This past week an historic statement was released by a group of church leaders called THE MANHATTAN DECLARATION: A CALL OF CHRISTIAN CONSCIENCE. It is a bold statement of first principles across ecclesial lines—Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox –bearing a common witness to core values that are under assault in our culture and must be defended. You can find it on the web at www.ManhattanDeclaration.org. I urge you to read it and sign it.
My former boss, Charles Colson, who helped initiate this declaration, calls it “one of the most important documents produced by the American church….in my lifetime.”
The statement is meant to be both a wake-up call to the church, and a message to government authorities, that we will not stand by passively as religious freedoms are under assault.
The Manhattan Declaration begins by reminding readers that for 2000 years Christians have born witness to the truths of their faith. This witness has taken various forms—proclamation, seeking justice, resisting tyranny, serving the poor, and speaking for the oppressed and suffering. While the scope of Christian moral concern goes way beyond the scope of the Manhattan Declaration, this statement focuses on three areas of traditional morality that are under assault in the West—the sanctity of life, traditional marriage and religious liberty.
Sanctity of Life
The first part of the Manhattan Declaration focuses on challenges to the sanctity of life. It notes there is a growing belief in our culture that the lives of the imperfect, immature and inconvenient are discardable. In the face of this, the Declaration affirms the dignify of every human as a creature made in the image of God prepossessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life.
In our nation, the lives of the unborn, the disabled and the elderly are severely threatened. The current administration is staffed by those who want to make abortions legal at any stage of fetal development and at tax payers expense. It favors the expansion of embryonic research including tax payer funding of so called therapeutic cloning.
Around the world, there are on-going genocides, ethnic cleansings, exploitation of vulnerable laborers, increased sexual slavery, abandonment of the aged, and persecution of believers of all faiths. In the face of this, this declaration embraces a consistent ethic of love and life for all humans in all circumstances.
The second and longest part of the Manhattan Declaration focuses on the threats to marriage. It affirms marriage as a life-long union of man and woman, ordained by God from creation. It is the most basic institution of society—the first institution on which all others have their foundation. And yet we are ignoring it on the one hand—through easy divorce, infidelity, promiscuity, to the point where today 40% of all children are born out of wedlock. On the other hand, we are now attempting to redefine marriage to accommodate fashionable ideologies that will ultimately be destructive of our society. This Declaration rightly states that where marriage culture begins to erode, social pathologies of every sort quickly show up.
The third and final part of the Manhattan Declaration addresses the issue of religious freedom and notes that growing assault on religious liberty. There are more efforts to weaken conscience clauses in order to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions. More and more businesses and religious institutions are being forced to comply with activities they judge to be deeply immoral. Christian organizations are losing tax exempt status for refusing to buy into homosexual marriage. And more and more efforts are being made to curb religious expression.
The Declaration says, “Because we honor justice and the common good, 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 marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and family. We will fully and ungrudgingly “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is Gods.”
I believe that The Manhattan Declaration is a prophetic document. It rightly urges us to bear common witness to the gospel and to those core values reflected in Scripture that are under assault in our culture. I urge you to read it, reflect on it, sign it, and let it move you to speak and act in defense of these truths, and as a witness to the God who made us.