In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Manhattan Declaration

If you're not already familiar with it, I would like to call your attention to a remarkable document I recently discovered--one that could serve as the foundational manifesto of a grassroots movement to restore the values essential to a truly humane, just, and free American society. It's called The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience. Issued in November 2009 over the signatures of more than 100 Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant evangelical leaders, the Declaration is a beautifully and powerfully worded affirmation of our common Christian belief in the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, and the rights of conscience and religious liberty (the 4700-word Declaration can be read in full here; a 2-page summary of the Declaration in .pdf format can be accessed here).

According to a summary of the Declaration:
Because [these truths] are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
The Declaration begins by reviewing the role Christian believers have played, over the the last two millenia, in protecting children, tending the sick, fighting slavery, and promoting democracy, civil rights, and the rule of law (while frankly “acknowledging the imperfections and shortcomings of Christian institutions and communities in all ages . . .”). The drafters then observe:
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.
Issues Regarding Life

The Declaration decries the pervasive “culture of death [which] inevitably cheapens life in all its stages and conditions by promoting the belief that lives that are imperfect, immature or inconvenient are discardable.” The drafters point out that “the cheapening of life that began with abortion has now metastasized” to include initiatives for human embryo-destructive research and its public funding, as well as “an increasingly powerful movement to promote assisted suicide and ‘voluntary’ euthanasia [which] threatens the lives of vulnerable elderly and disabled persons.” As to abortion, the Declaration states that “we stand resolutely against the corrupt and degrading notion that it can somehow be in the best interests of women to submit to the deliberate killing of their unborn children. Our message is, and ever shall be, that the just, humane, and truly Christian answer to problem pregnancies is for all of us to love and care for mother and child alike.” The drafters further declare:
The Bible enjoins us to defend those who cannot defend themselves, to speak for those who cannot themselves speak. And so we defend and speak for the unborn, the disabled, and the dependent. What the Bible and the light of reason make clear, we must make clear. We must be willing to defend, even at risk and cost to ourselves and our institutions, the lives of our brothers and sisters at every stage of development and in every condition.
Issues Regarding Marriage

In its second major part the Declaration explains that:
In Scripture, the creation of man and woman, and their one-flesh union as husband and wife, is the crowning achievement of God’s creation. In the transmission of life and the nurturing of children, men and women joined as spouses are given the great honor of being partners with God Himself. . . . 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. Where marriage is honored, and where there is a flourishing marriage culture, everyone benefits—the spouses themselves, their children, the communities and societies in which they live. Where the marriage culture begins to erode, social pathologies of every sort quickly manifest themselves.
One striking thing about the Declaration is that it doesn’t single out homosexual practice and “same-sex marriage” for condemnation, but deplores heterosexual immorality just as forcefully:
We confess with sadness that Christians and our institutions have too often scandalously failed to uphold the institution of marriage and to model for the world the true meaning of marriage. Insofar as we have too easily embraced the culture of divorce and remained silent about social practices that undermine the dignity of marriage we repent, and call upon all Christians to do the same.

To strengthen families, we must stop glamorizing promiscuity and infidelity and restore among our people a sense of the profound beauty, mystery, and holiness of faithful marital love. We must reform ill-advised policies that contribute to the weakening of the institution of marriage, including the discredited idea of unilateral divorce. We must work in the legal, cultural, and religious domains to instill in young people a sound understanding of what marriage is, what it requires, and why it is worth the commitment and sacrifices that faithful spouses make.
In line with this view, the Declaration explains that “[t]he impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same-sex and multiple partner relationships is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture.” The Declaration appeals for all Christians to “love the sinner” and accord respect to those afflicted with homosexuality, even as it hews to the principle that homosexual practice is sinful and that “same-sex marriage” obscures the true meaning and purpose of marriage, thereby weakening family institutions throughout society. The Declaration also counters the suggestion that “gay marriage” is a matter of civil rights:
We understand that many of our fellow citizens, including some Christians, believe that the historic definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is a denial of equality or civil rights. They wonder what to say in reply to the argument that asserts that no harm would be done to them or to anyone if the law of the community were to confer upon two men or two women who are living together in a sexual partnership the status of being “married.” It would not, after all, affect their own marriages, would it? On inspection, however, the argument that laws governing one kind of marriage will not affect another cannot stand. Were it to prove anything, it would prove far too much: the assumption that the legal status of one set of marriage relationships affects no other would not only argue for same sex partnerships; it could be asserted with equal validity for polyamorous partnerships, polygamous households, even adult brothers, sisters, or brothers and sisters living in incestuous relationships. Should these, as a matter of equality or civil rights, be recognized as lawful marriages, and would they have no effects on other relationships? No. The truth is that marriage is not something abstract or neutral that the law may legitimately define and re-define to please those who are powerful and influential.
Issues Regarding Religious Liberty

