Manhattan declaration of religious traditionalism


A group of over 150 Christian ordained and lay persons from representing mainly evangelical, Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions, have released a manifesto linking the preservation of religious freedom to the need for a government ban on all abortions and any sort of same sex marriage.

The New York Times writes:

Citing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to civil disobedience, 145 evangelical, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders have signed a declaration saying they will not cooperate with laws that they say could be used to compel their institutions to participate in abortions, or to bless or in any way recognize same-sex couples….

…The document was written by Mr. (Chuck) Colson; Robert P. George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, who is Catholic; and the Rev. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, an evangelical interdenominational school on the campus of Samford University, in Birmingham, Ala.

The AP says:

The 4,700-word document, called “The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience,” sounds familiar themes from political and social debates over the health care overhaul and gay marriage battles.

While acknowledging that “Christians and our institutions have too often scandalously failed to uphold the institution of marriage,” the group rejects same-sex marriage. The declaration states that opening a legal door for gay marriage would do the same for “polyamorous partnerships, polygamous households, even adult brothers, sisters, or brothers and sisters living in incestuous relationships….”

…The declaration also cites threats to health care workers’ conscience clauses and anti-discrimination statutes it argues impinge on religious freedoms.

Signatories include 15 Roman Catholic bishops, including New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan and Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl; Focus on the Family founder James Dobson; National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson; seminary leaders, professors and pastors.

At the heart of the declaration is the assertion that religious freedom is absolute.

Christians confess that God alone is Lord of the conscience. Immunity from religious coercion is the cornerstone of an unconstrained conscience. No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will, nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions. What is true for individuals applies to religious communities as well.

But for the signers, religious freedom does not extend to those who would bless same-sex unions out of religious conviction, or who of theological reflection understand that birth control is a matter of conscience and those who would pastor rather than condemn women who have had abortions.

The freedom to opt-out is not enough because conscience clauses for this group flows in only one direction and so, it follows, does religious freedom. They contend (without citing a single example) that conscience clauses are being eliminated so that “pro- life institutions (including religiously affiliated hospitals and clinics), and pro-life physicians, surgeons, nurses, and other health care professionals, to refer for abortions and, in certain cases, even to perform or participate in abortions.”

The document does some cite examples where conservative churches have bumped up against anti-discrimination statues in matters of employment, public accommodation, client access or delivery of services.

We see it in the use of anti-discrimination statutes to force religious institutions, businesses, and service providers of various sorts to comply with activities they judge to be deeply immoral or go out of business. After the judicial imposition of “same-sex marriage” in Massachusetts, for example, Catholic Charities chose with great reluctance to end its century-long work of helping to place orphaned children in good homes rather than comply with a legal mandate that it place children in same-sex households in violation of Catholic moral teaching. In New Jersey, after the establishment of a quasi-marital “civil unions” scheme, a Methodist institution was stripped of its tax exempt status when it declined, as a matter of religious conscience, to permit a facility it owned and operated to be used for ceremonies blessing homosexual unions.

They cite the example of the controversy in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, a seaside resort within the township of Neptune, which had been operating as township in the State of New Jersey for many years. The controversy the document cites is not the simple matter of the State trying to force a church into holding same-sex civil union ceremonies, but the case of a private association that manages a public accommodation that heretofore did not require a religious test or limitation to use the facility denying a same-sex couple from using it for a civil union ceremony. No matter where one stands on the issue of same-sex marriage, the question is far from a simple case of religious (or non-religious) coercion that the writers of the document portray.

In the case of Catholics in Massachusetts getting out of the adoption business because they would not field same-sex clients, the writers ignore the fact that the agencies own board and most employees disagreed with the Catholic hierarchy on this issue and had developed a process that met both the terms of state law and church teaching. As we are seeing in Washington, DC, and in the current health-care bill before congress, this kind of compromise is not enough.

Those who signed this statement say that they are fearful that even teaching that same-sex marriage is wrong could get them arrested, accused of “hate-crimes.” This was put to the test this week when some Christian pastors tried to provoke their own arrest by publicly saying unkind and harsh words against homosexuals on the steps of the Justice Department. No one was arrested. The organizers forgot that to be arrested for a hate-crime, one must commit or plan to commit, an actual crime. According to Dana Milbank of the Washington Post,

The evangelical activists had been hoping to provoke arrest, because, as organizer Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission put it, “we’d have standing to challenge the law.” But their prayers were not answered. Nobody was arrested, which wasn’t surprising: To run afoul of the new law, you need to “plan or prepare for an act of physical violence” or “incite an imminent act of physical violence.”

The manifesto makes much of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, who wrote from a Birmingham jail to mainly white pastors who claimed sympathy with civil rights but refused to commit to the struggle, citing his understanding of civil disobedience as the basis for their proposed resistance. What the writers do not acknowledge, nor repent of, is the fact that many of these same traditions and scriptural arguments were used then to justify state-sanctioned racism and violent resistance to integration.

The Manhattan Declaration defines the struggle to maintain state-sanctioned laws that promote discrimination and limit abortions in terms of religious freedom. The signatories not only want to preserve the right to teach and discriminate within their own institutions but they want to the power of government to give them a special place in the public sphere so that their private scruples become public policy. They want their own freedom of religion to be protected at the expense of other peoples freedom of conscience.

See the New York Times report here. Read the AP reporthere and the Manhattan Declaration here.

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