To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the Religious Right's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Energized by the backdrop of President Obama's first year in office, an ecumenical but familiar group of influential conservative Christians (including prominent Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox and Evangelical leaders) have reasserted the primacy of abortion, gay marriage and religious liberty as the three foremost political issues that matter above all others.
If you haven't yet read The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, here's the full text and list of 145+ original signatories, which includes names like Chuck Colson, James Dobson, Tony Perkins and Al Mohler. This excerpt provides the basic gist:
Because we honor justice and the common good, 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 marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.
So far, the Manhattan Declaration has received mixed reviews. Bloggers over at First Things can barely contain their enthusiasm for it, while others like Dan Gilgoff have said it "reads like a throwback to the culture wars of the 2004 election." Regent College theology professor John Stackhouse calls it "strangely useless" while Jonathan Merritt, founder of the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative, says the statement is unlikely to "sway a new generation of Christian leaders who take a broader view of cultural issues facing us today."
The document's backers point to the diverse range of theological perspectives represented by its signatories, not everyone in the evangelical world who typically contributes to these types of ecumenical public policy collaboratives has endorsed the Manhattan Declaration. A handful of names like Ron Sider, Cornelius Plantinga, David Neff and Richard Mouw notwithstanding, there doesn't seem to be much support from evangelical "moderates" who were instrumental in drafting last year's Evangelical Manifesto and 2004's For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility, both of which called for a broadened platform including issues like creation care, poverty alleviation, racial reconciliation, human rights and peacemaking. Those who have endorsed both the Manhattan Declaration and the Evangelical Manifesto (Timothy George and Leith Anderson for example) appear to be the exception.
So where are all the moderates?
Noticeably absent from The Manhattan Declaration's signatories are respected scholars like David Gushee, Jim Skillen, Mark Noll, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Stephen Monsma, J.P. Moreland, Os Guinness, Dallas Willard and Darrell Bock, not to mention other influential evangelical voices like Rick Warren, Joel Hunter, Bill Hybels, Gary Haugen and Rich Stearns. This doesn't mean Manhattan isn't an amazing feat of coalition-building across Evangelical-Catholic lines (Neuhaus would be proud), but such a narrow range of policy emphases might explain why many, including yours truly, are reluctant to sign on.
It looks like the culture wars are back, folks. Man your battle stations.