Friday, November 27, 2009

Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience

This week, 150 Christian religious leaders unveiled the Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience. It's a manifesto signed by prominent Christian leaders that calls for staunch opposition to things like abortion and gay marriage. The Village Voice's Steven Thrasher spoke with one of the signers, Dr. Ronald Sider (pictured), a Canadian-born professor of theology at a Pennsylvania seminary and founder of Evangelicals for Social Action. Below is an excerpt from the interview.
The Village Voice reports:

Steven Thrasher: To you, what are the major issues of the Manhattan Declaration, and why did you sign it?

Dr. Ronald Sider: The three main issues are the sanctity of human life -- abortion, euthanasia, stem cells, and so on. The second is the whole issue of marriage. The third is religious freedom. I want to immediately say that they are not the only moral issues of our time. In my life, most of my concern has been about racism, economic justice for the poor, environmental issues, climate change, and so on. I am known in the Christian evangelical world as liberal. I'm a registered Democrat. My book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, is a blistering call for Christians to combat poverty. That's what the emphasis of my life has been. But I do care about the issues of sanctity of human life, marriage and religious freedom. That's why I signed the Manhattan Declaration. I agree with the statements.

Steven Thrasher: How do you feel about gay people wanting to live by these kinds of conservative principles in marriage? Isn't the desire for gay people to get married, build a life together, buy a house, raise some kids -- isn't that kind of a vindication of the values you promote?

Dr. Ronald Sider: It's better for the people involved, and better for the culture, if a gay person has one longer-term relationship than a whole bunch of temporary ones and promiscuity. It's pretty clear that that's a destructive way to live. I'm glad if a gay person has one longer term relationship, rather than a bunch of relationships. I don't think the culture needs to say that partnership is marriage. I think it would be entirely appropriate and there is a range of views on this in the evangelical community but I would be open to a legal category of civil partnership. Gay people could have a specified number of legal rights that would encourage their ongoing commitment. But what really matters, and what's really decisive, is what marriage means -- you may have seen Susan Shell, she's a liberal, and wrote a piece called "The Liberal Case Against Gay Marriage," and what she says is what I what I say -- that is, the reason every civilization in history has defined marriage between men and women, is that society has a lot at stake in preserving continuity, in a wholesome way. It's quite clear that when men and women who have sex and make babies stay together. It's better for their children, and it's better that children grow up with their moms and dads -- and that's why societies have defined marriage, to protect making babies. The real question is, what is marriage?

Steven Thrasher: The heart of what you are saying revolves around religious issues. Why should religious ideas form the basis of civil marriage -- not marriage in your church or anyone else's, but civil marriage?

Dr. Ronald Sider: This is precisely not a religious argument. It's an argument about what a society needs, to preserve itself, to preserve what is wholesome from generation to generation. The core of that argument is historic, from every civilization.

Steven Thrasher: But in our country, we find that in our Constitution, not in other civilizations. There is a pretty clear argument that denying gays the right to marry is a denial of the equal protection clause of the constitution. In fact, Ted, Olsen, no raging liberal, is getting ready to make that argument federal court.

Dr. Ronald Sider: You can say what you just said, but you're not listening to me. My argument was not a religious argument. It is about what marriage means. It's true, a lot of contemporaries have redefined marriage. Marriage now means an emotional, romantic relationship between people. If that is what marriage is, then it should ought to be available to gays or lesbians. But if marriage is what every culture has always said it was, then it makes no sense to offer it to everyone, and Olsen's argument doesn't hold.

Steven Thrasher: But as a matter of constitutional, civil law --

Dr. Ronald Sider: We have a couple hundred years of public law in this country on this. But nobody would argue that everybody ought to have identical things regardless of who they are. Children don't have identical rights; grandparents don't have identical rights with parents. It depends on who you are, what rights you properly get. It's not true somebody who is living in a relationship, which is not marriage, should have the rights of marriage. READ MORE