Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience . . . Say What?

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

On November 20, a group of self-described “prominent Christian clergy, ministry leaders and scholars” held a press conference to announce their new manifesto, the “Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience.”

The manifesto was written by Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries and one of the folks convicted of misbehavior related to the Watergate caper; Dr. Robert George, on leave from Princeton University’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions and National Organization for Marriage board chairman, and Dr. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University.

Why did the fellows write the thing? Well, this is interesting. When Colson appeared on former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s Fox News show to promote the declaration, Huckabee asked a similar question: “Why do we need something that sort of defines the line in the sand for people of Christendom?”

Colson replied, “Everybody blames the Christians for starting the culture wars. That’s not true, Governor. What really happened is the liberals started to say we are going to take away rights which we’ve had since the founding of this nation, rights which are intrinsic to what makes a good society and a just society, rights which are vital to our Christian faith.”

Yikes. This is also interesting because I’m a liberal, but if I were trying to take away Christians’ rights, none of my siblings would speak to me. Hmmm.

Colson went on to say: “We released a document which is remarkable because it is signed by 150 leaders from the Orthodox church, the Roman Catholic Church and from leaders of the evangelical world, all of us saying three things: We want to affirm the sanctity of human life. … The second thing is the sanctity of the family because the family is the basic building block of any good society historically, and the third thing is, if you continue to assault the family, continue to assault life, continue to assault our liberties, we will ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but under no circumstances render to Caesar what is God’s.”

At first I wasn’t sure what Colson was talking about, and it occurred to me that garnering the support of only 150 of the thousands of Christian leaders in the country really isn’t worth a press conference.

But then Huckabee, who was practically squirming out of his seat (was it excitement or an enlarged prostate?), compared the document to one of Christianity’s more momentous — and divisive — occasions: “I can’t remember of anything this significant happening in my lifetime! In fact I’m thinking the posting of the 95 theses on the door at Wittenberg by Martin Luther may be the equivalent, where the community of faith says, ‘This is it. We make a stand.’ This is a bold stand, but what’s unique about this [is] Catholics, Evangelicals, Orthodox coming together. They normally can’t get together for a cup of coffee!”

It’s nice to know Huckabee has a sense of humor, but if you actually read the document, you realize that Colson’s language in the interview is code. What the declaration actually says is that his group is anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage (Colson refers to homosexuals as “people with that disorder”), and they want to be able to say and do whatever they believe is in keeping with their faith, regardless of the law and the consequences — although they indicate they are willing to suffer the consequences of their actions if there are any. This is old news, but they are darn adamant: “We will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriage or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.”

Yep, old news — and my understanding of the U.S. Constitution is that these folks already have the rights they are demanding and no one’s trying to take them away. Of course, if you don’t want to perform an abortion or dispense birth control, it would be wise not to accept a job with those responsibilities. And if you own commercial property that is rented to the public for special events such as weddings, expect to be held to the same standards as any other commercial property owner — even if you are a church. But other than that, you can practice your faith as you see fit and you can certainly declare most anything you want.

So, why the 4,700-word prayer for deliverance from evil’s with which they are not afflicted — a preemptive attack, paranoia, everyone else is holding press conferences for non-news idiocy, so why not?

I dunno, but it is kind of interesting, although I would never have heard of the manifesto had I not been on the email lists of several extremist groups that keep me much better informed than is comfortable. As of one week post-press conference, a Google News search of the declaration produced less than 200 hits, but a Web search produced 697,000. And the declaration’s promoters, who are asking “believers and non-believers” to lend their names to the electronic document, have managed to reel in 180,000 signatures — not stupendous, but not bad. However, I am embarrassed to admit that one of the signatures is mine — using the pseudonym “Ido Notagree.” I wonder if they’ll condemn me to hell for this? Or maybe they’ll take a kinder approach and just pray for my wanton soul, which would be okay, as I figure I can use all the prayers I can get. I don’t care whose invisible friend hears them.

Love, K-B

The Preamble and the Declaration are below, but beware the Preamble: The fellows’ take on Christianity’s history is an adept whitewashing of the church and its faithfuls’ atrocities, tyrannies, denials of religious liberty to non-Christians and the wrong kind of Christians, and rejections of the sanctity of life — with a single-phrase nod: “While fully acknowledging the imperfections and shortcomings of Christian institutions and communities in all ages…” Regardless, you might consider checking out the whole enchilada.

Preamble

Christians are heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s word, seeking justice in our societies, resisting tyranny, and reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed and suffering.

While fully acknowledging the imperfections and shortcomings of Christian institutions and communities in all ages, we claim the heritage of those Christians who defended innocent life by rescuing discarded babies from trash heaps in Roman cities and publicly denouncing the Empire’s sanctioning of infanticide. We remember with reverence those believers who sacrificed their lives by remaining in Roman cities to tend the sick and dying during the plagues, and who died bravely in the coliseums rather than deny their Lord.

After the barbarian tribes overran Europe, Christian monasteries preserved not only the Bible but also the literature and art of Western culture. It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery: Papal edicts in the 16th and 17th centuries decried the practice of slavery and first excommunicated anyone involved in the slave trade; evangelical Christians in England, led by John Wesley and William Wilberforce, put an end to the slave trade in that country. Christians under Wilberforce’s leadership also formed hundreds of societies for helping the poor, the imprisoned, and child laborers chained to machines.

In Europe, Christians challenged the divine claims of kings and successfully fought to establish the rule of law and balance of governmental powers, which made modern democracy possible. And in America, Christian women stood at the vanguard of the suffrage movement. The great civil rights crusades of the 1950s and 60s were led by Christians claiming the Scriptures and asserting the glory of the image of God in every human being regardless of race, religion, age or class.

This same devotion to human dignity has led Christians in the last decade to work to end the dehumanizing scourge of human trafficking and sexual slavery, bring compassionate care to AIDS sufferers in Africa, and assist in a myriad of other human rights causes – from providing clean water in developing nations to providing homes for tens of thousands of children orphaned by war, disease and gender discrimination.

Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good. In being true to its own calling, the call to discipleship, the church through service to others can make a profound contribution to the public good.

Declaration

We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities. We act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image. We set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is grounded in Holy Scripture, in natural human reason (which is itself, in our view, the gift of a beneficent God), and in the very nature of the human person. We call upon all people of goodwill, believers and non-believers alike, to consider carefully and reflect critically on the issues we here address as we, with St. Paul, commend this appeal to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

While the whole scope of Christian moral concern, including a special concern for the poor and vulnerable, claims our attention, we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions.

Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.

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.

Read more here.