Conservative leaders are now calling the company's policy "appalling" and suggesting it reflects hostility toward Christian beliefs.
At issue is an iPhone/iPad software program containing the text of the Manhattan Declaration, a 4,700-word document that includes basic Christian teachings and Bible verses on marriage, life and religious liberty. Key leaders such as Charles Colson, James Dobson, Richard Land, R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Timothy Dolan signed the document in 2009, and more than 480,000 people subsequently signed it online. It received widespread media coverage. Among its stances, the document opposes "gay marriage," abortion and embryonic stem cell research.
Apple pulled the free app from its online store in November, saying it "violates our developer guidelines by being offensive to large groups of people."
That led Manhattan Declaration officials to resubmit a tweaked version of the app in early December, leaving the text of the document untouched but removing a four-question survey that contained such questions as "do you support same-sex relationships?" and "do you support the right of choice regarding abortion?" Some bloggers had called the questions objectionable.
The Manhattan Declaration website posted a statement Dec. 23 saying Apple had rejected the tweaked app.
The iPhone/iPad app store contains more than 200,000 apps, some of them covering many subjects Christians no doubt would also find objectionable. There are dozens if not hundreds of apps containing the word "gay" in the iPhone/iPad app store dealing with such subjects as same-sex dating, "gay travel" and "gay news."
"Inasmuch as the Manhattan Declaration simply reaffirms the moral teachings of our Christian faith on the sanctity of human life, marriage and sexual morality, and religious freedom and the rights of conscience, Apple's statement amounts to the charge that our faith is 'potentially harmful to others,'" a statement at ManhattanDeclaration.org reads. "It is difficult to see how this is anything other than a statement of animus by a major American corporation against the beliefs of millions of Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox citizens.
The statement adds, "It is our sincere hope that Apple will draw back from this divisive and deeply offensive position. The corporation's leaders must be made to understand that they do the country no good service in capitulating to efforts to stigmatize, marginalize or defame people on one side or the other in important moral debates."
Manhattan Declaration leaders say they will resubmit the app to Apple's App Review Board after Jan. 1.
"If Apple is in good faith, perhaps they will be willing to submit this matter to arbitration," the statement read.
Apple originally gave the app a rating of 4+ -- meaning "no objectionable content" -- but changed its mind after roughly 7,700 people at the liberal website Change.org e-mailed Apple and asked the company to remove the app. The Change.org webpage had argued that "supporters of equal rights and the right of women to control their own bodies" must stand together.
Meanwhile, about 47,000 people signed an online petition at ManhattanDeclaration.org asking Apple to reinstate the app.
Apple has a history of helping liberal causes, and in 2008 donated $100,000 to opponents of California Prop 8, the constitutional amendment that protected the traditional definition of marriage. Prop 8 passed.
Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Apple is within its rights to remove the app but that the company's position is a blow to civil discourse.
"The positions espoused in the Manhattan Declaration are based on biblical Christianity and affirmed by nearly half a million Christians representing dozens of denominations," Land wrote in a Baptist Press column. "The declaration does not promote hate or homophobia. Instead, the declaration proclaims that all human beings are loved by God and are worthy of respect. As one of the original editors and signers, I am more aware than most of the extraordinary efforts that were expended to make the Manhattan Declaration as positive, winsome and engaging as possible, without sacrificing conviction."
Land added, "It is sadly ironic that a document written out of a growing unease about very real efforts in the culture 'to marginalize the Christian voice in the public square, to redefine marriage, and to move away from the biblical view of the sanctity of life' has itself been marginalized by Apple."
The Manhattan Declaration, conservatives say, includes basic Christians beliefs that are regularly heard in political and religious debates. It includes a summary paragraph stating:
"e 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."
Regarding homosexuals, the declaration says, "We have compassion for those so disposed; we respect them as human beings possessing profound, inherent, and equal dignity; and we pay tribute to the men and women who strive, often with little assistance, to resist the temptation to yield to desires that they, no less than we, regard as wayward. We stand with them, even when they falter. We, no less than they, are sinners who have fallen short of God's intention for our lives. We, no less than they, are in constant need of God's patience, love and forgiveness. We call on the entire Christian community to resist sexual immorality, and at the same time refrain from disdainful condemnation of those who yield to it."
Colson wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle asserting that "if the Manhattan Declaration's positions are offensive," then "so are those of mainstream Christianity for the past 2,000 years."
"If the Manhattan Declaration's positions alone are enough to have its app removed, then I have to wonder whether Apple is considering removing other Bible-based -- or even Jewish or Islamic -- apps from its store," Colson wrote. "Apple has every right to decide what to offer in its app store and what not to offer. But it is chilling that such a culture-shaping company would so quickly take sides in a debate."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To read or sign the Manhattan Declaration, visit Manhattan Declaration.org.
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