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November 25, 2009 11:57 AM

Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience
Drafted October 20, 2009
Released November 20, 2009
Preamble
Christians are heirs of a 2,000year
tradition of proclaiming God’s word, seeking justice in our
societies, resisting tyranny, and reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed and
suffering.
While fully acknowledging the imperfections and shortcomings of Christian institutions and
communities in all ages, we claim the heritage of those Christians who defended innocent life by
rescuing discarded babies from trash heaps in Roman cities and publicly denouncing the
Empire’s sanctioning of infanticide. We remember with reverence those believers who sacrificed
their lives by remaining in Roman cities to tend the sick and dying during the plagues, and who
died bravely in the coliseums rather than deny their Lord.
After the barbarian tribes overran Europe, Christian monasteries preserved not only the Bible but
also the literature and art of Western culture. It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery:
Papal edicts in the 16 th and 17 th centuries decried the practice of slavery and first
excommunicated anyone involved in the slave trade; evangelical Christians in England, led by
John Wesley and William Wilberforce, put an end to the slave trade in that country. Christians
under Wilberforce’s leadership also formed hundreds of societies for helping the poor, the
imprisoned, and child laborers chained to machines.
In Europe, Christians challenged the divine claims of kings and successfully fought to establish
the rule of law and balance of governmental powers, which made modern democracy possible.
And in America, Christian women stood at the vanguard of the suffrage movement. The great
civil rights crusades of the 1950s and 60s were led by Christians claiming the Scriptures and
asserting the glory of the image of God in every human being regardless of race, religion, age or
class.
This same devotion to human dignity has led Christians in the last decade to work to end the
dehumanizing scourge of human trafficking and sexual slavery, bring compassionate care to
AIDS sufferers in Africa, and assist in a myriad of other human rights causes – from providing
clean water in developing nations to providing homes for tens of thousands of children orphaned
by war, disease and gender discrimination.
Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the
Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the
common good. In being true to its own calling, the call to discipleship, the church through service
to others can make a profound contribution to the public good.
Declaration
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. We act together in
obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on
our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend
the good of all who bear his image. We set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is
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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. We call upon all people of
goodwill, believers and nonbelievers
alike, to consider carefully and reflect critically on the issues
we here address as we, with St. Paul, commend this appeal to everyone’s conscience in the sight
of God.
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.
Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and
the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common
good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this
declaration we affirm: 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 nonbelievers
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.
We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences 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.
Life
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he
created them. Genesis 1:27
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10
Although public sentiment has moved in a prolife
direction, we note with sadness that proabortion
ideology prevails today in our government. The present administration is led and staffed
by those who want to make abortions legal at any stage of fetal development, and who want to
provide abortions at taxpayer expense. Majorities in both houses of Congress hold proabortion
views. The Supreme Court, whose infamous 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade stripped the unborn
of legal protection, continues to treat elective abortion as a fundamental constitutional right,
though it has upheld as constitutionally permissible some limited restrictions on abortion. The
President says that he wants to reduce the “need” for abortion—a commendable goal. But he
has also pledged to make abortion more easily and widely available by eliminating laws
prohibiting government funding, requiring waiting periods for women seeking abortions, and
parental notification for abortions performed on minors. The elimination of these important and
effective prolife
laws cannot reasonably be expected to do other than significantly increase the
number of elective abortions by which the lives of countless children are snuffed out prior to birth.
Our commitment to the sanctity of life is not a matter of partisan loyalty, for we recognize that in
the thirtysix
years since Roe v. Wade, elected officials and appointees of both major political
parties have been complicit in giving legal sanction to what Pope John Paul II described as “the
culture of death.” We call on all officials in our country, elected and appointed, to protect and
serve every member of our society, including the most marginalized, voiceless, and vulnerable
among us.
