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The Manhattan Declaration of 2009

More reactions to the Declaration

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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 as necessary to promote their beliefs. 1,2

They stressed three items:

bulletPreventing access to abortion.
bulletPreventing loving committed same-sex couples from marrying.
bulletPreserving religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

This list of reactions is a continuation from a previous essay

Reactions to the Declaration:

bulletBill Muehlenberg, a columnist for Christian Today - Australia wrote:

"On occasions in the recent past various church documents and pronouncements have come forth. Some have been wishy-washy and less than biblical. Thus it is good to find a document like this which is not fearful in tackling some of the biggest threats to religious freedom in general and biblical Christianity in particular."

"It deserves not only a wide hearing but solid backing and promotion. The strong stance demonstrated and enunciated in this Declaration is to be applauded and duplicated, if we are to have the sort of impact we need in an increasingly dark and fragmented society." 1

bulletRev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State commented:

"This declaration is certain to be deeply divisive. These religious leaders want to see their doctrines imposed by force of law, and that goes against everything America stands for. The United States is an incredibly diverse nation, and it would be a disaster if government started favoring one religious perspective over others. ... I am optimistic that the people in the pews will not heed their leaders? misguided call to action. Polls show that most church-goers do not want to see their faith politicized. But I am also well aware that religious leaders have vast lobbying power that cannot be ignored." 2

bulletAn editorial by Truth Wins Out (TWO), a GLBT-positive group, stated:

"Truth Wins Out (TWO) condemned a theocratic anti-gay manifesto that seeks to foist compulsory Christianity on the nation, at the expense of basic liberty, pluralism and freedom. The so-called 'Manhattan Declaration' was signed by 145 fundamentalist, evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox Christian activists, who claimed they were above the law and would refuse to obey state rules unless they were in alignment with their sectarian church beliefs.

" 'This is a disturbing call for anarchy from a group of radical clerics and activists who believe they don?t have play by the same rules as other taxpaying Americans,' said Truth Wins Out?s Executive Director Wayne Besen. 'We call on all Americans who value a free society to stand up and reject this theocratic and intolerant manifesto'."

" 'It is heartbreaking that these so-called Christians have elevated bigotry to be the defining aspect of the religious experience,' said Rev. J.R. Finney, pastor of Covenant Community Church in Birmingham, AL. 'These churches are uniting by dividing this country and making a mockery of the rule of law'." 3

bulletSharon Autenreith of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch criticized the declaration's selection of the three most important issues listed above. She wrote:

"Really? The 'three most important issues'? That?s a bold statement. And what are the issues that are drawing younger evangelicals attention, anyway? ... get a group of young Christians talking about social issues and you are also likely to hear about climate change and justice issues - human trafficking, militarism, and especially global poverty. Let?s just focus on that last one for the moment. Are the signatories of the Manhattan Declaration confident that preventing civil society from recognizing same-sex marriage is a more central issue for Christians than addressing poverty? Are they serious? Let?s see ... in the parable of the sheep and the goats 4 Jesus separated the blessed from the cursed based on how they treated the hungry and thirsty, the sick, the stranger, the naked and the prisoner. If that?s not enough reason to prioritize serving those in need, consider that James 1:27 says that 'Religion God your Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world'."

"My point is not that the sanctity of life and same-sex marriage are non-issues for the church. ... What bothers me is the implication in Colson?s remarks that all Christians must have have identical political priorities. His hierarchy seems to me to be less rooted in scripture than in the present political climate. 5

bulletDavid A. Catania (I), a member of Washington DC's city council, said, "It's a shame they don't extend the same efforts to issues that really matter, like health care and homelessness." 6
 
bulletAccording to the On Faith section of the Washington Post: "Some political activists said the declaration was evidence of evangelical leaders trying to lure back Catholics who voted Democratic in 2006 and last year." 6
 
bulletThe Religious Institute issued the following press release:

Westport, CT, Nov. 23, 2009: "The Manhattan Declaration, endorsed by the most conservative religious leaders in America's religious life, is once again a political call against women?s moral agency and the rights of lesbian and gay persons masquerading in religious language. These religious leaders would have us believe that they will be forced to provide abortions or bless same sex marriages against their religious principles. Nothing could be further from the truth."

"Faith leaders across the political spectrum support religious freedom, the right of each religion to determine its own rites and practices, as well as freedom of the pulpit. Mainstream and progressive religious leaders differ from conservatives in our belief that no single religious voice can speak for all faith traditions on abortion or LGBT equality, nor should government take sides on religious differences. We oppose any attempt to make specific religious doctrine concerning the rights of women and LGBT persons the law for all Americans."

"Ten years ago, a multifaith group of religious leaders issued the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, a 500-word call for sexual justice that affirms full inclusion of women and LGBT persons and a faith-based commitment to reproductive rights. Today, the Religious Declaration has been endorsed by 3,300 religious leaders, including denomination and seminary presidents, from more than 50 faith traditions. Its positions on reproductive justice and LGBT equality reflect the majority opinions of American citizens, faithful and secular alike. Neither the Manhattan Declaration, nor the handful of Catholic bishops and evangelical leaders who created it, speak for most Christians, much less people of other faiths." 7

Our thoughts on the declaration: Bias alert!

