The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience

At noon today a group of Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant leaders unveiled a document called “The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience” that affirms the traditional Christian teaching concerning abortion, homosexual marriage, and religious freedom. The Declaration asserts that these three issues (sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, and freedom of worship) are under assault in western Democracies and call Christians into non-violent resistance against the injustices and, if necessary, non-violent non-compliance with the laws that would require a Christian to violate his conscience. (Read full text.)

The Declaration opens:

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…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 three issues that Declaration signers see as preeminent and the rationale for opposition:

Human 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…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…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 recognize, honor, and protect.

Religious Liberty

Freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized…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.

With these three issues in mind, and aware of the secularist undermining of tradition and culture, the signers resolved:

Unjust Laws

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.

Orthodox signers of the original Declaration include:

  • Metr. Jonah Paffhausen Primate, Orthodox Church in America (Syosset, NY)
  • His Grace, The Right Reverend Bishop Basil Essey The Right Reverend Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America (Wichita, KS)
  • Fr. Chad Hatfield Chancellor, CEO. And Archpriest, St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (Yonkers, NY)
  • Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse President, American Orthodox Institute and Editor, (Naples, FL)
  • Fr. Patrick Reardon Pastor, All Saints’ Antiochian Orthodox Church (Chicago, IL)
  • Fr. Alexander F. C. Webster, Ph.D. Archpriest, Orthodox Church in America; Professorial Lecturer, The George Washington University (Ashburn, Va.)

You can sign the declaration on the Manhattan Declaration website.


From OCA News:

NEW YORK, NY (OCA Communications) – His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, and the Very Rev. Chad Hatfield, Chancellor of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, were among some 125 US religious leaders who signed a 4,700-word declaration addressing the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty here recently.

The statement, known as the “Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience,” issues “a clarion call” to Christians to adhere to their convictions and informs civil authorities that the signers will not “under any circumstance” abandon their Christian consciences. The text of the declaration, which already has generated considerable controversy, was released on Friday, November 20, 2009.

“The Manhattan Declaration is the result of several months of dialogue among Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christian leaders culminating in a gathering of approximately 100 leaders in New York City on September 28, 2009,” Catholic News Agency [CNA] reports. “Attendees considered an early draft… but the document was entrusted to a drafting committee.”

“We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths,” the Declaration reads. “We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence.

“We recognize the duty to comply with laws whether we happen to like them or not, unless the laws are gravely unjust or require those subject to them to do something unjust or otherwise immoral,” the signatories explain.

But, CNA reports, they also made clear that “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.”

The signatories explained that they speak now because in order “to defend principles of justice and the common good that are now under assault.”

“We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we will under no circumstances render to Caesar what is God’s.”


  1. Michael Bauman :

    Once again, Met. Jonah and Bp. Basil lead the way. If other Orthodox don’t follow, shame on all of us.

    We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths,” the Declaration reads. “We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence

  2. Met. Jonah has shown himself to be a great leader. The question is why are the other Orthodox bishops names on this document?

    • Michael Bauman :

      Fr. Peter, it was released today at noon EST, that’s about 4 hours ago. If they were not all included in the original converstation that created the document, then I’d cut them some slack.

      We can always ask our bishop to read and endorse the statement. Fortnately, mine already has. I sent him an e-mail to thank him for his leadership.

      I have every reason to suspect there will be others who do sign. Unfortunately, I am also quite certain that not all will.

  3. Michael Bauman :

    Dear to Christ:

    We invite you to join with other Christians across the nation who support the sanctity of life, traditional marriage and religious liberty by endorsing the Manhattan Declaration.

    Throughout the centuries, God has graciously provided His people with teachers and prophetic voices who apply His word to the critical issues of the day and who lead their hearers to embrace His life-giving authority and counsel in the midst of cultural madness. The Manhattan Declaration extends and honors that tradition, and we urge you to join us in affirming it. The Manhattan Declaration addresses with urgent eloquence the devaluation of human life, the corruption of marriage, and the erosion of religious liberty. With careful instruction, it brings light and clarity to all who read it. We trust that millions of believers will sign it, that countless others will be drawn or driven to give it fair consideration, and that our society will be changed by its strong yet sweetly reasonable message.

    The Manhattan Declaration was released today, Friday – November 20, 2009, at a press conference in Washington D.C. It bears the signatures of many religious leaders, including myself, but this is just the beginning. The list of supports will grow dramatically in a short time and those who most need to hear this word will not be able to escape or downplay it. It has already grown ten-fold since its release at 12 noon (EST). So if, after carefully reading the document, you feel so moved, please endorse this document by your signature and spread the word to others who might endorse it as well. Thank you.

    Click here to view the Manhattan Declaration and prayerfully consider lending your name to those who have already signed:

    + B a s i l
    Bishop of Wichita and the Diocese of Mid-America
    Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

    +Basil sent this to all on his e-mail list. So all you Antiochians out there…..!!

  4. George Patsourakos :

    I am thrilled that the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant faiths have joined together and agreed to scrutinize the federal government’s actions regarding abortion, same sex marriage, and religious freedom.

    It is now time for America to live according to Christian teachings, rather than any secular lifestyle they want because they enjoy it.

