Which Declaration?

Eeny meeny miny moe…

Two “Declarations” have been unleashed on the British Christian conglomerate this election, and they take rather specific approachs to prioritising what Jesus followers should be pushing at the politicians. Firstly we have the Westminster Declaration.

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 second offering is one that I heard last night from the lips of Steve Chalke. The Faithworks Declaration takes a slightly different approach to what are the essentials.

This is why we are calling on the incoming Prime Minister to:

  1. Recognise the important contribution that local churches and Christian charities have made historically, and can make in the coming years in providing services within local communities across the UK.
  2. Acknowledge the indispensible role that faith in Christ plays in the motivation and effectiveness of welfare programs developed by churches and Christian charities.
  3. Encourage and promote further initiatives and deeper partnership underpinned by legislation, which assess services based on best value and contribution to the whole community, without discriminating against the faith that is vital to the success of the work of churches and faith-based organisations.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all up for defending marriage etc, but reading these two summaries, one strikes me as being highly defensive (increasingly Christians always sound defensive and fundamentalist when trying to speak into society on the issue of marriage et al). The other strikes me as being far more proactive, promoting Christian love and mission and asking Government to recognise the good that the Church does and to endorse it and work with it.

I’ve criticised Steve Chalke in the past for getting the atonement very very wrong, but on this issue I think he’s absolutely nailed it. If we want to evangelise the nation we need to be known as the people who love, not the people who condemn.

Though let’s be fair – the Westminster Declaration has a much better website…

53 Comments on “Which Declaration?

  1. The first bit of the WD might be taken as defensive, but I think overall it's a positive document. The things I liked about it are:

    – It seems to be a bit more assertive than just "we'd like a seat at the table along with everyone else, please"

    – There's a hint of the possibility of civil disobedience if things continue as they are (and rightly so)

    "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."

    – It recognizes that the foundation of all we do is a commitment to a certain set of beliefs and to worship and obey God.

    • I think my issue isn't what's in the Westminster Declaration but what's not in it. In that sense Steve Chalke's Faithworks Declaration is more grounded in the everyday life of non-Christians. It addresses the things that we do with them, not the things that we want to do ourselves.

  2. The Faithworks Declaration seems to want the Government to acknowledge the church's role in social action, but makes no mention of the beliefs that drive that. The Westminster Declaration does at least want the belief of the church to be considered, not just the social projects that it carries out.

      • That's not the same as articulating a distinct faith; saying there's a distinctiveness is all well and good, but only if you say what it is. Also, will anyone reading the declarations actually dig though the website to find it?

  3. I think part of the problem with the Westminster Declaration 'idea' for many of us in the C of E is the championing of it by Lord Carey. His continual appearance in the populist press has been a rather unhelpful contribution to the careful work of Archbishop Rowan. Bob Runcie had the decency to keep quiet once he retired – as has David Hope. George could learn a thing or two there….

    • I think the "careful work" of Rowan seems to have abundantly failed. The election of Glasspool acknowledges that "gracious restraint" is a fiction and Rowan will now have to choose between TEC or the Global South.

      • I suspect that Rowan will hear the appraoch of James Jones as a wise one. He's shown himself to be a both/and person rather an eitehr/or. The C of E is not like TEC or the Global South so you highlight a false choice. And George's decade of evangelism was hardly a roaring success was it?
        I think Ruth Gledhill has now got the measure of the C of E right in her video clip on her blog about George Carey's witness statement. And George has the ability to make the C of E look rather stupid and fundamentalist, whereas Rowan has the ability to make it look thoughtful and tolerant. As Ruth notes, most Christians in the C of E are 'liberal' (in the proper sense of that word) – generous and tolerant, not narrow and self referent.

            • I wonder, Canon Andrew, on the Last Day, whether many people will be condemned because their faith was too simple, too pious, too unsophisticated, too "stupid" and "fundamentalist". I do worry, however, that we who pride ourselves on our open-mindedness, thoughtfulness and tolerance will find that our elegant and logically impeccable rationalisations of sin have led us into trouble.