We usually avoid drawing conclusions in matters where there is conflict and a lack of consensus. However we would like to suggest two paths forward in this case:

In view of the massive positive achievements and the colossal abuses by Christians down through history, we recommend that individual Christians:

  1. Study history. Realize that every moral advance in Christian countries was both promoted and resisted by Christians who quoted liberally from the Bible, obtained support for their position from church tradition, and promoted themselves as moral Crusaders doing God's will.
     
  2. Assess very carefully the programs promoted by fundamentalist, evangelical, mainline, liberal and progressive Christian groups on each topic, including abortion access, corporal punishment of children, HPV vaccine, physician assisted suicide, equal protections for transgender persons and transsexuals, same-sex marriage, stem cell research, youth sexuality, etc. Hopefully, you will find this website helpful, because it is one of the few religious sites on the Internet that presents both or all sides to each topic.
     
  3. Determine which programs you feel are on the side of history, promote human growth, and make available justice & liberty for all. It is very important to realize that both opposing Christian factions -- from the mid-19th century when the main argument was over human slavery to the early 21st century when the main arguments are over marriage equality and abortion access -- claimed that they stood "... for the common good."
     
  4. Personally promote what you see as positive programs and oppose negative programs. They might well want to assist the signers of the Manhattan Declaration in some of their endeavors while resisting others with all of your available energy.

Another consideration worth studying is whether the three issues selected by the authors of the declaration are worth focusing energy on:

bulletTrying to limiting access to abortion may not be an effective use of effort. The average abortion in a nearby city costs on the order of U.S. $400. The additional cost of flying to a liberal state or to Canada only slightly increases this cost. In order to make abortions very difficult to obtain, it would be necessary to criminalize abortions in every state in the U.S. and in nearby countries. This simply is not going to happen.
 
bulletTrying to prevent same-sex couples from marrying may also not be an effective use of energy:
bulletA significant majority of American adults now favor making civil unions available for same-sex couples.
bulletA majority of young adults favor making marriage (SSM) available to loving, committed same-sex couples.
bulletOnly the elderly are opposed to SSM in large numbers.
bulletThe number of states that provide SSM is increasing.
bulletSSM is available in to qualified visitors to, and residents of, Canada.
bulletThe overall effect is that support for SSM is increasing. The defeats of SSM referenda in California and Maine passed by only a few percent. The overall trend is towards acceptance.
bulletContinued resistance against equal rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (GLBT persons) will increasingly alienate evangelical youth.
 
bulletLoss of religious freedoms for religious conservatives is a largely non-existent problem.
bulletHate crimes laws do not impact hate speech; the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects a broad range of religious speech, including hate speech.
bulletThe widespread belief that a pastor could be charged with conspiracy if a parishioner is motivated by a sermon to commit a hate-filled criminal act is simply false.
bulletTo our knowledge, no U.S. church has been prosecuted or even charged after refusing to marry a couple for any reason. In the past, churches have refused to marry interracial couples, interfaith couples, same-sex couples, even couples where one spouse is disabled, without any problems.
bulletThe National Organization for Marriage's fear-based television ad of 2009-APR attempted to scrounge up cases where conservative Christians felt that they lost their religious freedom. Their arguments simply made no sense.

On the other hand, there are lots of evils and injustices to be tackled that would really improve people's quality of life:

bulletThousands of children are dying every day around the world because of infections caused by lack of access to clean water.
bulletThe abortion rate in the U.S. could be significantly reduced by removing economic roadblocks that give women no option other than abortion.
bulletThe abortion rate could be further reduced to a fraction of its current rate in the U.S. by adopting social and educational policies in place in Europe.
bulletPoverty, even hunger, is a very serious problem, even in the world's richest nation.
bulletReligious intolerance poses a major threat to the survival of the human race to the end of this century.
bulletThe implications of climate change are overwhelming unless the world can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
bulletEliminating corporal punishment of children as a method of discipline would significantly lower the rate of adult alcoholism, drug abuse, clinical depression and clinical anxiety.
bullet40 to 50 thousand people die each year because of lack of health insurance, according to a Harvard University study. 8

You might consider picking one of these problems and volunteering your time to help out in some way.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Bill Muehlenberg, "The Manhattan Declaration," Christian Today - Australia, 2009-NOV-23, at: http://au.christiantoday.com/
  2. Americans United, " 'Manhattan Declaraton' aims to use gov't to impose religion," Opposing Views, 2009-NOV-22, at: http://www.opposingviews.com/
  3. "TWO Declares ?Manhattan Declaration? is Bigoted, Lawless and a Danger to American Values," Truth Wins Out, 2009-NOV-20, at: http://www.truthwinsout.org/
  4. From Matthew 25:31-46. It lists the specific criteria by which people's salvation and eternal destiny will be determined.
  5. Sharon Autenrieth, "The Manhattan Declaration: A Hierarchy of Issues for Christians?," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2009-NOV-21, at: http://www.stltoday.com/
  6.  Michelle Boorstein & Hamil R. Harris, "Christian leaders take issue with laws," The Washington Post, 2009-NOV-21, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  7. "Religious leaders call 'Call to Conscience' unjust," Religious Institute, 2009-NOV-23, at: http://www.religiousinstitute.org/ This is a PDF file.
  8. David Cecere, "New study finds 45,000 deaths annually linked to lack of health coverage, Cambridge Health Alliance, 2009-SEP-17, at: http://www.harvardscience.harvard.edu/

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Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Originally written: 2009-NOV-22
Latest update: 2009-NOV-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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