The recently-released Manhattan Declaration, a nearly 5,000 word document, explains how throughout history, Christians have steadfastly, persistently held to certain fundamental truths of their faith; these truths are not political, nor are they ideals newly imagined by bigots wanting to suppress other people. Instead, as the Manhattan Declaration documents in unambiguous detail, Christians have been unwaveringly committed to certain moral principles for over 2,000 years. Far from being ancillary issues, these Biblically-based truths are a part of the very foundation of the Christian faith: the sanctity of life, the divinely-ordained nature of marriage, and religious liberty. Considered to be instances of divine revelation, they are open neither to compromise nor revision.
The Manhattan Declaration explicates these truths thusly:
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, 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.
In recent years, the left (or as they want to be called, “progressives”) has launched a campaign to convince the public that those beliefs are some sort of unsavory extremism, a newly-minted product of “right wing values.” Nothing could be further from the truth, as the Manhattan Declaration, points out. These fundamental principles of the faith – that are central to the Judeo-Christian tradition – are mainstream values with a proven and glorious history. They are part of the fabric of our society, the glue that holds communities together, and the foundation stones on which civilization thrives.
The Manhattan Declaration acknowledges that Christians have not always lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, but overwhelmingly they have “worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.” Christians have been at the forefront in “seeking justice in our societies, resisting tyranny, and reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed and suffering.” To cite but a few examples: Christians led the way in ending slavery, in challenging the divine rights of kings, in women’s suffrage, and in civil rights. Any honest accounting of history will show that those holding traditionally accepted moral values have been in the forefront of society’s hard-won (and often bitterly contested) advances in terms of human dignity, decency, and charity; they have been the backbone of society, not some lunatic fringe as the left would have it. The values themselves are “foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society” – regardless of the attempts by “powerful forces in our culture” to portray them as stemming from bigotry and callous disregard for others.
Those who hold these truths as “inviolable and non-negotiable” are not the pawns of a political party or the mindless adherents to stultifying, backward tradition; instead, they are “followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Because of that driving commitment, Christians are at the forefront today in working to end human trafficking, in giving care to AIDS sufferers, in caring for orphaned children, in protecting “the intrinsic dignity of the human person,” and standing for the common good.
Those who signed the Manhattan Declaration, myself included, join together in common purpose “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.”
Those of us who signed the Manhattan Declaration respect civil authority, believe in the rule of law, and recognize the necessity of obeying laws, “unless the laws are gravely unjust or require those subject to them to do something unjust or otherwise immoral.” The Manhattan Declaration quotes Acts 4 where the Apostles Peter and John who were ordered to stop preaching: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” It also quotes from the eloquent Letter from a Birmingham Jail of Martin Luther King, Jr., and notes his willingness to go to jail rather comply with legal injustice.
The signatories recognize the necessity of shining the light of truth into the darkness of today’s rhetoric and demagoguery. We equally recognize the distortions of basic Christian principles and the denial of mainstream values that has reached a point where those who “honor justice and the common good” must take a stand. Together, we will work to protect those who are most vulnerable; we will proclaim the truth about the sanctity of marriage and the necessity for religious freedom. As the Declaration states so forcefully: “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.” That principle is the basis for liberty, justice, and human rights; it is the essence of democracy. Without it, America will cease to be a “shining city on a hill.”
As John Winthrop gravely warned at the beginning of our history as a nation:
“The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world. … We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us til we be consumed”