A culture of death inevitably cheapens life in all its stages and conditions by promoting the belief
that lives that are imperfect, immature or inconvenient are discardable. As predicted by many
prescient persons, the cheapening of life that began with abortion has now metastasized. For
example, human embryodestructive
research and its public funding are promoted in the name of
science and in the cause of developing treatments and cures for diseases and injuries. The
President and many in Congress favor the expansion of embryoresearch
to include the taxpayer
funding of socalled
“therapeutic cloning.” This would result in the industrial mass production of
human embryos to be killed for the purpose of producing genetically customized stem cell lines
and tissues. At the other end of life, an increasingly powerful movement to promote assisted
suicide and “voluntary” euthanasia threatens the lives of vulnerable elderly and disabled persons.
Eugenic notions such as the doctrine of lebensunwertes Leben (“life unworthy of life”) were first
advanced in the 1920s by intellectuals in the elite salons of America and Europe. Long buried in
ignominy after the horrors of the mid20
th century, they have returned from the grave. The only
difference is that now the doctrines of the eugenicists are dressed up in the language of “liberty,”
“autonomy,” and “choice.”
We will be united and untiring in our efforts to roll back the license to kill that began with the
abandonment of the unborn to abortion. We will work, as we have always worked, to bring
assistance, comfort, and care to pregnant women in need and to those who have been victimized
by abortion, even as 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.
A truly prophetic Christian witness will insistently call on those who have been entrusted with
temporal power to fulfill the first responsibility of government: to protect the weak and vulnerable
against violent attack, and to do so with no favoritism, partiality, or discrimination. 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.
Our concern is not confined to our own nation. Around the globe, we are witnessing cases of
genocide and “ethnic cleansing,” the failure to assist those who are suffering as innocent victims
of war, the neglect and abuse of children, the exploitation of vulnerable laborers, the sexual
trafficking of girls and young women, the abandonment of the aged, racial oppression and
discrimination, the persecution of believers of all faiths, and the failure to take steps necessary to
halt the spread of preventable diseases like AIDS. We see these travesties as flowing from the
same loss of the sense of the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life that
drives the abortion industry and the movements for assisted suicide, euthanasia, and human
cloning for biomedical research. And so ours is, as it must be, a truly consistent ethic of love and
life for all humans in all circumstances.
Marriage
The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman,
for she was taken out of man." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be
united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. Genesis 2:2324
This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of
you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:3233
In Scripture, the creation of man and woman, and their oneflesh
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. Marriage then, is the first institution of human society—indeed it is the institution on
which all other human institutions have their foundation. In the Christian tradition we refer to
marriage as “holy matrimony” to signal the fact that it is an institution ordained by God, and
blessed by Christ in his participation at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. In the Bible, God Himself
blesses and holds marriage in the highest esteem.
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.
Unfortunately, we have witnessed over the course of the past several decades a serious erosion
of the marriage culture in our own country. Perhaps the most telling—and alarming—indicator is
the outofwedlock
birth rate. Less than fifty years ago, it was under 5 percent. Today it is over
40 percent. Our society—and particularly its poorest and most vulnerable sectors, where the outofwedlock
birth rate is much higher even than the national average—is paying a huge price in
delinquency, drug abuse, crime, incarceration, hopelessness, and despair. Other indicators are
widespread nonmarital
sexual cohabitation and a devastatingly high rate of divorce.
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 illadvised
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.
The impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize samesex
and multiple partner
relationships is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture. It
reflects a loss of understanding of the meaning of marriage as embodied in our civil and religious
law and in the philosophical tradition that contributed to shaping the law. Yet it is critical that the
impulse be resisted, for yielding to it would mean abandoning the possibility of restoring a sound
understanding of marriage and, with it, the hope of rebuilding a healthy marriage culture. It would
lock into place the false and destructive belief that marriage is all about romance and other adult
satisfactions, and not, in any intrinsic way, about procreation and the unique character and value
of acts and relationships whose meaning is shaped by their aptness for the generation, promotion
and protection of life. In spousal communion and the rearing of children (who, as gifts of God, are
the fruit of their parents’ marital love), we discover the profound reasons for and benefits of the
marriage covenant.
