There has been a wave of discussion on the Internet and over the airwaves about the Manhattan Declaration, which is yet another echo from the sound chambers of the radical Christian right.

The signatories of the Manhattan Declaration are a who’s who of the radical Christian right in America. It was no surprise to see Richard Land, Jimmy Draper, Al Mohler, Bob Reccord and Daniel Akin along with Gary Bauer, Chuck Colson, James Dobson, Jonathan Falwell, Harry Jackson, Marvin Olasky, Tony Perkins, Alan Sears, Mark Tooley, George Weigel and nine Catholic archbishops.

It was a surprise to see Robert Sloan’s signature on this list. I thought he would have had the wisdom to steer clear from aligning himself with such a blatant effort to fan the flames of cultural conflagration.

In my mind, there’s something about Jesus’ injunction to “let your yea be yea, and your nay be nay” (Matthew 5:37) that is applicable beyond oath-taking situations and that confirms the truth that “anything beyond these is of the evil one.” Christians have no business embellishing the truth and twisting it for political purposes. That is what the Manhattan Declaration does from beginning to end.

Nowhere does the Bible state that human beings are stamped with the image of God at the moment of conception. Theologians have been debating what the ancients called “ensoulment” for millennia without resolving the issue. There are good reasons for believing that “ensoulment” occurs at the moment of conception. There are equally good reasons for believing that consciousness is an essential component of the image of God.

Before the biological substrate for consciousness develops – sometime between 13 and 24 weeks – it is reasonable to question whether the Imago Dei exists within the forming body. The answer to this question has enormous implications for the morality of not only abortion but also contraception and stem cell research. It deserves to be openly discussed and honestly debated, not stonewalled.

The Manhattan Declaration presumes that no honest debate exists over the inception of the image of God. It also strongly implies that those who disagree with their declaration sanction infanticide, euthanasia and Nazi death camps. It is dishonest for these signers to act as though their understanding of this issue is infallible and as though they are the sole possessors of faith, logic, truth and reason.

They give the same dishonest and disrespectful treatment to those who support homosexual unions. The ability to proclaim biblical convictions from pulpits is protected by the First Amendment. As long as the First Amendment is enforced, no law will ever be upheld that forces Christian ministers to perform gay marriages against their will.

That same First Amendment, however, would also prohibit Christians from making the law conform to the Bible and thereby prohibit the civil union of homosexuals. Homosexuals have an equal right to the same religious freedom and liberty of conscience that Christians enjoy.

I suspect that many of the signers of the Manhattan Declaration fully understand the implications of the First Amendment in relation to their opposition to homosexual unions. That’s why some of them believe that our pluralistic democracy is heresy and hope to replace it with a Christian theocracy ruled by their interpretation of biblical law.

That’s also why their declaration carefully defines both religious liberty and conscience in exclusively biblical terms. Presupposed throughout the Manhattan Declaration is the belief that only Christians are assured the right to religious liberty. It is hard to find any evidence of even the slightest recognition that someone could conscientiously disagree with either their faith or their interpretation of the Bible.

Those with consciences formed differently than those of the signers may well perceive that the purported call of conscience issued by the Manhattan Declaration is but another echo from the ever so gradually emptying chambers of the radical Christian right.

Bruce Prescott is executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists.

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