Saturday, November 28, 2009

Chuck Colson Supports Sharia

A group of religious leaders has released a statement making clear its distaste for gay marriage, abortion and so forth. You can click up top to read it. But let's be clear: This is, to put it mildly, not big news. After all, a group like this releases a statement like this every couple of years. And it wasn't as though we thought Bishop Dolan was going to rush out and start performing same-sex weddings.

There are some things worth mentioning about this particular document, though. In ascending order of significance, there are these:

First, it is called "the Manhattan Declaration." Not that they were trying to provoke anybody by naming their statement after the gayest place in America. It's just that the Gomorrah Marriott was booked that weekend.

Second, the people who signed it form a large group, and many of them are perfectly respectable representatives of major church bodies, especially the Romish and Baptist. But quite a number are oddballs or worse: consider Bob Duncan and Martyn Minns, the Anglican schismatics; Peter Akinola, the Nigerian bishop whose hatred of gay people is such that he has moved to deny them such basic civil rights as freedom of speech and assembly; Jerry Falwell's kid; Dinesh D'Souza (man! Remember that guy? Who knew he was still around?); Watergate conspirator Chuck Colson and Iraq war promoter Michael Novak. (Also, a seminary classmate of Father A.'s, whom we always suspected of being a bit dopey.)

Oh, and another thing about the signatories. Not a single one is identified as a Lutheran. Were we on the board of ALPB, LCMC, CORE or Lutherans for Life -- not to mention a member of the Missouri Synod -- we might be a little offended.

Third, the statement itself is comically long at 4,800 words. (That's about 20 pages, if it were typed and double-spaced). Heavens, people! How self-important are you, to imagine that we have enough time in our lives to actually read something like that? You could have released a document that said, "We don't like gays or want them to have civil rights, we don't like abortion and don't want it to be available" and we could all have said, "Quelle surprise," and it would have had the same impact.

Fourth, it makes a specious claim to a place in the civil rights movement, invoking the name of Martin Luther King and laying out a platform of civil disobedience. This final paragraph is worth mocking in detail:

Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted

suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.

Where to begin with this piece of intellectually dishonest drivel?

First off, it seems that the signatories have forgotten where they live. They imagine a nation in which basic human freedoms, such as religion and free speech, are not guaranteed by law -- Akinola's Nigeria, perhaps. In the United States, there is a significant body of legal discourse devoted to keeping the claims of God separate from those of Caesar. It is, frankly, impossible to imagine any situation in which a member of the clergy (much less Dinesh D'Souza) was "forced" to bless anybody's marriage. The authors surely know this; they are simply resorting to the sort of scare tactics best left to the anonymous emails debunked on Snopes.

What very well may happen, of course, is that certain religious institutions -- hospitals, for example -- may be required to forgo government funding if they don't want to follow the government's rules. Heck, no subjunctive is required; this already happens, left and right. And guess what? Nobody really cares, except for the researchers who don't have access to stem cells and the women who need a different hospital. And maybe hospital administrators, desperate to make their balance sheets add up. This is a serious commitment, a kind of institutional asceticism -- but it ain't exactly Birmingham Jail.

In fact, their claim regarding civil rights depends upon a twisted vision of how rights, including he rights of religious communities, actually work in a secular society. Here's a sample:

No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage. Marriage is an objective reality—a covenantal union of husband and wife—that it is the duty of the law to recognize and support for the sake of justice and the common good. [Blogger's note: Insert here technical query regarding common-law marriages. They are by definition non-covenantal, and yet recognized by law.] If it fails to do so, genuine social harms follow.

First, the religious liberty of those for whom this is a matter of conscience is jeopardized.

Second, the rights of parents are abused as family life and sex education programs in schools are used to teach children that an enlightened understanding recognizes as “marriages” sexual partnerships that many parents believe are intrinsically non-marital and immoral.

Third, the common good of civil society is damaged when the law itself, in its critical pedagogical function, becomes a tool for eroding a sound understanding of marriage on which the flourishing of the marriage culture in any society vitally depends.

You do see the idea here, don't you? The argument boils down to this: (1) marriage is not defined by a legal covenant, but by a divine ordinance which the law is obliged to respect; (2) religious communities have a right to have their convictions incorporated not only into civil law but also into other public institutions, such as schools; (3) the good of society depends -- even absent empirical evidence, which may exist but which they do not present here because they aren't making an empirical argument -- upon the acceptance of their particular religious views.

The implicit assumption of this document is that civil laws must be shaped by divine laws, a traditional position, but one difficult to maintain in a society without an established religion.

The objections are obvious. While D'Souza is a notorious opponent of church/state separation, his Baptist co-signatories are heirs to a long and distinguished history in that department. They have just thrown it out the window.

At a practical level, it is the sort of thinking on display here that gives a foothold to practices that would surely appall the signatories. We are thinking, specifically, the claim of Muslim minorities to be governed by Sharia rather than civil law, or, as those minorities grow in number, to insist that the rest of society be legally required to conform to Islamic standards.

This is neither hyperbole nor reductio ad absurdum. To the degree that religious principles are allowed to shape civil law, above and beyond the private conscience and popular consent of the governed, a society risks the freedom of each religious community from the other.

Or, to put it bluntly, the Manhattan Declaration is Step One toward the outlawing of Mohammand cartoons -- and the legal establishment of polygamy in America.

1 comment:

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Well put. I really don't understand why some Christian leaders don't get it that when they want things Their Way, that opens the door for others to have things their way, such as devil worshipers, witches, other types of religions less compatible with Christianity than is the Islamic faith. Blinders, blinders.