We acknowledge that there are those who are disposed towards homosexual and polyamorous
conduct and relationships, just as there are those who are disposed towards other forms of
immoral conduct. We have compassion for those so disposed; we respect them as human
beings possessing profound, inherent, and equal dignity; and we pay tribute to the men and
women who strive, often with little assistance, to resist the temptation to yield to desires that they,
no less than we, regard as wayward. We stand with them, even when they falter. We, no less
than they, are sinners who have fallen short of God’s intention for our lives. We, no less than
they, are in constant need of God’s patience, love and forgiveness. We call on the entire
Christian community to resist sexual immorality, and at the same time refrain from disdainful
condemnation of those who yield to it. Our rejection of sin, though resolute, must never become
the rejection of sinners. For every sinner, regardless of the sin, is loved by God, who seeks not
our destruction but rather the conversion of our hearts. Jesus calls all who wander from the path
of virtue to “a more excellent way.” As his disciples we will reach out in love to assist all who hear
the call and wish to answer it.
We further acknowledge that there are sincere people who disagree with us, and with the
teaching of the Bible and Christian tradition, on questions of sexual morality and the nature of
marriage. Some who enter into samesex
and polyamorous relationships no doubt regard their
unions as truly marital. They fail to understand, however, that marriage is made possible by the
sexual complementarity of man and woman, and that the comprehensive, multilevel
sharing of
life that marriage is includes bodily unity of the sort that unites husband and wife biologically as a
reproductive unit. This is because the body is no mere extrinsic instrument of the human person,
but truly part of the personal reality of the human being. Human beings are not merely centers of
consciousness or emotion, or minds, or spirits, inhabiting nonpersonal
bodies. The human
person is a dynamic unity of body, mind, and spirit. Marriage is what one man and one woman
establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life
at every level of being—the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual—
on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which
the spouses become one flesh, not in some merely metaphorical sense, but by fulfilling together
the behavioral conditions of procreation. That is why in the Christian tradition, and historically in
Western law, consummated marriages are not dissoluble or annullable on the ground of infertility,
even though the nature of the marital relationship is shaped and structured by its intrinsic
orientation to the great good of procreation.
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 redefine
to please those who are powerful and
influential.
No one has a civil right to have a nonmarital
relationship treated as a marriage. Marriage is an
objective reality—a covenantal union of husband and wife—that it is the duty of the law to
recognize and support for the sake of justice and the common good. If it fails to do so, genuine
social harms follow. First, the religious liberty of those for whom this is a matter of conscience
is jeopardized. Second, the rights of parents are abused as family life and sex education
programs in schools are used to teach children that an enlightened understanding recognizes
as “marriages” sexual partnerships that many parents believe are intrinsically nonmarital
and
immoral. Third, the common good of civil society is damaged when the law itself, in its critical
pedagogical function, becomes a tool for eroding a sound understanding of marriage on which
the flourishing of the marriage culture in any society vitally depends. Sadly, we are today far
from having a thriving marriage culture. But if we are to begin the critically important process of
reforming our laws and mores to rebuild such a culture, the last thing we can afford to do is to
redefine
marriage in such a way as to embody in our laws a false proclamation about what
marriage is.
And so it is out of love (not “animus”) and prudent concern for the common good (not “prejudice”),
that we pledge to labor ceaselessly to preserve the legal definition of marriage as the union of
one man and one woman and to rebuild the marriage culture. How could we, as Christians, do
otherwise? The Bible teaches us that marriage is a central part of God’s creation covenant.
Indeed, the union of husband and wife mirrors the bond between Christ and his church. And so
just as Christ was willing, out of love, to give Himself up for the church in a complete sacrifice, we
are willing, lovingly, to make whatever sacrifices are required of us for the sake of the inestimable
treasure that is marriage.
