The US based Manhattan Declaration is something that has been on my mind of late, when trying to weigh the things that I regard as important in political and public life. According to Wikipedia, it is: “a Call of Christian Conscience is a manifesto issued by Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christian leaders to affirm support of “the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty”. It was drafted on October 20, 2009, and released November 20, 2009”. Those who drafted the declaration and who encouraged others to “sign up” did so out of concern that these principles are being attacked in the culture, and this needed withstanding. I concurred and still do. The movement is still going strong and, among many other e-missives I receive, there are those from those leading the movement, which relate to its calling. Something similar in the UK, the Westminster Declaration, no longer functions.
Checking out the Manhattan Declaration Website, I find the following information about its concerns:
SANCTITY OF LIFE
A culture of death inevitably cheapens life in all its stages and conditions by promoting the belief that lives that are imperfect, immature or inconvenient are discardable.
“Please don’t kill the child. I want the child. Please give me the child. I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child.” – MOTHER TERESA, NATIONAL PRAYER BREAKFAST, 1994
DIGNITY OF MARRIAGE
The Union of one man and one woman.
Marriage is the first institution of human society – indeed it is the institution on which all other human institutions have their foundation.
“When the family collapses, it is the children that are usually damaged. When it happens on a massive scale, the community itself is crippled.” – LYNDON B. JOHNSON
FREEDOM OF RELIGION
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.
“Religious freedom, an essential requirement of the dignity of every person, is a cornerstone of the structure of human rights, and for this reason, an irreplaceable factor in the good of individuals and of the whole of society as well as of the personal fulfillment of each individual.” – POPE JOHN PAUL II
I have little doubt in the current US Presidential contest that Donald Trump, despite his many faults, is more likely to go along with the Manhattan Declaration than Hillary Clinton. None of these issues were raised in the recent presidential debate, suggesting that for many / most there were far more important issues, such as the economy, national security, and the leadership qualities of the two candidates. It was, however, touched on in the vice presidential debate, where it became clear that a Trump / Pence ticket would be pro-life and a Clinton / Kaine ticket would be pro choice. When speaking to a Women of the World summit in late April, Clinton offered this nugget of “wisdom”: “Far too many women are denied access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth, and laws don’t count for much if they’re not enforced. Rights have to exist in practice—not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” It is evident, by Clinton’s own admission, that persons of faith will be coerced to follow a pro-choice agenda (see here).
Regarding the relative merits of the two presidential candidates, I have considered these at length in my previous blogs, and while the three main issues addressed by the Manhattan Declaration are especially important to me, I recognize these are three among many, and like in all contests where one is called to deliver a verdict, there are many other factors that have to be weighed, and as of now I am undecided. However, seven years on from when the Declaration was presented to the world, I have had plenty of time to reflect on the three issues that it sought to address and in that time a lot of water has flowed under the bridge, showing little sign of settling.
SANCTITY OF LIFE
A quick check shows in 2012 699,202 abortions were carried out in the US; in 2015 185,824 abortions were carried out in the UK. It is tempting to dig further and do comparisons between years etc., but the facts illustrate something that continues to grieve pro lifers. There are other issues too that relate, e.g. embryo research. I am mindful, even among those who share my community activist concerns, that for some the women’s “right to choose” is sacrosanct. I take the view that the right to life trumps these other rights and the only possible exception may be if the woman’s life is in danger. But I do get the challenge thrown out by some, that some / many of those who advocate pro-life, do not do enough to support life when it has come into the world, evidence by the number who die young from preventable disease and / or are innocent victims in some or other conflict, societal inequalities and social injustices that blight the life of those on the wrong end, and the plight of unaccompanied minors in Calais and many more child refugees, the world over.
DIGNITY OF MARRIAGE
Since 2009, US and UK society, or rather those with power to decide in such matters, have deemed in their “wisdom” to redefine marriage; now same sex couples can marry. Besides questioning the wisdom of what appears as a done deal, I am exercised as to how to approach those in same sex relationships, mindful that some who sign up to the Manhattan Declaration are homophobic and have not been kind in the way they have treated LBGT folk (even if homosexuality is sinful, it is no more so than a whole raft of other “sins” that are often conveniently ignored). Even so, I believe it is important to affirm that while gay may be ok, acting gay, typically through sexual relationships, isn’t, and the fact society increasingly frowns on and ostracizes those that do not accept societal norms on this matter, is one reason why these things need to be said. It should also be noted that since 2009, the issue of “transgenderism” has become more prominent and also needs addressing. Also, prior to 2009, and it remains the case, there has been the breakdown of the family phenomena, and this too is something to be regretted. The prevalence of divorce, extra and pre marital affairs and pornography are all matters that impact the family and should be as much a concern as the growing acceptance of same sex relationships. The key to a healthy society is strong families. While I would want to maintain the dignity of same sex couples, I feel at the heart of the family will normally be the father and mother (husband and wife).
FREEDOM OF RELIGION
At the time of when the Manhattan Declaration was made, there were a number of examples where religious freedom appeared to have been threatened. In the UK, I recall the B&B owners who were fined through the courts for not giving a double bed to a gay couple, and the relationship councilor who asked not to counsel a gay couple on how to improve their sex life, and was sacked. And there have been many such incidents since then, on both sides of the Pond. Often it was a clash between gay and religious rights, with gay rights being given precedence. Understandably, religion should not be an excuse to discriminate (I wonder how many justified racism in the past on religious grounds), but equally, being able to act in accordance with one’s conscience is often important for a religious person. I will always counsel abiding by the law, with the only exception being, and when civil disobedience may be justified, is if it comes down to a choice between obeying God or man, something John Bunyan knew all too well. Too often it has meant those with deeply held religious views being punished for acting accordingly. A recent case is of the Northern Ireland bakers (Ashers) who were fined for not providing a suitably inscribed cake to promote a gay rights campaign. If they had denied a service based on the customers sexual orientation, they should have been punished, but here they were asked to promote something they could not do in all conscience. While religious persecution is something to be reckoned with and may be less significant than many other societal ills, it is a shame that the very people who can offer so much to the community are forced out of the public square and error prevails. I will continue to support those who think and act according to their conscience, whatever their religion or none, yet seek to grant respect to all.
As I consider the issues around sanctity of life, dignity of marriage and freedom of religion, I recognize for some, including among Christians, these three areas are no big deal compared with many other wrongs going on. For me it is not either / or but both. If these matters aren’t dealt with in the right way, we will be worse off as a society. I fear God’s judgment over the killing of innocents, the untoward social consequences if marriage is weakened and what might happen if true religion is driven underground. I for one will continue to give these matters high priority and urge others to do the same. I will continue to support the Manhattan Declaration.