(Photo: The Christian Post)
WASHINGTON – Evangelical, Orthodox and Catholic leaders who unveiled the "Manhattan Declaration" Friday insisted the document is not a political ploy.
Rather, it is a testament to their common Christian witness as they stand to uphold what they believe are the three most foundational issues in society – the sanctity of life, the historic understanding of marriage, and religious liberty.
"This is not a politically motivated agenda," Dr. Timothy George, one of three leaders who drafted the document, said as he addressed the media. "We are talking out of deep religious principles grounded in the holy Scriptures and the use of reason as we understand it as a God-given gift."
While actions by the Obama administration – including the repeal of the Mexico City Policy, lifted restrictions on funding for embryonic stem cell research, and the most recent passage of the expanded hate crimes law – impact the urgency of the document, it was not released as a confrontational statement.
"The principles that undergird the Manhattan Declaration are enduring," George stressed. "They are motivated and come from the deepest resources of our faith. And in that sense, it's a statement that could've been made last year, 10 years ago, and we think will be relevant 10 ... years from now."
In the works for around eight months, "The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience" was drafted last summer by George; Chuck Colson, founder of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview; and Dr. Robert George, director of James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.
Issues addressed in the document are nothing new. But the coalition behind the document is unprecedented, Timothy George noted, as it not only includes people from Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic traditions but also transcends political lines.
"I am a registered Democrat but my commitment to Jesus Christ, to a biblically balanced political agenda and to a consistent ethic of life far transcends any ...political commitments," commented Dr. Ronald Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action.
The declaration has been signed by more than 125 leaders who commit to defending fundamental truths about justice and the common good, no matter what, and who refuse to compromise their proclamation of the Gospel – particularly in the areas of human life, marriage and freedom of conscience and religion.
Those three issues do not comprise the whole scope of Christian moral concern, but are the most foundational, they say.
"We're not segregating issues," Colson, who also helped draft the declaration, noted to The Christian Post. "We're saying all these issues are important but they flow out of three foundations."
With regard to human life, travesties such as genocide, sexual trafficking and racial oppression flow 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," the document reads.
Meanwhile, marriage is the most important institution for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all persons in a society, the declaration states. Delinquency, drug abuse, crime, incarceration, despair, and a high rate of divorce and out-of-wedlock birth rate are some indicators of the erosion of the marriage culture.
Also, restrictions on religious liberty and the freedom of conscience "threaten the common welfare and the culture of freedom on which our system of republican government is founded" and could lead to tyranny, the document cautions.
While the Manhattan Declaration informs civil authorities that signers will not abandon their Christian consciences, it also serves as a wake-up call to the church, Colson stressed. The Church has a job on its hands and that is to present the Gospel, he said.
"This job is not just political. Our job is cultural," he added.
The Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, agreed.
"Our task as those who preach the word is to touch human hearts. [When] their hearts are touched then society itself is changed," he said Friday. "We're addressing issues that are cultural and we're addressing them out of our Great Tradition."
Signers of the document affirm, "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."
The Manhattan Declaration was made available to the public at manhattandeclaration.org on Friday and so far more than 3,000 people have added their signatures.