What Does the Manhattan Declaration Really Mean?
A New Christian Coalition?
Late last week, representatives from leading evangelical political advocacy groups unveiled "The Manhattan Declaration," a call for Christian unity on issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty. The coalition of advocacy groups and ministries cut across Christian traditions but did not include many leaders from what some consider the Christian Right's old guard.
Chuck Colson, who led the declaration's creation, called it "a wake-up call—a call to conscience—for the church" and a "crystal-clear message to civil authorities that we will not, under any circumstances, stand idly by as our religious freedom comes under assault."
The declaration, which now has over 20,000 signatures, begins with a reminder of the church's non-cooperation with injustice, tyranny, and oppression. It then states that today, this non-cooperation must include the protection of life, marriage, and religious liberty.
Colson told Christianity Today that these issues "are foundational to a Christian perspective and society. It was important for us to ground all of our moral concerns in the three foundational truths."
"We argue that there is a hierarchy of issues," Colson told The New York Times, "A lot of the younger evangelicals say they're all alike. We're hoping to educate them that these are the three most important issues."
The Manhattan Declaration is noteworthy for both the leaders who signed it and those who did not.
The declaration has received national attention because, in addition to many American evangelical leaders, its signatories include nine Catholic archbishops, the president of the Catholic League, the primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, and the primate of the Orthodox Church in America.
However, notably absent are leaders from political groups seen by many as the "Christian Right," including the American Family Association, American Center for Law and Justice, Concerned Women for America, and Traditional Values Coalition. The John Hancocks of Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson and Sojourners founder Jim Wallis are also missing.
It is not clear whether these groups turned down an invitation to join the coalition or were not invited.
Leaders of other political advocacy groups gave their own interpretations of the document. For Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, the document did not present a hierarchy of issues but places the protection of life, marriage, and religious freedom alongside the church's historical work against poverty, racism, and promoting the dignity of women.
"I agree strongly with the Manhattan Declaration, that the sanctity of human life, the historical definition of marriage, and robust religious freedom are under serious threat at this point in our history," Sider said in a statement. "The Manhattan Declaration does NOT say that these are the most important moral issues of our time. It only says that these are crucial moral issues."
Faith in Public Life, which did not sign the declaration, questioned "why Colson would think re-releasing existing arguments about an already clearly defined platform will win over young Christians." It pointed to its study of younger evangelicals, which finds they are more tolerant of same-sex marriage and consider economic issues and health care as important as abortion (though young evangelicals are more pro-life than older evangelicals).
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said that the declaration is a proactive stand for religious freedom. "At the heart of the Manhattan Declaration is a very significant message from Christian leaders that they will not wait to respond to efforts that would limit or curtail religious liberty in America," said Perkins.