Over the years I’ve seen various “Declarations” and resolutions from groups of Christian leaders on all kinds of issues. In fact, these seem to becoming more and more common. The latest offering is The Frankfurt Declaration.
If you’ve not yet come across it, you can have a read here. “The Frankfurt Declaration of Christian and Civil Liberties” to give its full title claims to be a response to “abuse of power” and in the introduction the signatories state:
“A few concerned pastors from different continents, moved by an emergent totalitarianism of the State over all realms of society, and particularly the Church, and the disregard of God- given and constitutionally guaranteed rights during the Covid crisis, joined in common cause to craft a solemn declaration, which seeks to address these threats with the timeless truths of God’s Word. The following affirmations and denials, derived from biblical principles, we put forth for consideration by all Christians and relevant authorities, in the hope that this document will give light and strength for faithful witness to Jesus Christ in our day.”
Now, there you’ll pick up on some crucial points. First, although the authors state that this is something put together by “pastors from different continents” the language of “God-given and constitutionally guaranteed rights…” is specifically US centric. In fact, the leading signatories are predominantly US based or of American origin.
Secondly, the document is primarily about COVID. This is important because what has prompted the document has not been the many decades of suppression of religious liberty or individual freedoms in communist countries nor the burning of churches to the ground, the rape, forced marriage and murder of believers in a number of countries nor the numerous examples of tyranny and corruption that we frequently see around the globe.
Rather, the document is about a few people disagreeing with measures introduced in response to the COVID pandemic. That’s what is behind the grandstanding and let’s be frank pompous language about “solemn declarations”, and “light and strength.” Our first response to this should be to have a good laugh at the pomposity and suggest that the authors get over themselves. This document is clearly not intended for consumption by my normal, down to earth neighbours.
To go on to ask those who have long suffered the persecutions I’ve listed above to pray for us in our time of persecution is to seriously, disturbingly and sinfully trivialise the reality of our brothers and sisters’ genuine suffering of persecution.
Secondly, the declaration is set up in effect as something that it’s difficult to say no to. I mean who amongst us is in favour of emergent totalitarianism? Who wants their civil liberties restricted? What orthodox, evangelical pastor would disagree with affirmations that the triune God is the personal creator or denials that “impersonal matter is the final reality.”
You see, this declaration is of the “motherhood and apple pie piety” type. It sets out statements that we would all expect to say yes to and which it is difficult to disagree with. Except that the point is the context and the very specific supposed persecution and tyranny. Remember again that this “tyranny” was the introduction of specific measures affecting not just churches but sports stadia, concert halls, schools, pubs and restaurants in response to a serious risk to life and health caused by the pandemic.
Now, whilst many of us had issues with particular measures at specific times, there was a hard core group of people who believed that no measures should have been taken. Quite a few were also sof the view that the pandemic simply was not the crisis being claimed and sadly that gave fuel to all kinds of conspiracy theories not least about the supposed dangers of vaccines.
However, perhaps with a few exceptions, those who did not think that governments could introduce specific measures in response to COVID did accept that Governments could in normal times introduce health and safety as well as fire protection measures.
So, I should be able to sign a declaration of this type. I do stand against tyranny and in favour of civil liberties. I do want Governments as a matter of common grace to respect Biblical teaching and God’s laws. However, I disagree with the real purpose of the declaration which is to respond to specific measures which I, along with many others do not consider in any shape or form to be examples of tyranny.
I want to suggest that setting up a statement in such a form is unethical. Again, let’s be clear about it. The Declaration is therefore deceitful and sinful. It creates a division on a false premise. If you disagree with John MacArthur and James White on COVID measures then you are somehow compromised with the world and supporting tyranny.
I am saddened then to see UK evangelicals signing this document and urge them to withdraw their names immediately.
During the pandemic, I expressed concern that some of the statements from certain quarters were designed less with secular governments in mind and seemed more about creating distinctions between believers on issues that were not even of secondary importance. I have the same concern here. False divisions are being set up and that is idolatrous.
Yet let’s be clearer still about this. The leading proponents have been having their own difficulties. They preach about abuse of power and yet that’s exactly what these men have been accused of themselves whether it’s the mishandling of historic abuse cases in their churches or social media bullying of female believers. Instead of going on the attack, they should put their own houses in order.
One of the aims of such declarations and open letters is to collect as many signaturies as possible to garner support for the authors and their agenda. In one notorious example during the pandemic UK pastors were horrified to discover that their signatures on a letter were being used by the authors to gain media airtime in order to make arguments not stated in the original letter. It is so important therefore to know up front how your signature is being used.
This means that such declarations risk associating you both with the narrow political aims of authors/co-signers and wider agendas. Again, if you are considering signing, then consider whose names you are joining your signature with. Have a look at the list. Should your name be alongside Douglas Wilson’s?
I will not be signing this declaration and I encourage others not to also.