For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, because he’s the messenger of the LORD of the Heavenly Armies. But you priests turned aside from the way, and by your teaching you caused many to stumble. – Malachi
Sixty-seven years ago this Friday, a group of eleven evangelical clergyman put their names to a document entitled The Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt. It was October 19th, 1945 and along with ten other men, Martin Niemoller declared what history would record but few men remember,
With great pain we say: By us infinite wrong was brought over many peoples and countries. That which we often testified to in our communities, we express now in the name of the whole church: We did fight for long years in the name of Jesus Christ against the mentality that found its awful expression in the National Socialist regime of violence; but we accuse ourselves for not standing to our beliefs more courageously, for not praying more faithfully, for not believing more joyously, and for not loving more ardently.
Their confession stands as a palpable indictment against the humanist tendency to separate the sacred from the secular. In the spirit of Voltaire, they confessed that – every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do. Germany was crippled long before a shot was ever fired, not by bombs, tanks, or a forged alliance, but by apathy and unbelief. When the time arose to stand, her watchmen slumbered. Germany’s pulpits chose silence, and her political leaders were knowingly complicit in the Nietzschean deicide. I wonder, were it possible, just how many sermons Martin Niemoller would want to revisit. How many homilies on baptism or greed would the clergy have supplanted had they known the evil that lurked in the shadow of the steeple? How different would the subject be in the American pulpit today, if her shepherds were mindful?
In 2009, facing the most Biblically hostile administration in American history, a group of religious leaders met in Manhattan to form their own declaration. Professor Robert George, Princeton University; Professor Timothy George, Samford University and Chuck Colson, Founder of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, drafted the following:
We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities.
We act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim, calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image. We set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is grounded in Holy Scripture, in natural human reason (which is itself, in our view, the gift of a beneficent God), and in the very nature of the human person.
We call upon all people of goodwill, believers and non-believers alike, to consider carefully and reflect critically on the issues we here address as we, with St. Paul, commend this appeal to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense.
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. 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. May God help us not to fail in that duty.
On November 6th, America will decide whether the will of the people is sufficient to sustain a nation that has lost its soul, or if, standing, we will shake off the shackles of misery and tyranny and breathe free once more? On November 6th, the choice is whether a free people will raise our children over the prison phone or from the couch in our own living room. Which declaration will speak for us – the one looking back in remorse or the one that bids us to stand, come what may? Either we the people will write the Manhattan Declaration on our soul or the Stuttgart Declaration of guilt will be our epitaph.
I ask you now, in honor of the precious prize that is our inheritance, let us pledge in the shadow of our fathers’ legends – our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor. Courage is the one virtue that is blessed by those that covet it. Courage must be demonstrated, for it cannot be given. We must demonstrate fortitude and bid it be taken; taken from our example, our codes, our oaths, even our small sacrifices. Courage is a fire that falls from heaven to light the altar of freedom. And if it comes to it and we find it necessary to stand and fall on that altar then let the glorious flame of our funeral pyres light the way of next generation’s heroes. And when our children ask, let their questions be “why” and not “how” – “Why did you work so hard” rather than “How did it come to this.” And let our answer ring out, “Because freedom is our birthright, because others better than I have given much more to preserve it, and because freedom becomes you, my child.”
Between now and then, I ask you, as fellow Americans to never give up, work tirelessly, and let the final paragraphs of the Manhattan Declaration marinate:
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.
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.
You can read, sign and share the full Declaration here: Manhattan Declaration
Image: Place of Remembrance Martin Niemöller, 2007; courtesy of I,Berkan; GNU Free Documentation License,Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.