Nearly 300,000 persons have now signed the Manhattan Declaration (named Manhattan because the original signers met in Manhattan). The declaration was released November 20, and is intended to be a declaration of Christian moral and theological principles in response to forces, national and global, that are leading to the breakdown of civil society. The original draft was prepared by persons such as Robert George of Princeton University, Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School, and Chuck Colson. However, input for the document was provided by major Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders with 149 original signees.
The 4,700 word statement analyzes major dehumanizing forces that threaten society as we know it today and then affirms three general principles.
- The sanctity of human life.
- The dignity of human marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife.
- The rights of conscience and religious liberty.
The analysis is extensive. For example, the section on the sanctity of human life addresses "ethnic cleansing," war, sexual trafficking of girls and young women, the exploitation of vulnerable laborers, the abandonment of the aged, racial oppression and discrimination, the persecution of believers of all faiths, and the failure to address and halt the spread of preventable diseases like AIDS. It also--and at this point, the document becomes more controversial--addresses the loss of the sense of dignity of persons that drives the abortion industry and movements for assisted suicide, euthanasia, and human cloning for biomedical research. Persons can access and add their names to the document by following the link ManhattanDeclaration.org.
While the main focus of this Happenings article is to comment on the significance of the Manhattan Declaration, and the widespread support for the affirmations among the major part of American Christianity, it is worth noting the reaction (or lack of) among "mainline" leaders, and especially among United Methodists.
The Declaration has been widely reported and discussed in most Christian media. However, acknowledgment of the Declaration among United Methodist institutional leaders is conspicuous by its absence. United Methodist News Service has carried no articles on the declaration. The United Methodist Reporter printed one small paragraph acknowledging the Declaration and commenting that the declaration called for the possibility of civil disobedience.
This is disappointing. The declaration basically is a reflection of traditional Christianity. It would be supported by the vast majority of United Methodists in the pews. It has been supported by many United Methodist pastors and laypersons (at least among those who know about it). More importantly, it is basically in agreement with the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church. Not only do our Social Principles and our Book of Resolutions support almost every issue raised by the Declaration, they would not be in conflict even with the more controversial ones, including the dignity of human marriage as the conjugal union of a man and a woman, the importance of the family, and the sanctity of human life.
However, the Manhattan Declaration obviously is an expression of traditional and evangelical Christianity and, as one seminary person related to me once, "We choose not to be identified with that form of Christianity." The problem is that "mainline" Christianity as represented, say, by the National Council of Churches, once represented a majority of American Christians. Now it represents less than 20%.
So, following the story of the Manhattan Declaration reveals the disconnect between United Methodist institutional corporate culture and that part of American Christianity that is Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and evangelical Protestant. Either our leaders are unaware of what goes on in the larger world, or they are aware and choose to ignore it, or they do not ignore it and are critical of it.
Those who are critical raise accusations that such expressions are irresponsible, right-wing, and not really interested in matters such as social justice. But the Manhattan Declaration is all about justice. Indeed, that is its main theme. But it is justice from a more moderate and conservative point of view and that makes it unacceptable.
As in an article by Michael Stone in the Portland Progressive Examiner:
The Manhattan Declaration represents the greatest threat we face as a species, the threat from religious ignorance and superstition. The signers of the Declaration represent the American Taliban; they are Christo-Fascists, and they are every bit as dangerous as the religious fanatics who flew airplanes into buildings on 9/11.
So, if mainline leaders are not interested in declarations like the Manhattan Declaration what are they interested in?
Well, for one, the bishops issued a statement on "God's renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action." This statement, which was to be read aloud in every United Methodist Church, would direct the church's energy toward reversing global warming and concern for carbon footprints. Following this there is a commitment of church resources toward seeking to influence the events at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The World Council of Churches wanted churches to sound bells, drums, gongs, or other instruments on December 13, to call attention to the importance of this event. At this moment United Methodist apportionment money is paying the way of at least six and probably more UM agency staff and board members to go to Copenhagen and lobby or demonstrate or do whatever at the conference. There is a question of what they are to lobby for, since the issues are so complex that it is (or should be) impossible to know what the proper Christian response should be.
The bishops want the US to get out of Afghanistan (they seemed much more adamant about this when George Bush was president than when Barack Obama is president).
Whatever is occupying the time and energies of church leaders it does not seem to be on issues relating to marriage, family, dignity of the individual, and religious liberty. These are the issues addressed by the Manhattan Declaration.
It is quite possible there have been bishops or church agency staff persons who have signed onto the Declaration, or at least recognized that it is exists. We at The Confessing Movement would be most pleased if names of such persons or their comments could be passed on to us.
By Dr. Riley Case, The Confessing Movement