Westminster 2010: ‘Declaration of Christian Conscience’
Well, the equivalent has been born – the Westminster Declaration – and it was not founded by His Holiness the Rt Hon Tony Blair, but by some of the UK’s stellar clerics and theo-political luminaries, including Lord Carey, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali and Baroness Cox.
And, to date, it has just over 10,000 signatories.
The Manhattan Declaration is now approaching half a million, and there is no reason why the Westminster initiative cannot match that.
It unites Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Protestant and Anglican Christians (indeed, all Trinitarians), and was launched on Easter Sunday. The group sets out a broad range of policies that unite British churches.
The document begins: ‘Protecting human life, protecting marriage, and protecting freedom of conscience are foundational for creating and maintaining strong families, caring communities and a just society.
‘Our Christian faith compels us to speak and act in defence of all these.’
It calls on Christians to ‘support, protect, and be advocates for children born and unborn, and all those who are sick, disabled, addicted, elderly, poor, exploited, trafficked or exploited by unjust trade, aid or debt policies’.
The Declaration also pledges to support marriage – ‘the lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife’ – as ‘the only context for sexual intercourse’ and ‘the most important unit for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all’.
In addition to support for traditional marriage, it opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia. It also calls on Britons to vote with their conscience, and has a website database that aims to reveal the ethical position of more than 2,600 election candidates on issues such as abortion and stem-cell research.
It could prove as controversial as its American counterpart, which allows for ‘civil disobedience’ for Christians whose faith clashes with the law.
The British version says Christians should be ‘subject to all governing authorities and obey them except when they require us to act unjustly’.
It adds: ‘We will not be intimidated by any cultural or political power into silence or acquiescence and we will reject measures that seek to overrule our Christian consciences or to restrict our freedoms to express Christian beliefs, or to worship and obey God.’
Dr Peter Saunders, chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship and another signatory to the declaration, said: "There has been a feeling of growing hostility to the Christian faith and that Christians are being marginalised from the public square. It is important to know what candidates actually stand for, particularly when Christian beliefs can appear on both the left and right of the political spectrum."
He said Britain's four million churchgoing Christians – on average, 6,000 per parliamentary constituency – were ‘a minority’. But he added: "If the election is close, either between parties overall or individual candidates, Christians, like any other minority, could prove decisive to the outcome."
Indeed they could, indeed they could.
So it is a wonder that we are being marginalised, sidelined and ignored.
If Christians were to coalesce around this Declaration (and Cranmer can see no reason why this should not be possible for all believers), it is doubtful that politicians would be minded to ignore such a constituency, even if those politicians happened to be a hypocritical ‘son of the manse’ or one who has a ‘sort of fairly classic Church of England faith, a faith that grows hotter and colder by moments’.
There is no telling where such a union might lead. As with the Manhattan Declaration, the goal of those who drafted and signed the document ‘is not just to get a lot of names on a manifesto, gratifying though that is’. They say:
We are seeking to build a movement - hundreds of thousands of Catholic, Protestant Evangelical, and Eastern Orthodox Christians who will stand together alongside other men and women of goodwill in defense of foundational principles of justice and the common good. These are people who could expose the lie which so many in our culture have embraced about self being the center of life; and then winsomely present, in the words of St. Paul, "a more excellent way”.
The Westminster 2010 Declaration appeals to orthodox Trinitarians of all persuasions.
It is perhaps too late for Westminster 2010 to have any effect on the present campaign, with the election being just four weeks away. But it is a professional, credible and non-partisan initiative which could be very significant afterwards, and, indeed, for in all subsequent elections.
And for those who might dismiss this as the UK’s equivalent of America's ‘Religious Right’, please observe that the focus is just as much on protecting the poor, the alien and the vulnerable as it is on the defence of marriage and its opposition to abortion.
Cranmer commends it to all of his readers and communicants, and asks that it might be circulated far and wide, to your friends, families, churches and ecclesial communities.