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Who’s Who and What’s Up with the Manhattan Declaration

photo: bastique via Flickr

photo: bastique via Flickr

I’ve been looking at the list of signers on the conservative “Manhattan Declaration” that was released yesterday.

One group of signers are the leading culture warriors and theological purists in the Roman Catholic church. Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia was joined by conservative archbishops like Chaput (Denver), Dolan (NY), Kurtz (Louisville), Naumann (KC Kansas), and Wuerl (DC), and bishops like Malone (Portland ME), Olmsted (Phoenix),  Sheridan (Colorado Springs), and Cordileone (Oakland). Many of these were part of the efforts in Maine to overturn same-sex marriage, and are pushing against the DC city council over the same issue.

But notice who *isn’t* on that list. Other than Rigali, no active cardinals signed on (no Mahony in LA, George in Chicago, or O’Malley in Boston), nor any of the retired ones. This isn’t a broad representation of the leadership of the USCCB, but a narrow slice of it — those concerned with theological purity, both inside and outside the church.

Another group that’s easy to spot are the evangelicals: James Dobson and Jim Daly from Focus on the Family, Chuck Colson, Jonathan Falwell, Richard Land, Russell Moore (Dean of Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Louisville), Tony Perkins, and various others. They’ve been fighting their purity battles as well, not only in political circles but also the in-house battles within their groups and denominations.

A third group, and less obvious unless you follow the doings of the Episcopal church, are four Anglicans: Bishops Peter J. Akinola of Nigeria, Martin Minns of the Convocation of Anglicans of North America, and Robert William Duncan of the Anglican Church of North America, as well as David Anderson of the American Anglican Council.All four of these are part of the conservatives who have split off from the Episcopal Church, when the election of a female archbishop and a gay bishop proved too much for them. These are the Anglican counterparts to the RC purists.

What makes these three groups interesting to me is the rather unnatural alliance among them. They may be united on abortion, gays, and a desire to be able to practice discrimination in their secular practices without breaking the law, but there are a lot of things that divide them.

Catholics and evangelicals have a long history of mistrust. Theologically, Catholics view evangelicals as lacking in respect for the hierarchy of the church, while evangelicals look askance at Catholic rituals, vestments, and papal authority. On political issues, they are similarly divided. As long as “culture of life” only means “abortion,” things are fine between these groups; once you start talking about capital punishment, however, they are at opposite ends of the spectrum.The USCCB has been on record calling for the abolition of the death penalty for decades, while resolutions by the Southern Baptist Conference and the National Association of Evangelicals demonstrate their strong support for it. Similarly, despite Benedict’s outreach to disaffected Anglicans, even the conservative Anglicans like being Anglicans.

So why unite on these issues?

Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin has an idea about that:

While on the face of it, this manifesto purports to be a rededication to fight two specific political issues, I think that this is but surface dressing for a deeper meaning.

This is not a war over civil marriage definition – nor, indeed, has that ever been the real motivation behind anti-gay marriage drives. Rather, this is a war over religious domination, a fight over who is “really a Christian” and an effort on the part of a long-suffering religious subset to spite those who have long had what they coveted.

And what they have coveted is power — inside the church and out in the political world. As the Washington Post notes today, “Some political activists said the declaration was evidence of evangelical leaders trying to lure back Catholics who voted Democratic in 2006 and last year.”

I sense that we’re going to be seeing and hearing a lot from these folks, so get used to it. This is an opening salvo in a new round of the culture wars. But these warriors are going to have a tough time keeping this group together, because there is a lot that divides them. While there are short term benefits to this partnership, the battles each group is fighting for purity inside their own community will, in the long run, make it harder for them to keep their alliance for purity together with the others.

Stay tuned.

* * *

One last thing. Before anyone starts talking about yanking tax exemptions, take a deep breath and do some reading at the IRS website. According to the IRS, a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization (like a church but also including groups like the Humane Society) cannot endorse candidates, but they can speak out on issues, lobby their elected officials and unelected government bureaucrats, and advocate for ballot propositions. They can financially back their words with lobbying efforts, as long as the spending doesn’t amount to a “substantial part” of their overall budgets. This document and the related political efforts aren’t even close to crossing that line. More on all this can be found on the IRS FAQ.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.