Monday, December 21, 2009

The recently released Manhattan Declaration is noteworthy because, unlike the signatories of other declarations that are long on rhetoric and short on calls to action, the more than 300,000 people who signed this declaration (including 55 Catholic bishops who have oversight of more than 600 of the nation’s private hospitals) agree to engage in civil disobedience regarding laws that reject mainstream values.

The declaration’s signers commit to their “obligation” to “speak and act in defense” of biblical truths. Signers pledge “that no power on Earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence” on the sanctity of life, the divinely ordained nature of marriage, and religious liberty.” Those truths, they agree, are open to neither compromise nor revision.

They are, however, subject to public debate. Political and religious leaders are deliberating the significance and ramifications of statements like this: “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 marriage or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.”

Rarely has a declaration issued such a rigorous claim on conscience or called for such a decisive confrontation with the forces of secularism in the general population and government. Since its release last month, the nearly 5,000-word Manhattan Declaration has given voice to the concerns of, according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, the 55 percent of Americans who are concerned and troubled by the “wrong direction” in which the nation is headed.

The clear, bold and eloquent language of the declaration was drafted by Robert George, Timothy George and Chuck Colson. The original signatories of the declaration include a broad spectrum of religious leaders ranging from George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center to Bishop Harry Jackson Jr. of Hope Christian Church in Washington, from Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List to Kay Arthur of Precept Ministries International, from Joseph Bottom of First Things journal to Gary Bauer of American Values and Campaign for Working Families.

The Manhattan Declaration was prompted by the left’s campaign to convince the public that biblical beliefs are a newly minted product of “right-wing extremism.” The declaration points out that the fundamental principles of the Judeo-Christian tradition are a long-standing part of the fabric of our society. They constitute much of the everyday conventional wisdom and common values that help hold communities together, the foundation upon which Western civilization developed.

While acknowledging that Christians have not always lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, the document declares that Christians have “worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.”

Christians have been at the forefront in “seeking justice in our societies, resisting tyranny, and reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed and suffering.” To cite but a few examples: Christians such as William Wilberforce in England and Harriet Beecher Stowe in America led the fight against slavery; others were instrumental in challenging the divine rights of kings, promoting women’s suffrage and advancing civil rights.

Any honest accounting of history will show that those holding traditionally accepted moral values have been in the forefront of society’s hard-won (and often bitterly contested) advances in terms of human dignity, decency and charity. They have been the backbone of society, not some lunatic fringe as the left would have it.

The truth about which the secular left obscures and confuses the public is that Christians and others with deep religious convictions are at the forefront in working to end human trafficking, giving care to AIDS sufferers, caring for orphaned children, protecting “the intrinsic dignity of the human person” and standing for the common good.

The signatories recognize the necessity of shining the light of truth into the darkness of today’s false and divisive rhetoric and the blatant demagoguery used to mislead today’s generation with its meager knowledge of America’s true history. We recognize the poisonous distortions of basic Christian principles that must be countered in the public mind. We have reached a point where those who truly “honor justice and the common good” must take a stand and make known the truth that historical mainstream American values have their origins in our traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs.

Together, people of faith and deep religious convictions will continue work to protect those who are most vulnerable, the unborn, the disabled, the aged. We will proclaim the truth about the sanctity of marriage and the necessity of religious freedom. The call to take a stand presented so forcefully in the Manhattan Declaration has the potential to re-establish the social values and behavior that shaped this nation.

Without a doubt, the gauntlet laid out in the declaration is daunting:

“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.”

Nevertheless, that principle is the basis for liberty, justice and human rights; it is the very bulwark of freedom and democracy. If Americans lose sight of that principle, our moral foundation will disintegrate and this nation will cease to be a “shining city on a hill.”

Janice Shaw Crouse is director and senior fellow of the Beverly LaHaye Institute at Concerned Women for America.

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