              • Surely no-one would be condemned because of the nature of their faith, their simplicity or their piety, even if this seems "stupid" to others? We may be condemned for our lack of compassion for our fellow human beings:-

                "Matthew 25 (end of the chapter) " They will reply , when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked or sick or in prison and not help you? and he will answer, "I assure you when you refused to help the least of my my brethren, you did so to me."

              • I think we are just using human terms Niall to try and describe something quite beyond our understanding. Once again, these words are inadequate.
                All I know in this case is that George Carey is making an unhelpful intervention and that will cause some to reject what might be good about the Westminster declaration.
                I actually agree with Peter that the Faithworks one is rather better. The Westminster one seems justly criticised for being based on a rather 'far right' American model.

                • Canon Andrew:

                  Do you honestly think that those who oppose gay marriage, abortion and embryo research, and don't believe that religion should be entirely barred from the public square, are on the "far right"?

                  That strikes me as a quite extraordinary and insulting slander, especially from someone who professes to be very keen on tolerance, generosity, open-mindedness etc.

                  My mother, for instance, holds to all these views, yet she will be volunteering in an African AIDS hospice for 2 months later this year. Is she a "far right" extremist?

                  Enough with the name-calling.

                  • Niall i think you need to read posts carefully and avoid generalisations and extrapolations that are not present. i called no one names. i simply wrote that 'The Westminster one seems justly criticised for being based on a rather 'far right' American model.' It has been criticised for that. i think the criticism is justified.

                    • I can only respond to the words you write. You wrote that you agree that the WD is based on a "far right" model. The plain meaning of that statement is that the WD is a far right document. Similarly, If I said of a Changing Attitude document that it was based on a "far left" or "sexually libertarian" model, the plain meaning of that would be that I thought the document was far left or sexually libertarian.

                      If that's not what you meant, fine, but it's not as if I'm distorting your words. For matter, if you don't think that it is ipso facto right-wing to be opposed to abortion or gay marriage, you have a great chance to clarify now.

                    • Niall I think Peter's response to you of four days ago is a good one: I think we have fantastic things to say about marriage and sex, but I wish we do so in a manner that highlighted the good and didn't always look for negative. The obsession of some with all the "bad" aspects of gay sex is nauseous.

                    • You completely ducked Niall's question which was whether you thought opposition to abortion and gay marriage was a "far right" position. Perhaps you'd be so kind as to deal with that issue.

                    • I thought it was clear from my response but let me spell it out again. Opposition to these things is not a far right response. Some presentations of opposition to these things look like they come from the far right.

                    • Explain how that works. How does the "presentation of opposition to these things" looks like it comes from the far right, but the "things" themselves aren't?

                    • The Westminster Confession looks like it is attacking one partly only.
                      Examples: the declaration does not take a stand against racism, whether open, or thinly disguised – the policies of the BNP come to mind or in a rejection of immigrants and genuine asylum seekers which is different when the incomers are white southern Africans.

                      The declaration does not take a clear stand against injustice in world trade and in the financial system which allows a few in our own western countries to grow obscenely rich, and all of us to benefit enormously, while third world countries continue poverty.

                      The declaration has nothing to say about the imbalance of wealth in our own country.

                      So it seems to attack the policies that the centre left have produced (as no one could argue that the current administration are left wing), and the promise of civil unrest is not in connection with items that are contained in the five marks of mission, but putting a very negative perspective on matters of human sexuality. It is about 'feel'. The Faithworks declaration manages to be more positive.

                    • Thanks Jill, I did look at that. I'm afraid the whole thing reminds me of the 'Moral Majority' thing that went on in the early 80s in America.

                    • Then you must have missed the bit which says 'It does not purport to be a Christian manifesto or a comprehensive statement of Christian doctrine, but rather deals explicitly with the growing problem of Christians facing discrimination, intimidation or even prosecution simply for expressing, or living according, to orthodox Christian beliefs.'

                    • No, I did see that Jill. I'm afraid that I am still reminded of the 'moral majority', and still find it doesn't 'scratch where I itch.' I shall not be signing it.

                    • Who does that leave? The immoral minority? I would be interested to know which part of the Westminster Declaration you object to. You don’t believe in strong families, caring communities and a just society? You don’t want to commit yourself to worship, honour and obey God, to exercise social responsibility in working for the common good, and to be subject to all governing authorities and obey them except when they require you to act unjustly? Or don’t you believe that candidates should pledge to respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience?

