Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience

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.”

Concerning life
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

Concerning marriage
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.

This is a link to the Manhattan Declaration website.

Dave James

  1. Dave,
    Thank you for your ABI. It is helpful in providing information for my teaching of Bible on the college level. By the way, I met you in Budapest in 1996 while teaching a week at the castle with Steve Winget.

    I welcome this Manhattan initiative as long as we all recognize that it will be trivialized by the world/media and that there is no biblical guarantee of any national progress. Historically, this has been the case for the Church and it is becoming increasingly so in America. We need to be willing to suffer but continue doing right as our brothers and sisters down through the ages have done.

    I am not as bothered by the ecumenical accusation although I am a fundamentalist. Many of these people are saved just different otherwise. In matters of politics, we must join with others to have a say in a democracy. We join with the lost every election for the Republican or Democratic parties. On personal and local church/religious institution matters, we can maintain our separation.

    We have been studying 2 Corinthians 5 and 6 for several weeks in my SS class. We do have the ministry of reconciliation but we must do it without offense to that ministry.

  2. Dear Dave,
    With much of American Christianity moving toward apostasy and if truth is important to God and to guiding new and immature believers, do not these kind of alliances send a wrong signal concerning believing the whole body of biblical truth? In having a global view of God’s plan for the ages why do we as Bible teachers put so much emphasis upon American government which has clearly anti-biblical standards, when the whole world is out of relationship with God? Does not scripture teach that even the government is under the control of God? These are just some thought off the top of my head. By His Grace, Mike

  3. Cooperating wherever we can with fellow citizens to form (and protect) “a more perfect union,” etc. was the foundation of our country, despite religious and other philosophical differences among our founding fathers. To cooperate in this way does not diminish or imply we are compromising on our important differences, supplanting the mission of the church, or abandoning biblical evangelism. Hopefully, such cooperation will help to promote greater religious liberty, protection of life and stable families.

  4. Hi Dave,

    Just read your new blog. Hope all is going well with you. I wish I had more time, but a couple of quick thoughts came to my mind regarding this blog.

    I would encourage you and your readers to do their homework on Chuck Colson. While he may have started out well, he has really gone down the ecumenical road of false unity (unity for the sake of unity vs. unity in the truth) in recent years (ie-Evangelicals and Catholics Together-ECT-with guys like J.I. Packer).

    I would simply ask this: Why are we, people of the Reformation, so quick to join back with the Catholics? Let’s face it-not much has changed since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to their wall. While the Manhattan Declaration may look good on the surface (that’s deception hitting on all cylinders) with emphasis on life, marriage and religious liberty (all good things within themselves and that I personally believe in)-we as Christians are commanded by the Lord not join together with those teaching false doctrines. Clearly, the Catholic church is teaching false doctrines.

    The Bible clearly says that we are to mark and avoid false teachers (who are teaching false doctrine), not fellowship with them-especially those who call themselves brothers and sisters in the Lord, but in reality are wolves in sheep’s clothing. In Romans 16:17-18, Paul writes, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple (compare to Philippians 3:17-19).”

    The last days will be marked by great apostasy within the church which we are seeing before our very eyes and documents like the Manhatten Declaration in the larger scheme of things will only serve to bring a rise to an ecumenical one-world religion, a one-world religious leader who will serve the one-world leader, the Antichrist.

    These are perilous times. Christian leaders need to wake up.

    Joshua 1:9

    Pastor Adam Gislason
    Great Adventure Ministries, Inc.
    P.O. Box 35
    Hackensack, Minnesota 56452
    (763) 568-2144

  5. Dave:

    To be honest, I think this is absurd.

    First, the church does not need a “wake up” call. When did the true church of Jesus Christ — which is a lot smaller in terms of numbers than people think — ever fall asleep? Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the saints have been carrying on our Lord’s Great Commission since the Day of Pentecost. We will continue to do so until our Lord returns.

    Second, the document states “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.”

    What? Is the Catholic Church suddenly going to start preaching the Gospel? Is it going to tell people that “salvation is by grace through faith alone” and not through sacraments and obedience to the church, its priests, and its rules? Is it going to stop saying that each time a priest performs Mass, he is re-crucifying our Lord Jesus? I could go on and on.

    Third, while we feed the poor and clothe the naked, the church is not primarily an instrument of social betterment. Our commission is to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed and faithfully teach God’s Word, leading people to our Lord Jesus. Jesus didn’t go marching into Rome to confront Caesar — in fact, He had very little to say about the Romans and their barbarism and vulgarity, especially compared to His anger at the religious leaders of His day.

    This document, which will quickly be forgotten, smacks of self-importance (Can Chuck Colson truly be serious when he compares it to Luther’s theses?) and flavor-of-the-day celebrity Christianity — far from the real work of the church in the trenches of daily life where the saints are sowing the seeds of the Gospel and sharing God’s love from one heart to the next.


