A formidable coalition of 150 Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical leaders are calling on Christians in a new manifesto to reject secular authority – and even engage in civil disobedience – if laws force them to accept abortion, same-sex marriage and other ideas that betray their religious beliefs.
On Friday, these leaders released a 4,700-word document – called the "The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience."
The document was signed by leaders ranging from evangelical leader Chuck Colson to two of the leading Catholic prelates in the U.S., Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. and Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, and calls on Christians to engage in civil disobedience to defend their doctrines.
The document also blasts the Obama administration, saying that social ills have grown since the election of President Obama, an abortion rights advocate, along with an erosion of what it calls "marriage culture" with the rise of divorce, greater acceptance of infidelity and the uncoupling of marriage from childbearing.
Colson says the project is aimed at instilling social conservative beliefs in a new generation of believers.
"We argue that there is a hierarchy of issues," he told The New York Times. "A lot of younger evangelicals say they're all alike. We're hoping to educate them that these are the three most important issues" – abortion marriage and religious liberty.
"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," says the declaration, which was drafted by Colson, an evangelical, and Princeton University professor Robert P. George, a Roman Catholic.
The declaration lists the "fundamental truths" as the "sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, and the rights of conscience and religious liberty."
"Throughout the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required," says the document which cited civil rights icon Martin Luther King and his willingness to go to jail for his beliefs.
"Because we honor justice and the common good," it states, "we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide or 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."
George and other signers backed off from specifically defining what civil disobedience may entail. Wuerl's office played down the civil disobedience wording, saying he wasn't urging Catholics to "do anything specific," his spokeswoman Susan Gibbs told The Washington Post. "That wasn't something we had talked about."
"We certainly hope it doesn't come to that," said George, who told The Washington Times that he has represented a West Virginia resident who has refused to pay a portion of her state income tax that funds abortions. "However, we see case after case of challenges to religious liberty," such as compelling pharmacists to carry abortifacient drugs or health care workers to assist in abortions, he added.
"When the limits of conscience are reached and you cannot comply, it's better to suffer a wrong than to do it," he said.
Unveiling the declaration Friday, Archbishop Wuerl appeared at a news conference in the District of Columbia even as the Church was considering a city-proposed compromise on its same-sex marriage measure.
He and other Church officials say the bill would require faith-based groups like Catholic Charities to extend benefits to married same-sex partners, thus forcing Christians to abandon their religious liberty. On Friday, Catholic Charities of Boston halted adoption services rather than comply with state law and allow children to be adopted by homosexual couples.
Other signatories to the document include Cardinal Justin Rigali, outgoing chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities; Pentecostal leader Harry Jackson, pastor of a Beltsville church; evangelical activist Tony Perkins; and National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson.
Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told Newsweek the point of the Declaration is really to avoid mistakes of the past, such as when religious leaders did not stand up early enough against no-fault divorce, which he says led directly to the breakup of families and high divorce rates.
“I’m a former police officer, and I have hard time with civil disobedience, but if it comes to the point where our religious liberty is at risk, I’d not only participate but would encourage people to resist.”
The leaders are urging the public to sign the online document.