Religious Liberty
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good
news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the
captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. Isaiah 61:1
Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's. Matthew 22:21
The struggle for religious liberty across the centuries has been long and arduous, but it is not a
novel idea or recent development. The nature of religious liberty is grounded in the character of
God Himself, the God who is most fully known in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Determined to
follow Jesus faithfully in life and death, the early Christians appealed to the manner in which the
Incarnation had taken place: “Did God send Christ, as some suppose, as a tyrant brandishing
fear and terror? Not so, but in gentleness and meekness..., for compulsion is no attribute of God”
(Epistle to Diognetus 7.34).
Thus the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the example
of Christ Himself and in the very dignity of the human person created in the image of God—a
dignity, as our founders proclaimed, inherent in every human, and knowable by all in the exercise
of right reason.
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.
We see this, for example, in the effort to weaken or eliminate conscience clauses, and therefore
to compel prolife
institutions (including religiously affiliated hospitals and clinics), and prolife
physicians, surgeons, nurses, and other health care professionals, to refer for abortions and, in
certain cases, even to perform or participate in abortions. We see it in the use of antidiscrimination
statutes to force religious institutions, businesses, and service providers of various
sorts to comply with activities they judge to be deeply immoral or go out of business. After the
judicial imposition of “samesex
marriage” in Massachusetts, for example, Catholic Charities
chose with great reluctance to end its centurylong
work of helping to place orphaned children in
good homes rather than comply with a legal mandate that it place children in samesex
households in violation of Catholic moral teaching. In New Jersey, after the establishment of a
quasimarital
“civil unions” scheme, a Methodist institution was stripped of its tax exempt status
when it declined, as a matter of religious conscience, to permit a facility it owned and operated to
be used for ceremonies blessing homosexual unions. In Canada and some European nations,
Christian clergy have been prosecuted for preaching Biblical norms against the practice of
homosexuality. New hatecrime
laws in America raise the specter of the same practice here.
In recent decades a growing body of case law has paralleled the decline in respect for religious
values in the media, the academy and political leadership, resulting in restrictions on the free
exercise of religion. We view this as an ominous development, not only because of its threat to
the individual liberty guaranteed to every person, regardless of his or her faith, but because the
trend also threatens the common welfare and the culture of freedom on which our system of
republican government is founded. Restrictions on the freedom of conscience or the ability to
hire people of one’s own faith or conscientious moral convictions for religious institutions, for
example, undermines the viability of the intermediate structures of society, the essential buffer
against the overweening authority of the state, resulting in the soft despotism Tocqueville so
prophetically warned of. 1 Disintegration of civil society is a prelude to tyranny.
As Christians, we take seriously the Biblical admonition to respect and obey those in authority.
We believe in law and in the rule of law. We recognize the duty to comply with laws whether we
happen to like them or not, unless the laws are gravely unjust or require those subject to them to
do something unjust or otherwise immoral. The biblical purpose of law is to preserve order and
serve justice and the common good; yet laws that are unjust—and especially laws that purport to
compel citizens to do what is unjust—undermine the common good, rather than serve it.
Going back to the earliest days of the church, Christians have refused to compromise their
proclamation of the gospel. In Acts 4, Peter and John were ordered to stop preaching. Their
answer was, “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.” Through the centuries,
Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required.
There is no more eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience than the one
offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Writing from an explicitly
Christian perspective, and citing Christian writers such as Augustine and Aquinas, King taught
that just laws elevate and ennoble human beings because they are rooted in the moral law whose
ultimate source is God Himself. Unjust laws degrade human beings. Inasmuch as they can claim
no authority beyond sheer human will, they lack any power to bind in conscience. King’s
willingness to go to jail, rather than comply with legal injustice, was exemplary and inspiring.
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, embryodestructive
research, assisted
suicide and euthanasia, or any other antilife
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.
301
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Posted by: Clem