                      My oh my!

                    • There isn't much in this declaration for those who believe, for example, that
                      "caring communities and a just society" protects and values the relationships of gay people.

                      Caring communities and a just society sounds great, but different people have different ideas about what constitutes compassion and justice! I suspect my idea of a just society differs from yours and from those who wrote this declaration.

                    • Yes, Sue, I think you're right. Those who wrote this declaration don't want the relationships of gay people to be protected or valued.

                    • Jill:

                      If I'm honest, I'm not sure any Christian should be comfortable being a part of something called "The Moral Majority".


                      Of course "different people have different ideas about compassion and justice", but that isn't the end of the conversation. Some of those ideas will be much close to the Truth than others.

                      For instance, it seems to me to be stretching the meaning of the word "justice" to allow the abortion up to birth of disabled unborn children.

                      And yes I am "going on" about abortion, and no I'm not sorry. It is the preeminent moral issue of our time.

                    • Niall, you say ‘If I'm honest, I'm not sure any Christian should be comfortable being a part of something called "The Moral Majority".’

                      What a perfect example of how ‘labels’ plant ideas in people’s minds which are hard to eradicate! I happen to believe that most people in the UK (the majority) are fairly ‘moral’ (while we still have the remnants of the Judaeo-Christian ethic in our culture). But Andrew has used the term very successfully here, as you have immediately jumped to the intended conclusion by associating this Declaration (or at least my support of it) with right-wing extremists.

                      I can assure you that I am neither right-wing nor extremist, however.

                      Back to the Declaration – I now learn that election candidates of all three main parties have been advised not to sign it (although the LibDems deny this.) None of the parties is apparently willing to nail its colours to the mast. Whatever happened to integrity?

                    • Jill, my concerns about the Moral Majority are nothing to do with what Canon Andrew has said here.

                      I just think that the name "the Moral Majority" gives a false impression of what it means to be a Christian, and has the tang of self-righteousness. The whole point of Christianity is that "we all like sheep have gone astray" and need reconciliation. While we should be unashamed of arguing for morality, we ought not to call ourselves "moral".

                      We should resist the temptation to equate Christian living with bourgeois respectability. I'm not saying that you are doing so, but grouping together as the Moral Majority risks that.

                    • I quite agree, Niall – but it wasn't me who introduced the term, which I suspect was introduced to infer that those of us who support the Westminster Declaration are right-wing extremists.

                    • Jill, if you read the thread you will find that is not the case at all. What I made clear was that the Westminster Declaration had been criticised (read Andrew Brown and others) for having the 'feel' of something that comes from the extreme right in America – and the moral majority was exactly that. I explained to Peter that it was about feel and not suggesting that those who supported were right wing extremists. hope this clarifies once again. I have also been clear that I think George Carey's endorsement is bound to be unhelpful.

                    • Rule No 1 of revisionism is to smear your opponents, which can be done gradually and ever-so-subtly. There is nothing even remotely Falwell-esque about this simply worded Declaration.

                    • I wonder maybe if you are assuming that I support the abortion of a disabled foetus up until the day of birth ( I don't actually.) My post was really addressing the mistake you seemed to be making, that someone who didn't want to sign doesn't " believe in strong families, caring communities and a just society", when this was an unfair or glib assumption to make.
                      My recent post Come to me all who are heavy laden…

                    • Sorry if I offended you Sue. My point was really about the tendency of some in the Church and society to hastily change the subject when abortion comes up, "because there are lots of other big moral issues".

                • [Trying to keep stuff threaded together despite IntenseDebate's fixed width shrinking, this sort of links off the bottom of the very thin one]

                  So, when any ABC retires, he should nip off to a quite little cottage, never to be seen or heard of again? Do we want to lose that experience? Does that mean that you never express opinions related to posts you have previously held?
                  My recent post Free Speech?

                  • No, I do not express opinions publicly about posts I have previously held. (And neither have any other Archbishops that we can recall.) It is not helpful to the successor to do so and makes you look rather silly – which is how George is looking at present.