  6. Dave,

    To be very brief, our nations (I’m from Canada) need the light of the true gospel to transform individual hearts. Our hope is not in governments to be more “Christian”, nor to enforce Christian morals on society, but for the remnant of God’s faithful to preach the gospel to all people and allow God’s Word to renew our minds.
    The Catholics do not have the gospel. Joining together for good causes only confuses the simple gospel message to those who may be seeking our LORD. The fundamentalists Muslims would likely not object to anything in this document. A Declaration such as this is just one more step toward inter-faith diologue and further watering down of the gospel that saves.
    In His Glad Service,

  7. Dave,

    Thought you might be interested in reading John MacArthur’s response to the Manhattan Declaration:

  8. People are dying!!! It seems some of us have forgotten that fact. If Jesus preached a parable today it might be the good samaritan. Of course in this version a evangelical teacher and a pastor would stop. One was about to help but it looked like a catholic priest was also going to, so he decided God would not want him to associate with heiracy. And he continued on his way. The pastor would stop, preach the Gospel and toss down a tract for the man then goes back to his “church” and give a sermon on how he “reached out” to those in need. Is this the legacy we want to leave for what’s left of the next generation. I do not support the ecumenical movement BUT I would personally stand with a catholic, a muslim or even an atheist in opposition to the murder of the next generation. That doesn’t mean I support the Koran or the Papacy. As for the new believer or those who are interested in Jesus; I don’t think seeing the Church rush in (with any and all who are willing to help) to save innocent lives is confusing. I think that sends a great message it says “We support life to that extent”. To quote the late Jerry Falwell (when asked if it was really ok for him to stand with catholics to fight abortion) “I will fight with them today so I can fight against them tomorrow”. I think he had his priorities right. The Gospel is our message but it does no good preaching to a dead fetus. This is the reality we live in and for me it is doubly real. When I was unborn many yelled and tried to push my mother to get an abortion (she was poor and already had 3 other kids). She was strong however, and would not yield to the pressure (I am very grateful to her). So I challenge all who read this, with a scenario: You find a man in a pit and you attempt to free him but you are not strong enough. A catholic priest happens by and offers to assist you. Would you really refuse that help because you don’t want to give the wrong impression to those who might see you? And what is the value of a million unborn lives?
    I am glad to see that you have not rushed to judgment Dave. And I hope you seriously consider this as you formulate your view in this matter.

    • Thanks for the reply, Ivan.

      I am in the process of writing a response, but one that is thoughtful and biblical is difficult, given how polarizing this has become.

      Parables must be used carefully, because as much as they can be used to teach truth, they can also be used to create straw-man arguments. The problem is exacerbated by mixing the metaphors that are used. By doing so, you can get people to agree with you – but it only works in the specific situation described in the parable and quickly breaks down if one attempts to apply it to something else.

      So, although I appreciate using illustrations – and I use them all the time in teaching – I think this one is framed in such a way that someone can’t disagree with the Manhattan Declaration – without also being guilty of murder by extension. I think that is unfortunate and that a more nuanced parable could be crafted to more accurately reflect the overall situation and why some might be legitimately concerned without condemning them to the label of ultimately being baby-killers.

      I am trying to very carefully consider this as I write my blog. I have been at it for several hours so far.

  9. Dave,
    I’m a little late getting in on this discussion. I’m not sure how effective the Manhatten Declaration will be, but it is at least an effort by some God-fearing men to address and confront our present anti-Christ administration and state governments.
    This is not as much a theological discussion to me, as an American issue, that is national. Our forefathers all believed in God, but certainly were not united by their theology.
    As to our duty as citizens, it is always more a matter of conscience, rather than our worship and biblical doctrine. Christians should be involved in politics, government life, and cultural matters when our Christian liberties are at stake.
    Whether we need to adopt this declaration, or any other we need to step up at this time in our history and let our voices be heard.

  10. Dave,

    I really don’t know what is right in this situation. I await the wisdom of other men of God. However, I do want to comment on this being an American issue – it is not. As they say, “when America sneezes, the world catches cold”. Whatever Americans decide for themselves is exported to the rest of the world as “Aid”. Pro-abortion activists and other liberals rejoiced all over the world when Barrack Obama won. In my country – Kenya, there were articles in the papers stating how clinics that had been starved of funds by the Bush administration could now reopen or be fully functional. As Americans, you cannot escape world reponsibility.


    • Thanks for your comments, Chris. It is clearly a difficult situation and, as you noted, the problem is globally systemic – which one would expect in a lost world. And that it is a lost world is precisely why documents such as this will ultimately have no lasting effect. As I noted in the 3rd post, if the Word of God does not produce the results called for in the Manhattan Declaration, certainly no human work will yield them.

      (Note: Chris is in full-time ministry with Word of Life in Kenya.)

  11. That’s exactly it, Dave. We have the Word of God. Why do we need a 4,000-page Tower of Babel?

    It seems to me that there is always a temptation to try to “do” something more than preach the Word in season and out season, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to convict men’s hearts and lead them to our Lord Jesus.

  12. Observing this from England, I only wish the church over here was as strong. It is daily being crushed underfoot by a secularism that is rampant and pervasive.

    Christians are being persecuted for their faith and some have actually lost their jobs for speaking about God at work!

    I would be willing to go to prison rather than comprimise my faith, I don’t know how many others in this country share the same conviction.

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