Goodstein of The New York Times Muddles Manhattan Declaration

The way Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times tells it, the Christian leaders behind today’s Manhattan Declaration have declared same sex couples un-persons. She writes:

Citing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to civil disobedience, 145 evangelical, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders have signed a declaration saying they will not cooperate with laws that they say could be used to compel their institutions to participate in abortions, or to bless or in any way recognize same-sex couples. [emphasis mine]

What they actually say is they will not “bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent.”

The difference in wording is fundamental, if not immediately obvious. Far from refusing to recognize any human being who has entered into a homosexual partnership, the signers are convinced that they recognize such a person’s full humanity: a creature made in the image of God and designed by God for certain purposes and not for others, meaning that the human person tends to flourish through certain activities commensurate with her design and purpose and is damaged by certain activities that run contrary to her design and purpose, even when those activities feel right.

This Christian anthropology, not some Orwellian refusal to “in any way recognize same-sex couples,” prompted the signers not to bless or condone same-sex partnerships. The signers are convinced that such partnerships are not only forbidden by God but also do harm both to these couples and to society at large.

Goodstein and others are free to disagree with this perspective, and undoubtedly Colson, Princeton Professor Robert George and other signers are hoping for a robust discussion of the issues raised in the declaration. But what any lover of truth should want to avoid is setting up straw men in place of their opponents’ actual positions.

A first step toward a conversation that generates more light than heat is, again, understanding the central role that a Christian anthropology plays in the Manhattan Declaration.

For instance, when the signers insist that religious freedom, traditional marriage and the sanctity of life are more basic for Christians than certain other important issues, such as global poverty, it’s not because the signers don’t care about those suffering daily in the developing world. Anyone familiar with the work Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries is doing in places such as Rwanda, for instance, knows better.

When Colson and the other signers say that a commitment to the sanctity of life, traditional marriage and religious freedom is more basic, they don’t mean that doors or walls or kitchen cabinets or dining tables are bad or useless. They mean the house cannot long stand unless the foundation is sound. Neglect the foundation and no amount of concern for the poor will do any long term good, evidenced by the damage inflicted by 50 years of government-to-government aid to developing countries, aid filtered through a faceless and highly secularized global development complex.

Priceless at any age, made in the image of God, male and female, creatures whose nature calls for religious liberties commensurate with their inherent freedom and dignity: Get the human person right and other goods things can follow. Get the human person wrong and things fall apart.

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