                    • My question was 'related to', and you have made reference to your role as a DDO to me. (I assume, by the way, that you're not claiming to have been an Archbishop :)

                      Other than Lord Carey being noted as 'Former Archbishop of Canterbury' I don't see anything in the declaration that refers to having been the Archbishop of Canterbury. The declaration isn't a CofE thing, let alone an Archbishop thing. Lord Carey would appear to have signed as a Christian and as a UK citizen – I assume that he is allowed to express opinions?
                      My recent post Free Speech?

                    • Fair comment hopeful Ordinand but I think George has made a great deal more comments recently related to this matter – the witness statement and calls for specifically christian judges trying cases in law are just two very recent examples. There is a difference between expressing opinions and making capital out of a former position in an attempt to push that opinion to the fore; I think George steps a long way over that line.

                    • On a slight historical note, it's actually quite hard to deduce what previous Archbishops of Canterbury did after retirement – until 1928 they all died in office. After that, they all retained postions in the House of Lords. Baron Lang, for example, spoke in favour of the Beveridge Report, and against obliteration bombing. I think we're probably still in a period of finding out what retired Archbishops do!
                      My recent post Free Speech?

                    • I think people's attitude to retired ABCs, or indeed retired senior bishops, speaking out is related to how sympathetic they are to the clergyman in question. For instance, I don't remember liberals criticising Richard Harries when he described Rowan Williams' position on embryo research as "absurd" *during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill*.

                      If George (God bless him!) was ABC now, and was being criticised by a liberal predecessor for disciplining TEC, I doubt that the revisionists would be getting all high-minded about it.

                    • I think Richard Harries was speaking in the context of a House of Lords bill rather than as an ex bishop. Lord Carey is not quite doing the same.

                      As to disciplining TEC – the Archbishop is just one of the Instruments of Communion and does not have the authority to discipline another province in the way that you are suggesting.

                      And I think youi would find that quite a number of actively gay clergy were ordained in the C of E whilst George was Archbishop. So there is no room for stone throwing from glasshouses unfortunately .

                    • I'm not sure how you see the distiction between being a member of the House of Lords, and an ex-Bishop. Both Lord Harries and Lord Carey are life-peers, I'm not aware thay have party allegiance, so presumably they speak from their own experience rather than any official party line. What makes one acceptable, and the other not?
                      My recent post Free Speech?

                    • I think the distinction is, Hopeful Ordinand, that Canon Andrew agrees with Richard Harries, but not with George Carey. I can't discern any other rationale behind the distinction. The House of Lords angle just sounds like special pleading to me, especially as Richard Harries is only in the HoL because he is an ex-bishop, and as you say the "convention" that ex-ABCs take a vow of silence on doctrinal controversy is hardly set in stone. I think Carey has decided – rightly, to my mind – that there are souls at stake, and that to not speak out because of church politics, or because it would make him unpopular with the complacent revisionists in the House of Bishops, would be a dereliction of his duty as a Christian.

  4. I think the “narrow” focus on issues of sexuality, life and marriage is at least defensible. Here’s one reason why:

    The Christian witness in these areas is unique. If we weren’t saying it, no-one else would be. It is a difficult, unpopular, counter-cultural message requiring real sacrifice. It is a despised, ridiculed, constantly misrepresented message, yet one of overwhelming importance for the future wellbeing of individuals and society.

    • I think we have fantastic things to say about marriage and sex, but I wish we do so in a manner that highlighted the good and didn't always look for negative. The obsession of some with all the "bad" aspects of gay sex is nauseous. Let's get our own house in order, let's get a good theology of love and sex ready to be articulated into a broken world. The Holy Spirit will convict those who he will convict of their sin. God will judge, If we witness love then the broken will see it.

  5. Andrew, Sue.

    You've both been clear that you don't like the Westminster Declaration because it doesn't cover various issues. I can't see any of what you say is missing in the Faithworks Declaration. the Faithworks Declaration doesn't even mention 'caring communities and a just society', so do I assume that you won't be signing that one either?
    My recent post Free Speech?

    • That was my assumption, but you seemed to be very negative about the Westminster Declaration, without making similar comment about the Faithworks on, so I thought I'd make sure I want making a faulty assumption :)
      My recent post Free Speech?

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