2000 – 2009
What will the decade 2000-2009 (“the noughties”) be remembered for? Many would say for positive developments in science and technology, especially digitalized communication technology - mobile phones, digital cameras and all the applications of the broadband internet. Others would say “the noughties” will be remembered more negatively for 11 September 2001 when Muslim terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Centre in New York, and for the resurgence that followed of a violent form of Islam with more terrorist attacks in Madrid with the train bombings in 2004; in London with the 7/7 bombings in 2005; and in Mumbai with the attacks of 2008. Then, of course, yet others will remember the decade for the recent recession and many who suffered for the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake with its massive tsunami – the second most destructive earthquake of all time.
Assault on Christianity
However, many Christians in the West would say this past decade will be remembered as the time when they first realized that the Christian faith was being marginalized by a relative minority of elites in the media, the educational empire, the therapeutic services and sections of local and central government, who were also succeeding in entrenching their secular prejudices and intolerance in law. So, late in the day, Christians came to realize that there is now a world “increasingly bent,” in the words of one Christian journalist, “on compelling not merely our silence but ultimately our participation in its sins, crimes, and follies—its pornographies, infanticides, and redefinitions of human nature.” And the problem, he goes on to argue, is that “too many of the churches are giving in.” Rather they should fulfil their duty…
“to stand up before their cultured despisers and say what must be said by those who believe it: that faith in Jesus Christ is the cure for the diseases of our time, that all human beings are endowed with the dignity and worth of having been made in God’s image, and that the universal truths established by God at the foundation of the world remain the universal truths of human existence today.”
In a truly liberal democratic society Christians must be free to speak and to work without violating their consciences; and their churches must be free to proclaim the gospel and, when necessary, denounce sin. They must also be able to form charities to help the vulnerable and here of all places they should not have to violate their consciences. And most certainly they must be free to educate their children as they believe is right.
Perhaps we should pray, therefore, that “the noughties” will be remembered as ending with a new Christian mood that will last and illustrated by the Manhattan Declaration. A significant number of American Christian leaders (plus Jim Packer from Canada) agreed and signed this during Autumn 2009 in the light of the situation now in the US (and Canada) which is so similar to that in Europe. The summary of the declaration follows and speaks for itself.
THE MANHATTAN DECLARATION – a summary
“Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.
We are Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are (1) the sanctity of human life, (2) the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, and (3) the rights of conscience and religious liberty. Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defence, and to commit ourselves to honouring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
The lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are ever more threatened.
While public opinion has moved in a pro-life direction, powerful and determined forces are working to expand abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. Although the protection of the weak and vulnerable is the first obligation of government, the power of government is today often enlisted in the cause of promoting what Pope John Paul II called “the culture of death.” We pledge to work unceasingly for the equal protection of every innocent human being at every stage of development and in every condition. We will refuse to permit ourselves or our institutions to be implicated in the taking of human life and we will support in every possible way those who, in conscience, take the same stand.
The institution of marriage, already wounded by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is at risk of being redefined and thus subverted.
Marriage is the original and most important institution for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all. Where marriage erodes, social pathologies rise. The impulse to redefine marriage is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture. It reflects a loss of understanding of the meaning of marriage as embodied in our civil law as well as our religious traditions. Yet it is critical that the impulse be resisted, for yielding to it would mean abandoning the possibility of restoring a sound understanding of marriage and, with it, the hope of rebuilding a healthy marriage culture. It would lock into place the false and destructive belief that marriage is all about romance and other adult satisfactions, and not, in any intrinsic way, about the unique character and value of acts and relationships whose meaning is shaped by their aptness for the generation, promotion and protection of life. Marriage is not a “social construction,” but is rather an objective reality—the covenantal union of husband and wife—that it is the duty of the law to recognise, honour, and protect.
Freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized.
The threat to these fundamental principles of justice is evident in efforts to weaken or eliminate conscience protections for healthcare institutions and professionals, and in anti-discrimination statutes that are used as weapons to force religious institutions, charities, businesses, and service providers either to accept (and even facilitate) activities and relationships they judge to be immoral, or go out of business. Attacks on religious liberty are dire threats not only to individuals, but also to the institutions of civil society including families, charities, and religious communities. The health and well-being of such institutions provide an indispensable buffer against the overweening power of government and is essential to the flourishing of every other institution - including government itself - on which society depends.
As Christians, we believe in law and we respect the authority of earthly rulers. We count it as a special privilege to live in a democratic society where the moral claims of the law on us are even stronger in virtue of the rights of all citizens to participate in the political process. Yet even in a democratic regime, laws can be unjust. And from the beginning, our faith has taught that civil disobedience is required in the face of gravely unjust laws or laws that purport to require us to do what is unjust or otherwise immoral. Such laws lack the power to bind in conscience because they can claim no authority beyond that of sheer human will.
Therefore, let it be known that we will not comply with any edict that compels us or the institutions we lead to participate in or facilitate abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or any other act that violates the principle of the profound, inherent and equal dignity of every member of the human family.
Further, let it be known that we will not bend to any rule forcing 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, marriage, and the family.
Further, let it be known that we will not be intimidated into silence or acquiescence or the violation of our consciences by any power on earth, be it cultural or political, regardless of the consequences to ourselves. 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.”