Secularity not Suppression: The Manhattan Declaration

Nwachukwu Egbunike

A diverse group of Christian leaders, late last year (November 20, 2009), jointly declared their commitment to defend the sanctity of human life, biblical marriage and religious liberty without compromise. The Manhattan Declaration – a unique and apparently bold statement – was signed by about 150 evangelical, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian leaders. The signatories – including our own Archbishop Peter Jasper Akinola, Primate of Nigeria’s Anglican Communion – could no longer stand the subtle but yet diabolical threat to obliterate moral principles from civic space under the pretence of secularity.
The declaration starts with a lucid but profound narration of Christianity’s two thousand year history: a heritage that prevented the obliteration of European civilisation after the barbaric invasion. Christian monasteries preserved “not only the Bible but also the literature and art of Western culture.’ The proclamation went ahead to remind the rabidly secular – read anti-Christian – West that: ‘it was Christians who combated the evil of slavery: Papal edicts in the 16th and 17th centuries decried the practice of slavery and first excommunicated anyone involved in the slave trade; evangelical Christians in England, led by John Wesley and William Wilberforce, put an end to the slave trade in that country. Christians under Wilberforce’s leadership also formed hundreds of societies for helping the poor, the imprisoned, and child labourers chained to machines.”

As witnesses to the truth, these leaders affirmed their right but above all their ‘obligation’ to speak and act in support of the dignity of all human beings, marriage as the union of a man and a woman only, and the freedom to express religious convictions. These three fundamental points will be discussed below.

Culture of Death
Pope John Paul II (Venerable Servant of God) described the vapidly engraved culture of eliminating of the weakest in society through legal fiat. The culture war in America and Europe is so perverse, that describing it as barbaric would be mere euphemism. The pronouncement at Manhattan was not ambiguous. A part of which reads:

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. As predicted by many prescient persons, the cheapening of life that began with abortion has now metastasized. For example, human embryo-destructive research and its public funding are promoted in the name of science and in the cause of developing treatments and cures for diseases and injuries. The President and many in Congress favour the expansion of embryo-research to include the taxpayer funding of so-called “therapeutic cloning.” This would result in the industrial mass production of human embryos to be killed for the purpose of producing genetically customized stem cell lines and tissues. At the other end of life, an increasingly powerful movement to promote assisted suicide and “voluntary” euthanasia threatens the lives of vulnerable elderly and disabled persons.

Nonetheless, the declaration was not a mere reeling out of the debauched Western civilisations culture of death. These leaders went ahead to proffer solutions that protect the most vulnerable and consistent to the dignity of man as created by God. Asides their concern was not limited to the developed world but also had a global consideration. To offer care to those living with AIDS, ethnic genocide, discriminations of all kinds, etc. Obviously it would only be true to state that Christians have never failed in these duties, being imitators of their Master.
Yet these same cultures of death – as against that of life – have the root, which is a distorted appreciation of the dignity of man, a rational creature with an immortal soul. For “we see these travesties as flowing from the same loss of the sense of the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life that drives the abortion industry and the movements for assisted suicide, euthanasia, and human cloning for biomedical research. And so ours is, as it must be, a truly consistent ethic of love and life for all humans in all circumstances.”

One man, one woman – only
The sanctity of marriage as a covenantal union between one man and one woman is not only Christian but also in the best interest for the common good. For marriage by its very nature is characterised by the mutual self-giving of the spouses in complimentarity and procreation of children. In addition, marriage for a Christian is a sacrament.

Complimentarity means that marriage can only be between a man and woman. Thus any type of union – gay, bestial or others – are not and cannot be called marriage. The declaration went ahead to explain that: “Marriage is what one man and one woman establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life at every level of being—the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual—on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which the spouses become one flesh, not in some merely metaphorical sense, but by fulfilling together the behavioural conditions of procreation.”

On the other hand, this insistence on marriage is not being straight-lanced; rather it flows from the natural law inscribed in the human heart by the creator. Truth be told, the present unquiet about the true nature of long life commitment in marriage arouse by a lack of consistency from most ecclesial communities. It is therefore not surprising that the Manhattan declaration recognised this fact and consequently intoned a mea culpa.

Love remains the cardinal supernatural virtue and thus the section on marriage could not have ended more aptly than in these words: “And so it is out of love (not animus) and prudent concern for the common good (not prejudice), that we pledge to labour ceaselessly to preserve the legal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman and to rebuild the marriage culture.”

Religious Freedom
Man is free but not autonomous, posits Cormac Burke in his seminal work Man and Values. As a rational being with a will, man is free. This is not an illusion, going by a predetermined destiny, but an act of a provident God who desires that men should love and serve him in freedom, not as slaves.

The struggle for religious liberty has been hard and treacherous. Christian martyrs had elected to die rather than bow down to unjust laws that deprive them of their greatest gift of faith. No person should be coerced to go against his conscience. In particular no one can force another to bend down before another god. Christians are no exception, as citizens they have same right not to be bullied to go against their conscience.

The irony about the so called tolerance is that the powerful minority “assert a right to kill the unborn, aged and disabled and also a right to engage in immoral sexual practices, and even a right to have relationships integrated around these practices be recognized and blessed by law—such persons claiming these “rights” are very often in the vanguard of those who would trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife.”

In effect Christian leaders who signed the declaration flagged an end to religious intolerance and all forms of compulsion by civil authorities to consent to an unjust law. Under the pretence of anti-discrimination clauses pro-life institutions and health workers are arm twisted to provide abortion against their religious convictions. Hiding under hate laws to protect ‘same sex marriage’, Catholic Charities in Massachusetts were forced to abandon the century long work of placing orphans into homes. Since they are now compelled to do so for gay couples. The list of this 21st century shrinking of religious freedom in the US and Europe seems endless.

Enough is enough

Because we honour justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.

No more bullying, no more silencing of the Christian conscience in civic sphere. Christians of US and Europe have had enough. And as such, “we will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”

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