When I checked my Inbox on Saturday morning I found an email from Jimmy DeYoung (one of ABI’s co-founders) concerning the Manhattan Declaration. Because the Manhattan Declaration was still breaking news, Jimmy wanted to discuss it on his weekly radio program. So I quickly went to work trying to learn as much as I could before he called back to do the interview.
The Manhattan Declaration is a 4732-word document which was made public at the National Press Conference on Friday, November 20. It was drafted by a committee that included Chuck Colson, Dr. Robert George and Dr. Timothy George and signed by almost 150 recognized Roman Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical religious leaders. On Governor Mike Huckabee’s FoxNews program on Sunday evening, while interviewing Chuck Colson, he compared its potential historical significance to Luther’s 95 Theses. While this remains to be seen, since its release it has been creating quite a buzz all across the internet in articles and blogs and producing fairly diverse reactions.
On his BreakPoint radio program on Friday, Chuck Colson stated (full article):
Today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., I and a dozen evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox leaders face the microphones to announce the release of an historic document—one of the most important documents produced by the American church, at least in my lifetime
The Manhattan Declaration has two main goals. One goal is that it would be a wake-up call for Christians to live according to the tenets of their faith. The other goal is to serve notice to those in government that those who identify themselves as Christians are taking a stand and declaring:
We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.
In the closing paragraph, the final two sentences state:
We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.
On BreakPoint, Chuck Colson stated the goals this way:
The Manhattan Declaration is a wake-up call—a call to conscience—for the church. It is also crystal-clear message to civil authorities that we will not, under any circumstances, stand idly by as our religious freedom comes under assault.
Dr. Timothy George, one of the drafters of the Manhattan Declaration, wrote in a Washington Post article:
Thus we have issued this declaration of conscience calling on our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in the defense of human life, marriage, and religious freedom.
The document addresses three specific issues, identified as: “Life,” “Marriage” and “Religious Liberty.”
The Manhattan Declaration calls for a pro-life stance that recognizes the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception to natural death. And it makes clear that Christians, in faithfulness to God’s moral law, will not be forced or coerced into being involved with abortion, human embryonic research, assisted suicide or euthanasia. On Mike Huckabee’s program, Chuck Colson commented that this commitment would mean that doctors would not violate their beliefs to perform abortions and pharmacists would not dispense “morning-after” pills under threat of forfeiting their licenses or even imprisonment.
The drafters and signatories of the Manhattan Declaration bring attention to what they perceive as a growing rift between views of the American public in general and the views held by many of those in government:
Although public sentiment has moved in a pro-life direction, we note with sadness that pro-abortion ideology prevails today in our government. The present administration is led and staffed by those who want to make abortions legal at any stage of fetal development, and who want to provide abortions at taxpayer expense. Majorities in both houses of Congress hold pro-abortion
The declaration calls for a commitment to the sanctity of heterosexual marriage and to the proposition that the only acceptable form of marriage is between one man and one woman, and further observes that there must be faithfulness in the marital relationship. The importance and significance of marriage in any society is also noted:
Vast human experience confirms that marriage is the original and most important institution for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all persons in a society.
As I have been researching the Manhattan Declaration and responses to it, I have found more than one website where this document is being denounced by those in the LGBT community. The following is fairly representative of the reaction (full article):
…the far right religious bigots never cease in their efforts to degrade and denigrate LGBT citizens and keep us a persecuted minority. Just yesterday a new anti-gay and anti-freedom of religion offense was launched by far right forces of hate and reactionarism in the form of the so-called “Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience.”
Concerning religious liberty
The declaration states:
Christians confess that God alone is Lord of the conscience. Immunity from religious coercion is the cornerstone of an unconstrained conscience. No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will, nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions.
The document also notes two specific cases which do seem to provide cause for legitimate concern that the government is already engaging in infringement of religious liberty:
After the judicial imposition of “same-sex marriage” in Massachusetts, for example, Catholic Charities chose with great reluctance to end its century-long work of helping to place orphaned children in good homes rather than comply with a legal mandate that it place children in same-sex households in violation of Catholic moral teaching. In New Jersey, after the establishment of a quasi-marital “civil unions” scheme, a Methodist institution was stripped of its tax exempt status when it declined, as a matter of religious conscience, to permit a facility it owned and operated to be used for ceremonies blessing homosexual unions.
It is going to take some time (perhaps much time) to be able to ascertain if the Manhattan Declaration produces the desired effect on American society as a whole, on the politicians in various levels of government, on legislation and on jurisprudence and judicial decisions. But perhaps more importantly, the question is whether or not it will ultimately have an effect on the way Christians live out their faith in the American context – whatever that is or may become.
The document once again brings to the fore many of the questions that were raised in the 1970’s and 80’s with the rise of the Moral Majority. These include the role of believers in the political process and whether or not they should participate in political activism or even civil disobedience (as the document seems to suggest)?
Another significant question that is also being debated once again by conservative Christians relates to what some are viewing as the ecumenical nature of the document. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the signers of the Manhattan Declaration included scholars and leaders from the three major confessions of Christendom – Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox Church. Once again, this is reminiscent of the Moral Majority era. The question becomes, Is it wise and biblical to join together with those with whom we have serious theological disagreement (even to the point that we would consider them false teachers as it relates to the gospel itself)?
On the other hand, some would (rightly) observe that in the matters of life and marriage in particular, there is more genuine agreement with conservatives from all faiths than there is with many who continue to identify themselves as born-again evangelical believers – but who also support and defend “a woman’s right to choose,” as well as believe that homosexual relationships should not be regarded as sinful.
To be honest, I’m not sure how to fully answer these questions. I am still thinking this through, reading articles and blogs written by those on both sides of these issues, and studying relevant biblical passages in order to form an informed and biblical view for myself. I plan to post another blog in the next few days which I hope will provide some biblical insight and answers to these questions.
In the meantime, I would be interested in hearing from our readers – so please take a moment to provide us with your own thoughts and comments on the matter.
I encourage you to read the Manhattan Declaration for yourself – and to also read through the list of official signatories of the document.