A problem less widely recognized today, even than abortion and homosexuality, is the erosion of freedom of speech and practice for people of faith. The Manhattan Declaration points out:
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. What is true for individuals applies to religious communities as well.

It is ironic that those who today assert a right to kill the unborn, aged and disabled and also a right to engage in immoral sexual practices, and even a right to have relationships integrated around these practices be recognized and blessed by law—such persons claiming these “rights” are very often in the vanguard of those who would trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife.
In the view of atheist activists, secular “humanists,” and leftist intellectuals generally, limits on religious expression are necessary to protect non-believers’ dignity and freedom of “choice,” as well as the host of governmental policies erected to guarantee and promote them, against the “bigotry,” “hatred,” and “repression” necessarily underlying religious (at least, Christian religious) belief. The Declaration notes that in the name of advancing “reproductive rights” and freedom from sexual discrimination, pro-life doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers are increasingly forced to refer for abortions and even to perform or participate in them; social service providers are required to support or accommodate homosexual activities or go out of business; and Christian clergy are subject to prosecution under hate-crime laws for preaching Biblical norms against the practice of homosexuality. At the same time, pressures mount relentlessly to exclude all forms of religious expression from every public forum and institution, from schools and colleges to courthouses to parks, in the name of “separation of church and state.” This anti-religion campaign may be just as dangerous to a free and healthy society as abortion and hetero/homosexual immorality, as it threatens to stamp out all debate on those issues and any chance that the truth and right principles might once more gain acceptance among a majority of Americans.

Acknowledging that even civil disobedience is sometimes necessary to resist laws that are are “gravely unjust or require those subject to them to do something unjust or otherwise immoral,” the Declaration concludes with this ringing assertion:
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.
The Promise of the Declaration

It’s no surprise that the Manhattan Declaration has been generally scorned and denounced in leftist, anti-religious circles as reactionary, extremist, sexist, racist, and a “blueprint for theocracy.” One would like to hope that an appeal as inspiring and couched in wisdom as the Manhattan Declaration might touch the souls of at least a few in these circles and change their hearts--with God, anything is possible (even with politicians: last week the Kentucky legislature passed by voice vote a resolution to “recognize and honor the efforts of those who have inspired thousands of Kentuckians with the Manhattan Declaration")! The more telling effect of the Declaration, though, should be to embolden the millions of religious Americans--of all ages, races, classes, and denominations--to give clear public witness to their beliefs on the most critical issues facing our nation. In so doing, we can have a decisive influence for good on America’s direction and future. Don’t we owe that to our children and theirs?

At the Manhattan Declaration web site, you can electronically add your signature to those of the almost half-million people (including me!) who have endorsed this inspiring statement of faith and principle. You can also link to the Declaration on your own blog or web site, follow news about it on Facebook and Twitter, and email friends and invite them to read and sign the Declaration.

My summary of the Manhattan Declaration doesn’t begin to do justice to its powerful language and its eloquent statement of the divine source--God’s love--for the ideals it proclaims. So, read the whole Declaration for yourself, today. Then sign it, and add your voice to the crescendo of good that hopefully will come of it.

1 comment:

JoJo said...

Wow! What a powerful document they have written! I've signed my name with yours. I'm so grateful to the religous leaders that have recognized the NEED for such a declaration at this time where the union of marriage is so under threat. Thank you!