Right before Thankgiving, a group of Christians held a press conference in Washington announcing that “because we honor 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.”
Their Manhattan Declaration concluded: “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.”
One of the declaration’s co-authors, Princeton professor Robert P. George, talked to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez over the holiday about the statement and the future.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ:
What is the Manhattan Declaration?
ROBERT P. GEORGE: Beginning at a meeting in New York in late September, Christian leaders came together across the historic lines of ecclesial difference — Catholics, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox Christians — to bear witness to three foundational principles of justice and the common good: (1) the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions; (2) the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife; and (3) religious liberty and freedom of conscience. The Declaration’s signatories understand that each of these principles is under threat from powerful forces in our culture and politics. They seek to make clear that, as Christians, they regard these principles as non-negotiable, and will therefore be unceasing in their defense of them and tireless in their efforts on their behalf. Moreover, the signatories pledge that neither they nor their institutions will participate in actions, practices, or policies that they, in conscience, judge to be gravely wrong.
LOPEZ: Why now?
GEORGE: With respect to each of the foundational principles of justice and the common good addressed in the Manhattan Declaration, important decisions are now being made or soon will be made. These decisions will either uphold or undermine what is just and good. There is no avoiding the issues or evading the decisions. Both sides in the great moral struggle understand this. Forces favoring abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, the redefinition of marriage, and the like see this as a critical moment for advancing their causes. The Obama administration is explicitly with them on some issues and is at least broadly sympathetic on others. Moreover, in the aftermath of the 2006 and 2008 elections, their causes have unprecedented strength in both houses of Congress as well as in many state legislatures. Obviously, they also have great support in the mainstream media and the elite sector of the culture more generally.
LOPEZ: How much did the health-care debate play into the timing?
GEORGE: The health-care debate obviously implicates questions of the sanctity of human life and the freedom of religion and conscience. The Declaration’s signatories strongly oppose paying for abortions with taxpayer dollars and favor strong conscience protections to ensure that pro-life physicians and other health-care workers are not required to participate in, or refer for, abortions, and pro-life pharmacists are not compelled to dispense abortifacient drugs.
LOPEZ: Why just Christians?
GEORGE: For too long, the historic traditions of Catholicism, Evangelical Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodoxy have failed to speak formally with a united voice, despite their deep agreement on fundamental questions of morality, justice, and the common good. The Manhattan Declaration provided leaders of these traditions with an opportunity to rectify that. It is gratifying that they were willing — indeed eager — to seize that opportunity. Of course, as Cardinal Justin Rigali observed at the press conference at which the Declaration was released, the foundational principles it defends “are not the unique preserve of any particular Christian community or of the Christian tradition as a whole. . . . They are principles that can be known and honored by men and women of goodwill even apart from divine revelation. They are principles of right reason and natural law.” So the signatories are happy to stand alongside our LDS brothers and sisters who have worked so heroically in the cause of defending marriage, our Jewish brothers and sisters, members of other faiths, and people of no particular faith (even pro-life atheists such as the great Nat Hentoff), who affirm our principles and wish to join us in proclaiming and defending them.