Text: Luke 1:39-56
I received a call two weeks ago from a TV reporter wanting to know if I was aware of and had read a document called The Manhattan Declaration. I responded to her voice message letting her know that I was not aware of it but that I would check it out if she wanted to call back later. A few days later, when I thought about it again, I googled the phrase, The Manhattan Declaration and began reading. Here’s what I read.
The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience
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:
- the sanctity of human life
- the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
- 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 defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring 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.
What followed this preamble was a 12-page detailed document defending the sanctity of life as defined by the rights of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly; the dignity of marriage as defined over and against same-sex marriage; and the rights of conscience and religious liberty as a means of advocating for prayer in public institutions and the disapproval of comprehensive sex education in public schools. These they set forth as the most pressing moral issues of our day. Needless to say, after reading the full declaration, I was ready for a conversation with the reporter. In the several days it took us to connect again, I carefully thought about what I wanted my response to be. In my self-righteous moments, I formulated a number of vigorous responses that W.W. Finlator would have been proud of. Clearly, I waged and raged around the fact that The Manhattan Declaration is indeed a political statement advancing the agenda of the religious right meant to defend a narrow understanding of the truths they were defending. Nowhere in the document could I find a reference to the sanctity of life as it relates to the death penalty. Nowhere in the declaration could I find a statement recognizing the truth that Jesus said absolutely nothing about marriage only being between a man and a woman but rather talked extensively about relationships where love is the essential element. And nowhere in this call to Christian conscience could I find a reference to religious liberty being applied to the various faith traditions being lived out by moral and religious people in our country. Yes, I was ready, more than ready, to talk with the reporter and share my thoughts. I had a lot to say.
But somewhere in between the time of setting up the interview and actually doing the interview, something shifted within me. And by the time I sat down—here in this sanctuary—with the reporter, I had clarified even further my response to The Manhattan Declaration. It had become clear to me that the moral issues of our day that need to be spoken out on with one voice from all people of faith are not the issues that had been defined in the declaration but rather the moral issues of power, greed, war, hate, exclusion and intolerance that seem to be pervasive in our world. I wondered, “Why had our good Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Protestant friends not said a word in their declaration about homelessness, hunger, unjust wars, the environment, ethnic cleansing, health care reform—the real moral issues at stake in our day for the well-being of humanity?” The reporter ended our interview with what she called, “One last clarifying question.” “Could you sign this declaration?” I laughed. She already knew my answer.
I left that interview and went directly into worship planning where I read aloud the gospel reading for this Sunday—what I would later come to identify as a true declaration of faith. Listen again as I read to you The Mary Declaration: A Call of Conscience.
“My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
47and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior.
48For you have looked with favor
upon your lowly servant,
and from this day forward
all generations will call me blessed.
49For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,
and holy is your Name.
50Your mercy reaches from age to age
for those who fear you.
51You have shown strength with your arm;
you have scattered the proud in their conceit;
52you have deposed the powerful from their thrones
and raised the lowly to high places.
53You have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich away empty.
54You have come to the aid of Israel your servant,
mindful of your mercy—
55the promise you made to our ancestors—
to Sarah and Abraham
and their descendants forever.”
I hope Mary won’t mind if, as a way to celebrate the true meaning of her child’s birth, I rewrite her declaration into a modern day call of Christian conscience.
The Mary Declaration: A Call of Conscience
People of faith, when they live up to the highest ideals of God’s justice and compassion, defend the weak and vulnerable; the oppressed and marginalized of the world; and they work for a common good that values the sacredness of life.
When humanity unites and defends the fundamental truths that:
- all people are created in the image of God,
- that human dignity and the well being of humanity depends on justice and compassion,
- and that to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” is the basic call for the common good of humanity.
Then, and only then, will
- the poor and lowly be lifted out of poverty
- the hungry fed
- and the love of power transformed into acts that demonstrate the power of love.
Inasmuch as these truths are lived out by people of all faiths will our world at last live in hope, peace, joy, and love.
When as Christians we focus this season only on the innocence of a baby being born, or the gracious acts of sharing gifts, or the nostalgia of family gatherings around the warmth of home and hearth, we miss the significance of the Christ-child and we fail to hear The Mary Declaration: A True Call to Conscience. By the way, one last clarifying question. “Could you sign The Mary Declaration?”