A look at the Manhattan Declaration and it's implications for Christianity

November 27, 2009

Last Friday, a 4700 word document was released, written by a number of Protestant and Catholic pastors and priests declaring their commitment to the sanctity of human life, biblical marriage and religious liberty and encouraging pastors and parishioners of all faiths to sign it.  The document is called the Manhattan Declaration.

Why the name? The group met a few weeks ago in Manhattan where we read a draft of the document. It was there we concluded that we had to bridge the huge historic chasms separating the major branches of the Christian faith. The famed Chuck Colson along with co-initiators issued a call to all Christians that we must remain true to our core convictions, based upon the scriptures. The group also came together to let the secular community know that increasingly Christians from Catholic, Evangelical, and Orthodox traditions will work together and speak with one voice.

The Baptist Press reports that  newly released data from LifeWay Research provides some hard numbers to compare the beliefs of Protestant pastors on these issues -- and how often they discuss them in church.

In a telephone survey of 1,002 senior church leaders conducted in October 2008, Protestant pastors who identified themselves as politically conservative or very conservative are far more likely to speak to their churches on homosexuality and the unborn than their liberal counterparts, according to Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research.

Among very conservative Protestant pastors, 89 percent speak to their churches at least once a year on the unborn, and 79 percent address the topic of homosexuality about once a year or more often. This compares with 25 percent of liberal or very liberal pastors who address the issue of the unborn at least annually, and 53 percent who speak on the topic of homosexuality.

Most Protestant pastors whose political ideology is conservative do not believe "gay marriage" should be legal, but almost half of liberal pastors do. Ninety-nine percent of very conservative pastors surveyed strongly disagree with the statement, "I believe gay marriage should be legal," compared with 16 percent of pastors who are liberal or very liberal.

As for the Declaration, a critical line in it says:

“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.” In our estimation this means that civil disobedience may well be a part of the stony path we must tread. The document lays out the group’s views on the value of human life, the concept and role of the family, and religious liberties.

Christianity is not merely a set of doctrines or beliefs; it lives out the ideals set forth in the Bible. This compels us as Christians to commit now, more than ever, to reaffirm the biblical truths that support the common good in our land. We must stand against any pressure that is brought to bear against our Christian ideals in these areas: the definition of marriage, the sanctity of life, and religious liberty. I have sought to paraphrase the documents' major summary statements below, along with an exhortation for Christians everywhere to join us as signers.

The institution of marriage has historically been the most important means of sustaining society’s health, education, and human welfare. Marriage has the terrible risk of being redefined, which will subvert it from its original intent as a covenant between one man and one woman. Traditional marriage has been plagued with infidelity and divorce. The idea to redefine marriage has sprung from the vulnerable state of the institution that exists today. Redefinition is not a cure for these ills; it is a symptom. Studies by noted sociologists show conclusively that when marriage erodes, social pathologies rise. Redefining marriage would enable that erosion to increase by defining marriage through romance and physical satisfaction rather than through covenant relationship. It would produce a loss of understanding of what a healthy marriage is in both in our civil laws and religious traditions. We believe that marriage is an objective reality that should be protected by law.

The weak and vulnerable among our society are also increasingly being threatened. The government should protect those who are unborn, who are disabled, and who are elderly. Yet the government has been enlisted to promote what Pope John Paul II declared as a “culture of death.” The declaration asserts that Christians must pledge to wage an unceasing war against any laws that expand acts of abortion, destructive embryonic research, euthanasia, and assisted suicide. Human beings have the right to equal protection at every stage of life, from pre-birth development through old age. We must resist any acts of government that would perpetrate the destruction or disadvantage of any human life.

The team believes that fundamental principles of justice are being threatened through a bias against religious liberty and the expression of conscience. Recent attempts to eliminate the protection of conscience for healthcare professionals and institutions have demonstrated this frontal attack. Religious institutions and charities have been assaulted through anti-discrimination statutes that challenge their beliefs to oppose those things they deem are immoral.

Businesses and service providers are threatened with losing their licenses if they do not choose to accept or facilitate activities they believe do not meet their moral standards. The government and society should be protective of these institutions as they are dependent upon religious institutions and charities to maintain the overall good of society.

Christians believe that we are to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. We are taught to respect the authority of earthly rulers. Our democratic society sprang from the moral laws of Old Testament tradition and we acknowledge the moral claims of the law. It our right as citizens to participate in the political process; this includes doing our part to change unjust or immoral laws. Civil disobedience may be required to stand against laws that do not promote justice.

We must not render unto to Caesar those things that are God’s. We cannot comply with any statute that forces us, or the institutions that we are part of, to bless sexual partnerships that are biblically immoral or to facilitate abortions, destructive embryonic research, euthanasia, or assisted suicide. We will not violate our consciences through intimidation or any other act of cultural or political power. We will express our religious freedom, regardless of the consequences to ourselves.

Finally, I invite you to go and sign this important declaration. We are convinced that we can best serve the nation by lifting our collective voice. In signing the declaration you will be celebrating three things:

1. The unity in diversity of the body of Christ
2. The prophetic calling of the body of Christ
3. The urgent need we have to engage the culture in dialogue.

America needs a conscience, an objective voice, which advocates for truth, reason, and biblical justice. Historically, we Christians have been that voice. We have served the nation in shaping its foundational settlements, it's original documents, the nation's great spiritual awakenings, the abolition of slavery, and effective civil rights laws. Without the voice of the Church, the nation would not have had its original hospitals and many caring social services institutions of our day. Let's regain the integrity of our mission.

I am on record now as saying that I will never pay another dime of income tax if the Health Care Bill that is winding it's way through Congress contains the allowance for federally funded abortions. I am on record declaring I will never solemnize a marriage between two same-sex partners.  I am on record affirming my stand to never allow a gay marriage to be performed in my church's place of worship or on any of its properties. Finally, I am on record stating that I will preach and teach the Bible no matter how politically incorrect this book may be seen by liberals, special interests and those who hate Christianity.

To the IRS, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barack Obama and the FBI I say: "Come and get me!" To anyone reading these words, pastors or parishioners I say: "Dare to Declare!"

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.