The unprecedented pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-religious freedom Manhattan Declaration , unveiled in a press conference last Friday, has already been signed by over 150,000 individuals in less than a week, and the numbers are continuing to rise by the second.
The 4,700-word "Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience" was drafted by Dr. Robert George, Dr. Timothy George and Chuck Colson. At the time of its release last week it was signed by more than 125 prominent religious figures, including figures from Orthodox, Catholic and evangelical Christian denominations. That number has now risen to over 170, including 18 Roman Catholic bishops, in addition to the 150,000 ordinary Christians.
Colson says he hopes that the document will eventually be signed by more than 1,000,000 individuals, which, given its current momentum, hardly seems out of the question.
The Declaration is a non-denominational statement that throws down the gauntlet to a secular culture that is increasingly encroaching upon the rights of Christians who hold to traditional moral values, especially on the issues of marriage and the right to life. "We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers," says the document, "that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence."
The document goes on to challenge the growing movement to silence Christians by force of the law in the strongest terms, going so far as to intimate civil disobedience. "Unjust laws degrade human beings," says the document. "They lack any power to bind in conscience. [Martin Luther] King’s willingness to go to jail, rather than comply with legal injustice, was exemplary and inspiring."
The enormous popularity of the document appears to arise largely from its ability to bind together Christians from diverse theological and denominational backgrounds to fight for a common cause – the right to life, the preservation of true marriage, and the right to religious liberty.
Dr. Albert Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of the original signatories to the document, admitted earlier this week that he usually does not sign on to such statements, which often require the signatories to compromise on key doctrinal issues. However, he said, the Manhattan Declaration is "not a wide-ranging theological document that subverts confessional integrity." Rather, "It is a statement of urgent concern and common conscience on these three issues – the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and the defense of religious liberty."
While, he says, he still believes that the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations have got it wrong on important theological issues, "when Catholic Charities in Massachusetts chose to end its historic ministry of placing orphaned children in good homes because the State of Massachusetts required it to place children with same-sex couples, this is not just a Catholic issue."
Indeed, he said, the issues at stake are simply too urgent to ignore. "I believe," he said, "we are facing an inevitable and culture-determining decision on the three issues centrally identified in this statement. … There is every good reason to believe that the freedom to conduct Christian ministry according to Christian conviction is being subverted and denied before our eyes."
The Declaration has become a rallying point for Christian leaders, like Mohler, who have read the signs of the times and come to believe that the public square is becoming increasingly hostile to basic Christian values.
Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, said about the Declaration that, "Standing in the shadow of the cross, Christian leaders have drawn a cultural and political line in the sand from which they have pledged they will not be moved."
"We are bringing our faith to bear on public policy because we see the efforts of the Left as a frontal assault on human dignity, the American family, and the future of our children," he continued. "For this reason, we will not retreat an inch and will make the case for life, marriage, and religious liberty in the public square."
In the U.K., where the rights of Christians are under attack more fiercely than almost anywhere else in the West, Telegraph writer Gerald Warner wrote that, "For harassed, demoralised faithful in the pews [the Manhattan Declaration] will come as the long-awaited call to resistance and an earnest (sic) that their leaders are no longer willing to lie down supinely to be run over by the anti-Christian juggernaut."
The timeliness of the document is highlighted by the fact that earlier this month the House of Commons in the U.K. voted for the fourth time to remove conscience protections from proposed "equality" legislation that explicitly would have allowed Christians to continue to express moral disagreement with homosexual behavior. While the conscience language was later reinserted by the House of Lords, the momentum in the U.K. is clearly on the secuarlists’ side, for the moment. Numerous Catholic adoptions agencies were either forced to close or secularize after the government passed the so-called Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) in 2007, and there are increasing reports of Christians being forced out of their jobs or visited by the police simply because they expressed their moral convictions, usually on the issue of homosexuality.
It is precisely the increasing occurence of these types of anti-Christian actions on the part of government that have led the organizers of the Manhatten Declaration to issue and sign the document.
"In a world" continued Gerald Warner, "where a Swedish pastor has been jailed for preaching that sodomy is sinful, similar prosecutions have taken place in Canada, the European Court of Human Rights (sic) has tried to ban crucifixes in Italian classrooms, Brazil has passed totalitarian legislation imposing heavy prison sentences for criticism of homosexual lifestyles, Amnesty International is championing abortion, David Cameron has voted for the enforced closure of Catholic adoption agencies, and Gordon Brown’s government has just been defeated in its fourth attempt to abolish the Waddington Clause guaranteeing free speech – this robust defiance [of the Manhattan Declaration] is more than timely."