The most recent meeting of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) witnessed not just another theological discus-sion, but the birth of an alliance that only two decades ago would have seemed improbable. Here were Catholic and evangelical theologians seeking common ground on religious liberty, an issue that has caused frequent strife between the two groups.
Now, we are standing together to defend the religious liberty of all believers, which is under assault around the world and in the U.S. Consider the Proposition 8 case, the proposed ban on gay marriage in California. In striking down the referendum, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker wrote that Christian beliefs "harm gays and lesbians." Just months later, tech trendsetter Apple picked up the same refrain in removing a Manhattan Declaration app from its iTunes store.
If Christian teaching is degraded in this way, either in the courts or in corporate culture, Christians, as well as Muslims and Jews with similar views on this subject, could soon be charged with "hate speech" for simply stating what their religious traditions have held for millennia.
ECT continues to study the serious theological differences between Catholics and evangelicals. (The last statement was on the Virgin Mary.) Such theological work is an important part of our shared witness. It allows us to make common cause on the great moral issues facing our culture, including the sanctity of life, the dignity of marriage, and religious freedom.
The Manhattan Declaration addresses these three. While not directly a part of ECT, the statement has been endorsed by 57 Catholic bishops in the U.S., numerous evangelical leaders, and the metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America.
When we released the Manhattan Declaration in November 2009, many called it just another salvo in the culture war. But we sensed it was part of a movement. In the months after the document's release, activity began popping up around the country. Just before Christmas, for example, a network of men's Bible studies proposed a citywide rally in Mobile, Alabama. They enlisted the support of all the major Christian leaders—the Catholic archbishop and Protestant pastors, including whites and African Americans. With no advertising and only ten days to promote the rally by word of mouth, they turned out an excited crowd of 2,500 people—at 6 A.M.!
The same kind of grass-roots activity has appeared in other areas, including Oakland, Phoenix, and Albuquerque. One of the most moving expressions of Christian unity was two pro-life/pro-marriage worship services held simultaneously in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Before the services, Protestants and Catholics gathered at a school to hear rousing messages from Catholic and Protestant clergy. Catholics then went across the street to celebrate Mass, while Protestants worshiped at the school. After the services, the worshipers marched together to the state capitol. There they signed the Manhattan Declaration. Their signatures were presented to the governor. Soon after, the New Mexico legislature passed a resolution endorsing the Manhattan Declaration.
In the same spirit of unity, 2,000 New Mexico Christians attended an extraordinary conference on Christian worldview and the Manhattan Declaration in Albuquerque. An evangelical graduate of our Centurions Program organized the event alongside the Catholic archbishop of the state. Pastors from nearly every denomination were present.
Reading Eric Metaxas's epic work on Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us of the importance of this kind of effort. It also provided a sobering note of caution. In 1934, the Confessing Church, a coalition of believing Christians from Protestant denominations in Germany, issued the Barmen Declaration. This proclamation of biblical fidelity drew a line in the sand against Adolf Hitler's aggressive efforts to "Nazi-fy" the church. Shockingly, tens of thousands of Christians failed to sign, whether out of sympathy to Nazism, sheer indifference, or fear. Many who developed the document ended up in prison.
Today, of course, we face nothing like the monstrous evil the Confessing Church confronted in Germany. But there are some parallels. The Manhattan Declaration, after all, is an effort to draw a line in the sand against the surging tides of secularism and the growing hostility in many quarters toward Christianity, and to defend religious freedom for all persons of faith.
It takes courage to speak out today. But we would do well to emulate the heroism of Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church. We must not allow either courts or corporations to redefine the bounds of religious discourse in American life.
If we understand the signs of our times, how can we do less than join together to make a vigorous defense of our faith and address the great moral issues of the day?
Copyright © 2011 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Previous columns by Charles Colson are available on our website, including:
Doctrinal Boot Camp | Conforming to the truth of the faith is necessary for survival. (February 21, 2011)
The Lost Art of Commitment | Why we're afraid of it, and why we shouldn't be. (August 4, 2010)
Who Are Americans? | What Christians contribute to the search for a national identity. (June 21, 2010)
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Charles Colson was the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, an outreach to convicts, victims of crime, and justice officers. Colson, who converted to Christianity before he was indicted on Watergate-related charges, became one of evangelicalism's most influential voices. His books included Born Again and How Now Shall We Live? A Christianity Today columnist since 1985, Colson died in 2012.
Timothy George is the dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University and a member of Christianity Today's Editorial Council. His books include Reading Scripture with the Reformers and Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? Like Colson, George has been heavily involved in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together discussions. George began cowriting "Contra Mundum" with Colson in 2011.
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