  5. George Michalopulos :

    Michael, I wouldn’t cut ’em that much slack. If you read the major newspapers, this has been in the works since Sept of this year. Believe me, I know in the very marrow of my being that they probably moved heaven and earth to get more Orthodox bishops involved. After all, Bishop Basil Essey is about 1500 mi away from the NY/DC corridor. If he found out about it, I can ASSURE you that at least someone on 79thst in NYC knew about it. But, they had more important things to do, like hire lawyers so they could start the process of getting Turkish citizenship.

    p.s. bravo to Bishop Basil! (and of course to Metropolitan Jonah)

  6. I agree with George that the authors of the declaration knew exactly where the Orthodox Bishops are and who they are.

    I would also like to remind AOI readers how the GOA -with the exception of Bishop Maximos- declined to have their names attached to the Amicus brief to the Supreme Court against abortion.

    Campaigning for Hopenhagen is just fine for the EP/GOA but signing the manhattan declaration is not. This is tragic.

  7. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    The authors probably did not know. They have been waiting for an Orthodox voice in the public square for quite a while. Many are very respectful towards Orthodox Christianity because they know of the wealth within Orthodox Tradition. That is one major reason why they are waiting for us.

    I attended the meeting last January that was the genesis of this document. It was not a political/religious gathering of any kind. About all that united us was a deep and abiding concern for the spiritual health of western culture. The attendees understood that our cultural problems far exceeded political solutions and would require a deep turning back to God.

    I was told I was the first Orthodox priest ever to attend such an event and I am glad I went. I decided to go to see what other Christian leaders were saying about our cultural decline, but got instead many opportunities to deepen the anthropological and cultural dimensions of Christian teaching where appropriate. I don’t go to these events to make people Orthodox. I go to learn, as well as to explain the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is understood and comprehended in our Orthodox Tradition if afforded the opportunity. I am respectful of the faith of others, especially knowing that our own house is in disorder and it is not our place to throw stones at their houses. That respect was returned. Frankly, I was surprised at the welcome I received and I am grateful for it.

    I say this to Orthodox believers all the time but many don’t hear me: If we live in Christ, if Christ could actually be found in our parishes, people would be knocking on our doors trying to get in.

    This Declaration is important for many reasons. One of those reasons is that it calls Christians to a deeper resistance to the dehumanizing thinking that is very real and very dangerous. It also calls us to resist these trends in our Churches and to support leaders like Met. Jonah and Bp. Basil (pray for them) who stand up for the truth. Further, we need to hold to account those leaders who are weak on the important sanctity of life issues and too quick to accommodate themselves to the dehumanizing cultural trends.

    • Fr. Hans,

      AMEN! AMEN! AMEN! Wonderfully stated!

    • Let me second Fr Hans’ words. Preach Christ and people will seek you out–sometimes in anger to be sure, but mostly to find life.

      The Manhattan Declaration is important not only for its content but also because of the shift it signals in the Orthodox Church in United States. We usually remained silent (think for example our absence from the debates during the Cold War era) when our voice was needed.

      And Fr Hans makes a good point as well when he points out that we have largely been absent from meetings like the one that resulted in the Manhattan Declaration. We can afford to do this–we have to expand our witness and ministry beyond the parish.

      To be sure, not everyone will take the path the Fr Hans has–but we cannot limit ourselves and our resources to the parish. Has anyone else noticed that we have become so parochial that for many even the diocese and the local bishop is seen as a threat? yes, there have been problems, but even these, I would argue, were in part because the vast majority of laity and clergy are focused almost exclusively on parish ministry. It just ain’t healthy to do this folks–and it isn’t fair to the parish to expect it to carry all the ministry of the Church.

      What I’m getting at is this, we need ministries like AOI. We need to invest the resources–both financial and human–to reflect on issues such as those highlighted in the Manhattan Declaration.

      So again, thank you Fr Hans & AOI and AMEN!

      In Christ,


      • Michael Bauman :

        Given the content of several comments on the Manhattan Declartion by some Orthodox on other sites, the bishops having the guts to speak up at all, let alone with those dreaded ‘hetrodox’ is almost unthinkable. After all none of what they are speaking against has actually happened yet, so why bother.

        Do we want comfort and our own self-will or do we want the Gospel?

  8. cynthia curran :

    I agree about this not being the usual catholic-protestant right. Ron Sider, on the protestant left was a signer.

  9. cynthia curran :

    Well, the absent of Roman Catholics signing in the southwest is another thing notice in the signing. I think only one from Arizona. Bishop Roger Malony of Los Angeles is absent. Grantd,the West doesn’t have a strong orthodox present but because of the growing hispanic populations has larger Roman Catholic populations than the south. And the only signers in the West are evangelical protestants, and evangelicals are less presented in the West than the South.

  10. Michael Bauman :

    The only part of the declartion that is not traditional is the part on religious freedom. None of the signatories have ever been particularly strong on relgious freedom when they are in charge.

    I mean, if we are right everybody else is wrong and endangering their souls. Hard to love enough to allow real freedom, because that means allowing folks to be wrong and taking the consequences for their decision. Worse still is the consequences for others because of wrong decisions (like legalizing abortion).

    Freedom it a tough thing. I’m not sure freedom is clearly understood by most who use the term. Certainly, there is no common definition that is agreed to by all. One thing I am sure of, freedom does not mean that our decisions will be without negative consequence. If we are seeking and speaking the Truth, negative consequence is much more likely to occur than positive ones (at least in the world).

  11. For those interested (both of you! 😆 ) I have posted my blog some critical (though I hope appreciative) comments on the Manhattan Declaration. If you’re interested, please take a look here:

    In Christ,


  12. cynthia curran :

    Even the Evangelicals know that the Justinian code address abortion and child abandoment. But the orthodox which developed these laws centures ago are mainly until recently silent. And of course the general public sees this mainly as Evaneglicals and Roman Catholics getting in their way. But there is an old traditon at least in Eurpoean law on these issues.


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