Society and Culture

Manhattan Declaration Defends a Priority of Issues

On November 20, a large, well-known group of Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox leaders released a document called the Manhattan Declaration (not to be confused with the Manhattan Declaration on Climate Change). The declaration is intended to underscore the importance of three issues:

1. the sanctity of human life
2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

The declaration argues that these aren’t mere private religious concerns but rest at the very foundation of public justice and the common good. The document was drafted by Robert George of Princeton University, who is Catholic, Charles Colson (of Prison Fellowship), and Tim George (of Beeson Divinity School), both of whom are Evangelical. Many well-known conservatives have signed the list, including Archbishop Charles Chaput and James Dobson. But among the initial signers are also folks like Ron Sider, who is frequently identified with the more progressive side of the Evangelical spectrum. (Full disclosure: I have also signed it.)

Unlike many recent statements, signed by obscure church bureaucrats who incorrectly claim to represent their organizations, the Manhattan Declaration begins with refreshing clarity:

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.

It also acknowledges that many who disagree with the statement are well-meaning.

By emphasizing life, marriage, and conscience, the signatories don’t intend to downplay the importance of other issues, but they do argue that these three issues deserve special attention:

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.

And the signatories also state their intention to resist government attempts to compel them to participate in acts they consider immoral:

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 the family.  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.

Read the whole thing here.

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