A Petition of Christian Conscience

BreakPoint | by Chuck Colson | Jan. 22, 2010

One of my all-time favorite movies reminds me that it often takes a bold act to awaken the conscience of a nation. It’s one of the most dramatic scenes in a really great movie. The movie is Amazing Grace. The scene is the House of Commons in the latter years of the eighteenth century. William Wilberforce stuns his parliamentary colleagues by unrolling an enormous scroll down the aisle. On the scroll were the signatures of 390,000 Englishmen, demanding that Parliament abolish the slave trade—the greatest moral issue of the day.

The signatures of nearly five percent of the country forced his reluctant, if not hostile, fellow members of Parliament to understand that the evil status quo could no longer stand.

Two hundred years later, in the spirit of Wilberforce, Christians across this country are affixing their signatures to another document as a way of saying “enough!”

Before Wilberforce presented his petition, slave traders and the economic interests that benefitted from the trade believed that they owned Parliament. That’s why it was called the rotten borough system. They literally bought seats! They believed they could ignore Wilberforce without repercussions. The petition showed them otherwise. It broke the back of their resistance.

Today, when it comes to sanctity of life, the traditional family and religious freedom, we are told that the cultural tide flows in only one direction—and that Christians should adapt.

Well, the last time I checked over 400,000 people have disagreed—loudly and clearly. They have signed the Manhattan Declaration, which, among other things, forcefully rejects the idea of Christians adapting to the cultural tide. It makes it clear that there are times when “civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required.”

While it took years for Wilberforce to gather his petitions, thanks to the internet, it has only taken us only two months to get 400,000 signatures. But our goal is one million.

Not because one million is a round and impressive number, but because that kind of response has the potential to electrify the church and make the cultural elite take notice as it did in Wilberforce’s day.

The church needs to get over this business that “we can’t get involved in politics.” That’s an excuse. It needs to understand that bearing witness about the sanctity of life, the traditional family and religious liberty isn’t political – it’s profoundly moral. It’s about who we are as a church and our relationship to the rest of the culture.

Likewise, it’s about making it clear that the cultural elite cannot silence us simply by labeling our views out-of-bounds. It’s about their having to realize that they cannot silence the church, especially when it speaks authoritatively across confessional lines.

By telling them that we will not render to Caesar what is God’s we can break the stranglehold that the abortion lobby has on Congress and the stranglehold of the gay rights movement on politicians.

But this willingness to swim against the tied can come at a price. Like Martin Luther King, whose birthday the nation honored this week, we must be clear that an unjust law does not bind the Christian conscience. And that we’ll pay the price to oppose it as he did.

The church in America must say “enough!” We must strive to overcome the reluctance and hostility we face. Whatever else the supporters of the status quo may own, they do not own our consciences.

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