A Growing, Grassroots Movement of the Spirit
The Manhattan Declaration began as a statement and has become a movement. For some time a number of us have believed that followers of Jesus Christ should come together, stand together, and speak together in one united voice on the most pressing moral issues of our day. When this happens the world notices and, more importantly, the Lord is pleased. What began as the deep conviction of just two or three has become a chorus of hundreds of thousands across our land. This is surely a moving of the Spirit in our times.
The Manhattan Declaration is a statement of Christian conscience, a confession of religious conviction supported by followers of Jesus Christ from the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical families of faith. Grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and the great tradition of Christian faith through the centuries, and appealing to the God-given gift of reason, we declare that every human life from conception to natural death is sacred, inviolable, and possessed of the full dignity of a human person created in the image of God.
We also declare that marriage – holy matrimony – is the conjugal joining together of one man and one woman in a covenantal bond of mutual love and is the proper context for the nurture of children and the strengthening of family life. We also declare that religious liberty and freedom of conscience, both of which are grounded in the character of God and the example of Christ himself, are intended for all persons and must not be trampled upon by the intrusive power of the state.
Because these three matters are increasingly under assault in our society today, we feel compelled to speak out in their defense. In doing so, we desire to stand in solidarity with all persons of good will for the sake of justice and the common good and on behalf of the most vulnerable members of our community.
These three concerns are not the only matters that require a conscientious response from followers of Jesus Christ, but they are threshold issues that touch on everything else we do including the proclamation of the gospel, concern for the poor, ministry to prisoners, care of creation, and peacemaking in a broken world. A pro-abortionist conservationist is a contradiction in terms! And while we may hold differing views about the best way to provide for healthcare services in our country, together we say that we can never improve health by destroying life.
To read The Manhattan Declaration as a partisan manifesto is to misread it badly. It cuts across political as well as denominational lines and has garnered support from Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike. The Manhattan Declaration represents an ecumenism of conviction, not an ecumenism of accommodation. While we acknowledge many ecclesial and theological differences among ourselves, we believe that our unity in Christ is sufficiently strong for us to stand together and speak out together on behalf of the least, the last, and the lost.
Some media stories about The Manhattan Declaration have depicted it as “a call to civil disobedience.” It is not. We hope and we pray that civil disobedience will not become necessary in a land such as ours committed by our charter documents to religious freedom, freedom of speech, and the right to assembly. But we do say, with the early Christians, that our ultimate allegiance is not to any political ordering of society, but to Almighty God to whom we all shall one day give an account.
When forbidden to preach the gospel, the early Christians replied, “We must obey God rather than man.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an ordained Baptist minister and wrote from an explicitly Christian perspective during the struggle for civil rights in our country. In a time of great tension, he set forth an eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience. King was willing to go to jail rather than to comply with legal injustices that violated human dignity itself.
Those who have embraced the Manhattan Declaration claim this legacy and profess our commitment to Jesus and his teachings. This commitment transcends all other loyalties. This is why we have declared that 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.
Where does The Manhattan Declaration movement go from here? First, we are praying that one million of our fellow Christians will join us in signing the Declaration. We are nearly one-third of the way toward that goal already. I encourage you to read The Manhattan Declaration and, if it resonates with your own convictions, endorse it. Go to www.manhattandeclaration.org for information on how to endorse The Manhattan Declaration.
Second, on our website we have listed twelve action steps you can take to follow through with this commitment. This movement is not driven by top-down directives. It is a growing, grassroots revolution of the Spirit that can change hearts, minds and communities.
Just one example: on December 23, just two days before Christmas (!) more than one-thousand Christian leaders in Mobile, Alabama will be coming together to pray, listen to one another, and join their hearts to consider how to respond to The Manhattan Declaration. A proposal for a similar meeting has come from Detroit, Michigan. We need your input as together we seek the Lord’s wisdom on how best to move forward with this initiative.
As we approach the holy season of Christmas, let us give thanks for the unspeakable gift of God’s redeeming love in His Son, Jesus Christ. Let us join with our fellow believers in presenting him as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Let us recommit ourselves to love and serve Him in the life of the church. In our work and witness together through The Manhattan Declaration, let us earnestly seek that unity for which Jesus prayed when He asked that his disciples be one in their love for God, for one another, and for the world.
Timothy George is the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and a senior editor of Christianity Today.