Westminster Declaration 2010: a declaration of what?

On Easter Sunday 4 April, Christians in the UK launched The Westminster Declaration – a statement which describes itself as being inspired by the Manhattan Declaration in the USA and is concerned with three specific areas

“Protecting human life, protecting marriage, and protecting freedom of conscience are foundational for creating and maintaining strong families, caring communities and a just society. Our Christian faith compels us to speak and act in defence of all these.”

The overall tone is reflective of an increasing sense of marginalisation and perceived discrimination against Christians – as exemplified in the recent case of Shirley Chaplin and others. Thus this  line in the prologue:

As UK citizens we affirm our Christian commitment both to exercise social responsibility in working for the common good and also to be subject to all governing authorities and obey them except when they require us to act unjustly (my emphasis)

After just under three weeks the Declaration now has over 30,000 signatures and growing. I’ve clipped in the full text below.

There are many well known names within UK evangelical scene and beyond listed as signatories – including Lord Carey of Clifton (the former Archbishop of Canterbury), two principals of UK Bible Colleges (Simon Steer, Steve Brady) and  which have a very similar ethos to where I work in IBI, Chris Wright (who needs no introduction on this blog), Cardinal O’Brien of the Catholic Church in Scotland, leaders of organisations like CARE, EA, OM, YWAM, Elim Churches, and Gerald Coates founder of Pioneer, Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream – and so on.

Now I have a huge respect for and admire many of these original signatories that I know of, have met, have read or have heard speak.

Yes, I fully concur with the section on human life and the need to protect the vulnerable. I really like the breadth of this section, who it includes and the inclusion of justice in trade and economics. Yes in future (or already), Christians may need to be willing to face legal sanction for resisting the law of the state on grounds of conscience. I see this as a qualitatively different order of issue to the second one in the Declaration – that of marriage. The former concerns life and death issues to protect those who can’t protect themselves. The latter concerns sexual ethics of consenting adults within a plural secular democracy.

But I question much of the tone of the Declaration.

What is the declaration is a declaration of? To me in places it reads like a ‘declaration of war’ – ‘we refuse to comply’; ‘we refuse to submit to any edict ..’; we will not be intimidated by ..’. Is this the start of a USA style culture war in the UK?

On the section on marriage, the statement talks of rejecting any attempt to force Christians to equate other forms of sexual partnership with marriage. What does this actually mean in practice?

The State can’t force you to change your beliefs anyway. It’s conceivable that it might attempt by law to sanction / fine / even imprison Christians who refuse to marry homosexual couples or allow them to use church premises (for example). Is this what is mind here?

And how are Christians to refuse to submit? This overall tone is pretty aggressive and the Declaration I think needs to clarify what resistence looks like.

It also calls the State to “honour, promote and protect marriage” (this must mean legislation) which is “divinely ordained”. Sure a Christian believes marriage is divinely ordained. I do. But there is nothing here, apart from a brief mention of the the privilege of living in a democracy,  to acknowledge that UK Christians are a very small minority in one of the most secular countries in Europe, if not the world. Christendom is long gone but you would not know it from this document.

There is nothing here about the reality that as we seek freedoms for ourselves that we are also (whether we realise it or not) seeking the same freedoms for those with whom we might radically disagree. In a plural democracy, the pursuit of freedoms for ourselves works both ways. The Westminster Declaration is woefully silent about these realities.

Too much of the Declaration reads like a self-interested document insisting on ‘our rights’. It may mobilise Christians to action, but I wonder what secular people will make of it. Can Christians’ undoubted rights to speak and have a voice and follow their conscience within a liberal democracy not be articulated with a more gracious and realistic attitude? There is little sense of ‘neighbour love’ here – love of those who are religiously and ethically and culturally opponents of the Christian faith.

Sure this is just my opinion and sure I may be accused of being naive,  but there seems to be too much power language here and not enough Jesus.

But here is the text and you can make up your own mind:

Human Life

We believe that being made in the image of God, all human life has intrinsic and equal dignity and worth and that it is the duty of the state to protect the vulnerable. We will support, protect, and be advocates for such people – including children born and unborn, and all those who are sick, disabled, addicted, elderly, in single parent families, poor, exploited, trafficked, appropriately seeking asylum, threatened by environmental change, or exploited by unjust trade, aid or debt policies. We pledge to work to protect the life of every human being from conception to its natural end and we refuse to comply with any directive that compels us to participate in or facilitate abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or any other act that involves intentionally taking innocent human life. We will support those who take the same stand.

Marriage

We pledge to support marriage – the lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife. We believe it is divinely ordained, the only context for sexual intercourse, and the most important unit for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all. We call on government to honour, promote and protect marriage and we refuse to submit to any edict forcing us to equate any other form of sexual partnership with marriage. We commit ourselves to continue affirming what we believe as Christians about sexual morality, marriage, and the family.

Conscience

We count it a special privilege to live in a democratic society where all citizens have the right to participate in the political process. We pledge to do what we can to ensure our laws are just and fair, particularly in protecting vulnerable people. We will seek to ensure that religious liberty and freedom of conscience are unequivocally protected against interference by the state and other threats, not only to individuals but also to institutions including families, charities, schools and religious communities. We will not be intimidated by any cultural or political power into silence or acquiescence and we will reject measures that seek to over-rule our Christian consciences or to restrict our freedoms to express Christian beliefs, or to worship and obey God.

Commitment

We call upon all those in UK positions of leadership, responsibility and influence to pledge to respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold these beliefs and to act according to Christian conscience.

4 thoughts on “Westminster Declaration 2010: a declaration of what?

  1. you captured my concerns succinctly (as ever) and point up why I am increasingly seen as some sort of nay-saying curmudgeon of dubious evangelical credentials by some of my contemporaries who are convinced that we are already in a culture war. I think that we are, but we’re fighting on many of the wrong fronts… And if we are too self-interested in all of this, rather than standing up for the poor, powerless and marginalised across the board (even where we morally or theologically disapprove of their beliefs or behaviour) then, to a large extent we deny what it really means to be a follower of the Christ that I read about in the Gospels.

  2. I don’t doubt for a moment the sincerity of those who drafted the declaration, that they are wanting to act for the poor, the powerless and marginalised as the first section says. Nor do I doubt that there are those whou would like to exclude Christians (and other religious groups) from the public square through legal force. But the approach of the Declaration comes over as negative, confrontational as well as unrealistic in assuming a special place in ‘ours’ by right. There seems to be little sense of negotiating constructively for a truly plural society.

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