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Religious Tolerance logo

The Manhattan Declaration of 2009

Analysis of the preamble.
Divisions within Christianity.

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About the Manhattan Declaration:

A group of over 150 "Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical" Christian leaders released their Manhattan Declaration -- a call for people to resist many changes to the culture. It advocates civil disobedience if necessary. 1

Comments on the preamble:

The preamble lists many positive contributions of Christian over the past two millennia. However, it did not mention the major role played by Christians in the promotion of scientific research. From the Middle Ages and Renaissance, until the present time, the Church actively funded and organized scientific research. This church activity may not have been included in the declaration because of the widespread awareness of the Church's treatment of early scientists. Examples are the long term torture and final execution of Giordano Bruno and the threatened torture and long-term house arrest of Galileo -- both by the Inquisition.

Also not mentioned in the preamble were massive oppression, mass murders, and genocides from the past. Examples are:

bulletThe horrendous persecution of Jews by Christians from 306 to 1945 CE -- the longest lasting mass crime against humanity and one that that set the foundations for the Nazi Holocaust,
bulletThe "burning times" from about 1450 to 1792 when tens of thousands of persons who were perceived to be Satan worshipers or other heretics were turned over to the state to be burned at the stake in Catholic countries of Western Europe. They were hanged in Protestant countries.
bulletThe massive genocides of Native peoples in North America, South America, Australia, and the Belgium Congo/Congo Free State.

Also omitted were mass crimes against humanity in more recent years:

bulletThe genocide perpetrated by Roman Catholic fascists of Jews, Roma, and fellow Christians in Croatia,
bulletThe genocide by Serbian Orthodox Christians primarily of Muslims in Bosnia Herzegovina, and
bulletThe genocide by predominately Roman Catholic Hutus of fellow Roman Catholic Tutsis in Rwanda.

Divisions within Christianity over past centuries and now:

The preamble of the Manhattan Declaration states:

"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." 1

It is certainly true that conservative Christians are capable of changing the culture by:

bulletAppealing to the public conscience,
bulletAdvocating laws that restrict freedom of choice on sexual matters, and
bulletDepriving sexual minorities of equal treatment and protection.

However, Christians as a whole are profoundly divided on what practices should be promoted. Whatever path is supported  by religious conservatives will probably be strongly opposed by liberal/progressive Christians, and vice-versa.

The items included in the preamble are correct: Christians played a major role in every major moral advance within the primarily Christian countries listed. However, Christians were not unanimous in their support of moral advances. They were often fought tooth and nail by fellow Christians. For example, the main groups in North America, Europe, etc. that

bulletAttempted to preserve slavery,
bulletConducted various genocides of non-Christians and fellow Christians,
bulletAttempted to continue restrictions on the rights of women,
bulletWorked to prevent vaccination,
bulletAttempted to prevent universal suffrage,
bulletAttempted to continue the ban and criminalization of inter-racial marriages,
bulletAttempted to preserve racial segregation,
bulletAttempted and continue to try to limit the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals (GLBT), etc.

were/are also Christian.

It is important to realize that in the present, as in the past, devout, intelligent, thoughtful, prayerful, sincere Christians take opposing positions, and support each with biblical passages. Further, both or all sides are generally totally convinced that they have assessed the will of God through prayer, and are acting as God's agents on Earth. This throws into doubt the power of prayer to assess God's will. If prayer works, we shouldn't have groups of Christians praying to God and receiving different messages in return. A pilot study seems to confirm that one cannot reliably assess the will of God through prayer. However, few Christians realize this.

Conflicts within Christianity continue today with conservative fundamentalist, other evangelical, Roman Catholic, Orthodox  and Mormon Christians attempting to:

bulletLimit women's access to abortion,
bulletPrevent comprehensive education in human sexuality.
bulletRestrict GLBT rights and protections, and
bulletPrevent same-sex marriage

Meanwhile, other Christians have jointed with secularists in efforts to:

bulletReduce the abortion rate by making childbirth a feasible option for more pregnant women and to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies,
bulletAchieve equal rights and protections for GLBTs, and
bulletAchieve marriage equality for persons of all sexual orientations by legalizing same-sex marriage.

Only the passage of time will reveal:

bulletWhich faction of Christianity is currently on the side of history for each of these conflicts, and
bulletWhich faction will be seen by future generations to have made a positive contribution to humanity, and which will be viewed as having retarded progress.

This is not an unusual situation. It is often impossible to attain a consensus on most items that divide Christians until decades, generations, and even centuries after conflict dies down. Some examples are:

bulletHuman slavery: It is now a century and a half since slavery was the main "hot" topic among Christians in the U.S. At the time, various religious leaders promoted both the pro-slavery and abolitionist causes. They often supported their beliefs by quoting biblical verses. Today, with the perspective of history, human slavery is almost universally viewed as a horrendous evil.
bulletAllowing women to vote: It has been almost a century since, women were first allowed to vote in the U.S. Religious leaders passionately argued on both sides of the conflict. Today, the vast majority of Americans strongly favor universal suffrage.
bulletInterracial marriage: The U.S. Supreme Court declared all of the 16 state miscegenation laws unconstitutional in 1967. At the time 72% of American adults were opposed to interracial marriage, and a near-majority favored criminalizing such marriages. It was only in 1991 -- 24 years later -- that those opposed to interracial marriage became a minority in the country.

Today, equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals (LGBT) -- including same-sex marriage -- is a hotly debated topic:

bulletMany conservative Christians use six well known "clobber" passages in the Bible to argue against equal rights for persons of all sexual orientations, and to argue against marriage equality.
bulletMeanwhile. many liberal Christians, progressive Christians, secularists, and religious liberals from other religions use biblical themes of justice and equality to argue in favor of equal rights and marriage.

It is anyone's guess what the future will hold, although public opinion polls seem to indicate a gradual shift towards equal rights and protections for sexual minorities, driven by young adults and opposed by the elderly.

Next essay in this section.

Reference used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience," Text of the Manhattan Declaration, 2009-NOV-20, at: http://manhattandeclaration.org/ This is a PDF file.

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Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Originally written: 2009-NOV-22
Latest update: 2009-NOV-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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