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Chuck Colson (courtesy Manhattan Declaration)

Reflecting an 'urgency'

Religion | Sensing threats to bedrock institutions of society, church leaders release the Manhattan Declaration

WASHINGTON-Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and evangelical leaders stood together Friday to release the Manhattan Declaration, a statement of Christian convictions on the matters of life, family, and religious liberty.

Chuck Colson, head of Prison Fellowship and one of the initiators of the declaration, told me after document's release, "I can't find any other case, in modern times at least, when you've had such a representation." Upon its release, the declaration had 148 signatories including pastors, professors, bishops, economists, and nonprofit leaders. WORLD's founder Joel Belz and editor in chief Marvin Olasky are both signatories. By late afternoon, 1,600 had signed on the declaration's website.

The timing of the release before the Senate vote on healthcare Saturday, according to Colson, was a "coincidence." Members of the coalition said the document reflected an "urgency" the global church feels about certain issues.

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The preamble to the declaration reads, "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."

A brain trust of Christians hatched the idea about a year ago, meeting together in the Metropolitan Club in Manhattan-thus, the name. Robert George, jurisprudence professor at Princeton University and noted Catholic scholar, wrote a draft, then fielded edits from about 50 contributors before rewriting and polishing the declaration into its published form. Signers included Christian leaders like Tim Keller, J.I. Packer (see "Patriarch," Dec. 5, 2009), and Cardinal Justin Rigali, as well as leaders of organizations like Focus on the Family, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Evangelicals for Social Action.

The principles, Rigali noted, "are not the unique preserve of the Christian community-they can be known and honored by people apart from divine revelation." Father Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute added that the declaration isn't emerging from "a penchant for theocracy."

The declaration states that President Obama's goal to reduce the need for abortions is "commendable," but his pledge to make abortion more readily available through a variety of means contradicts that goal. The document eschews partisan pigeonholing because administrations of both parties have been "complicit in giving legal sanction" to a "culture of death."

On marriage, the declaration addresses the problems of out-of-wedlock births, cohabitation, and divorce. For the church's failure to uphold the "the dignity of marriage," it reads, "we repent." It goes on to lay out concerns with same-sex marriage. "[I]t 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," it reads.

Signatories recognize a growing list of threats to religious liberty: the weakening of conscience clauses protecting religious workers in the health industry, antidiscrimination statutes that could force religious nonprofits to facilitate adoptions to gay couples, and heightened hate crimes laws that could affect free speech.

Father Chad Hatfield, head of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, said he signed it because, "We know what it's like to be intimidated into silence," referring to Eastern Orthodox persecution under communism.

The declaration closes: "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."
Click here to read Joel Belz's response to questions and criticism about his and Marvin Olasky's participation in the Manhattan Declaration.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.


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