, is indirectly involved in politics: Part of the church's duty is to teach Christian truths about morality, government and the proper ordering of society, all of which are foundational for political theory and practice. But the church — as opposed to individual Christians — is not to be involved in the actual operations of politics.)

And from here it's a relatively small step to the belief that politics isn't important. Consider, for example, the following words from Pyromaniacs, one of the most influential conservative protestant blogs, opposing the Manhattan Declaration:

. . . the gospel is ultimately a more persuasive and more effective means of individual and cultural transformation than all the philosophical arguments, moralistic reason, and academic logic the brightest minds and most eloquent orators of this world have to offer. [Emphasis added.]

The author, Phillip R. Johnson (not to be confused with Intelligent-Design guru Phillip E. Johnson), is only one of a very large number of protestant leaders who have stated — or at least strongly implied — that proclaiming the Gospel is sufficient for cultural renewal and therefore that conservative sociopolitical activism is a waste of time and at least somewhat contemptible. And there is accordingly a widespread belief among the (non-liberal) protestant rank and file that the only way properly to renew society is to preach the Gospel of salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. According to this model, social renewal can only occur spontaneously, as Christians come to reject their former false beliefs about how society should be ordered.

To be sure, many protestant leaders have not stated openly that Gospel proclamation is sufficient for cultural renewal. But so many of them have implied it, and so strongly, that this view is widespread within Protestantism. If these leaders have not meant to make this implication, it is their responsibility to make their actual beliefs clear. Until they do so, we are justified in assuming that Gospel sufficiency for social renewal is their position. And since very few thinkers have written about the actual mechanisms that drive cultural transformation and renewal, it is fully understandable that Protestant preachers, who are known to emphasize the sufficiency of Christ for personal salvation, would assume Gospel sufficiency also for cultural renewal.

But proclamation of the Gospel, although necessary, is not sufficient for cultural renewal. To see this, let's understand, at least in broad outlines, what "cultural renewal" means, and why belief in the Gospel is not sufficient to cause this renewal.

Cultural renewal means the renewal of American society's order, the vast complex of her laws, rules, regulations, customs, traditions, habits and so on. And to be renewed, this order would have to be changed so that it is no longer (as it is now) largely based on the false worldview of the Left, but instead reflects a more accurate worldview, one based on Christianity, on the accumulated wisdom of millennia of human experience, and on the unique experiences of the American people.

America's order was once broadly conservative (by contemporary standards), but liberals changed it through a centuries-long struggle that saw them seize control of the schools and universities, the news and entertainment media, the governmental and private bureaucracies and even — God help us! — many churches. Liberals now have near-total control over the institutions that tell Americans what reality is and how man should behave. When Americans tolerate mass immigration, a high illegitimate birthrate, widespread divorce and failure to marry, the legitimization of homosexuality and other sexual sins, the degradation of popular culture, the demonization of whites and Christians, increasing government intrusion into their lives, and the rest of the leftist ills we see all around us, they are not doing so spontaneously. They are doing so because our culture is whatever our rulers say it is, and our rulers mostly teach liberalism. Restoring a properly-ordered American culture will therefore not occur spontaneously. It will require deliberate action by non-liberals to retake control of the schools, the media, the governmental and private bureaucracies, and so on, so that the institutions having authority over society again teach, and rule in accordance with, a worldview that is more conservative, that is, more true.

And proclamation of the Gospel is not enough to bring about such a vast and fundamental transformation, for several reasons.

For one, both the Bible and common sense make clear that most people will not respond with genuine faith to the Gospel invitation. Those who believe will always be a minority. But even among the minority of those who believe, only an even smaller minority will be able to find one of the rare churches that teaches the entire biblical worldview, and therefore also teaches the biblical view of a properly-ordered society, including such elements as opposition to abortion and homosexuality, the importance of protecting marriage and the necessity of having a minimally intrusive government. Liberal churches, of course, teach liberalism. But even many (and probably most) evangelical churches teach mostly religious cliches, and one cannot form a correct view of what constitutes a properly-ordered society from cliches. By failing to teach correct biblical principles of social ordering, most evangelical churches are de facto (if not de jure) supporters of America's liberal order.

[I'm describing Protestantism, but it appears something similar is happening within American Catholicism. A writer whose name I don't recall once quipped that, aside from opposing abortion, the American Catholic bishops are like the Democrat Party leadership in clerical garb.]

And the bad news continues with one final point: Even if the new believer is fortunate enough to find a Bible-teaching church, he and other like-minded people will not spontaneously form themselves into groups or plan and carry out the activities necessary for cultural renewal.

Understand what's at stake: Without cultural renewal, the American people will not continue to possess sufficient personal virtue to sustain self-government, in which case our future will be either balkanization or tyranny. The first stages of these evils, in fact, have already arrived.

Cultural renewal to save our country will require both thinking true thoughts about our social disorder and its causes and taking action to remedy what ails us, and none of the existing conservative institutions delivers this combination. Politicians and political parties cannot afford to alienate voters by challenging our leftist status quo at the deep and decisive intellectual and spiritual levels. Private socio/cultural/political organizations such as Numbers USA or Focus on the Family lack the comprehensive worldview and sociopolitical understanding necessary for cultural change. The schools are dominated by the Left. And the church is not charged with leading a (socio-) political battle.

America's existing cultural order — consisting of all the left-leaning laws, rules, customs, habits and institutions — is not there because of the beliefs of John Q. Public. Most Americans, although they generally go along with our liberal order, are not particularly leftist in thought and deed. America's leftist order is here because leftists have organized themselves and taken effective action to bring it into existence. Our leaders rule in accordance with liberalism and John Q. Public goes along, as he always does. Although Christian evangelism is absolutely necessary as the foundation of a properly-ordered society, America's bad ordering will not go away spontaneously when more people come to faith in Jesus Christ. It will only be replaced when conservatives start doing the work of retaking control of America's ruling institutions. [Or, at the very least, creating parallel, non-liberal institutions that could one day form the basis of a renewed society.]

The conclusion is unmistakable: Cultural renewal requires organizations dedicated to promoting a properly conservative understanding of society based on a proper understanding of God and man, and dedicated to getting people who have this understanding into positions of leadership. America's current leaders mostly believe — and act in accordance with — liberalism, which explains America's decline. Christian evangelism is not enough. We also need culturally conservative evangelism.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.