Eugene Cho

a higher allegiance: an evangelical manifesto

What do you think about the Evangelical Manifesto that was published last week?  I’m still reading through parts of it.  I’m also posting the majority of an article in Christianity Today about the Manifesto.  In light of yesterday’s repost on Faith and Politics, it’s a good connection. 

An Evangelical Manifesto is an open declaration of who Evangelicals are and what they stand for. It has been drafted and published by a representative group of Evangelical leaders who do not claim to speak for all Evangelicals, but who invite all other Evangelicals to stand with them and help clarify what Evangelical means in light of “confusions within and the consternation without” the movement. As the Manifesto states, the signers are not out to attack or exclude anyone, but to rally and to call for reform.

As an open declaration, An Evangelical Manifesto addresses not only Evangelicals and other Christians but other American citizens and people of all other faiths in America, including those who say they have no faith. It therefore stands as an example of how different faith communities may address each other in public life, without any compromise of their own faith but with a clear commitment to the common good of the societies in which we all live together.

For those who are Evangelicals, the deepest purpose of the Manifesto is a serious call to reform—an urgent challenge to reaffirm Evangelical identity, to reform Evangelical behavior, to reposition Evangelicals in public life, and so rededicate ourselves to the high calling of being Evangelical followers of Jesus Christ.

And here’s Christianity Today’s take on the Evangelical Manifesto. 

Questions: Does this resonate with you?  Is there a better word to describe your faith than ‘evangelical?’

Evangelical Christians should be defined by their theology — and not their politics — to avoid becoming “useful idiots” of a political party, a group of leaders said Wednesday in a new statement.

The document, “An Evangelical Manifesto,” reflects the frustration of some within a movement that claims about one in four Americans over how they are perceived by others and who can speak for them. The 19-page document declares that evangelicals err when they try to politicize faith and use Christian beliefs for political purposes.

“That way faith loses its independence, the church becomes ‘the regime at prayer,’ Christians become ‘useful idiots’ for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology in its purest form,” the document reads.

The statement, however, resisted calls to privatize or personalize the faith, saying their is an important place for evangelical voices in the public square.

“Called to an allegiance higher than party, ideology and nationality, we Evangelicals see it our duty to engage with politics, but our equal duty never to be completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, economic system, or nationality,” the document says.

The manifesto, which at times upbraids evangelicals for contributing to their own image problems, comes about six months after a poll showed that many young people grade Christianity as being judgmental and hypocritical. Drafters of the new document said they knew other evangelicals who were “ashamed” or “reluctant” to describe themselves as evangelical.

A nine-member steering committee spent three years working on the manifesto. The document’s initial 75 signatories are evangelical leaders from major coalitions, educational institutions and denominations. They include National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson, best-selling author and megachurch pastor Max Lucado and the Rev. Jack Hayford, president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Critics claim some key names — including conservative evangelical leaders such as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Southern Baptist public policy executive Richard Land — are missing from the statement.

The Rev. John Huffman, pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, Calif., said the statement’s steering committee had conversations with Dobson, though his board recommended he not sign it. Dobson spokesman Gary Schneeberger confirmed this and said the board’s reasoning was a private matter.

“Our umbrella is large,” said Huffman. “Not all will sign it but we do feel we do need to bring our particular perspective.”

Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Wednesday he had not seen the statement before it was released.

“People have a right to invite who they want to to their party,” Land said, but he added that the question about religious involvement in politics is a “false dichotomy.”

“It’s not an either/or,” he said. “It’s both.”

David Neff, editor-in-chief of Christianity Today magazine and a member of the steering committee, said the media’s equating “value voters” with evangelicals have contributed to the confusion about who evangelicals are. “If there’s an election that this is about, it’s the election of 2000, not the election of 2008,” said Neff.

The document is intended to explain evangelicals to those outside their fold, as well as to challenge evangelicals to better represent their faith.

” … We are troubled by the fact that the confusions and corruptions surrounding the term ‘Evangelical’ have grown so deep that the character of what it means has been obscured and its importance lost,” the manifesto reads. “Many people outside the movement now doubt that ‘Evangelical’ is ever positive, and many inside now wonder whether the term any longer serves a useful purpose.”

The statement calls for a reaffirmation of evangelical identity — including the importance of sharing the belief that Jesus is the only Savior of mankind. It expresses concern that “a generation of culture warring” has created a backlash against religion in public life.

It also called for an openness to work with people of good will, including those of other faiths or no faith. The document also calls for reform of behavior within evangelical ranks.

“All too often we have set out high, clear statements of the authority of the Bible,” it reads, “but flouted them with lives and lifestyles that are shaped more by our own sinful preferences and by modern fashions and convenience.”

*************************************************************************

Some media coverage on the Manifesto:

Coverage includes:

Evangelical leaders say their faith is too politicized (Associated Press)

U.S. evangelicals call for step back from politics (Reuters)

‘Evang. Manifesto’ targets stereotypes (Baptist Press)

‘Manifesto’ vexes evangelicals (The Washington Times)

‘Evangelical Manifesto’ Aims to Depoliticize Religion (Day to Day, NPR)

Manifesto aims to make ‘evangelical’ less political (USA Today)

Evangelicals try to reclaim their good name | Manifesto warns not to attach loaded labels to theological term (Cathleen Falsani, Chicago Sun-Times)

Filed under: politics, religion,

13 Responses

  1. guest says:

    After tiring of the cultural warring myself, and seeing the negative effects of the combative evangelical voice on my young adult children who were exposed to it through their formative years and now reject the “evangelical” label handily, I think this document is a timely step in the right direction. The public voice of some Christians in this country has become unbalanced and judgmental. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is bringing a corrective movement now. I am not surprised that Dobson did not sign this document, though.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I was jogging around The Huffington Post and I saw an article that linked back to a story in the Seattle Times about Youth Faith in relation to Politics.

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/politics/2004406277_evangvote11m.html

    Something you said in one of your other posts was quoted and it stuck with me.

    “While the issue of abortion — the sanctity of life — must always be a hugely important issue, we must juxtapose that with other issues that are also very important,”

    Thinking beyond abortion to all of the other issues that politicians use to manipulate the pieces on the board, only to walk away from the issue without resolving things, your quote made me stop and recognize the wisdom inherent in the concept. People cannot live in a world of only four or five issues. Our world in all of it’s intricacies is much more complicated than that. That is the challenge of the life that we are given.

    So, while not a man of the faith myself, I felt inclined to stop by and let you know that I appreciated that piece of wisdom in my day.

  3. DK says:

    I enjoyed reading the CT article. Didn’t have time to read the actual manifesto.

    I have a hard time aligning myself with the the “Evangelical” word because it is way too broad and for the reasons mentioned in the article, I don’t have a fighting chance with people who think horrible things.

    I typically just share with people that I am a follower of Christ.

  4. aaron says:

    I agree with DK…. I think “Christ follower” is the best way to define ourselves.

    I think we can make new words or redefine old ones and try to align ourselves with all kinds of groups and movements, but ultimately we just need to align ourselves to Christ.

    I did not read the manifesto, but this is my take from the article:

    To say Evangelicals should be less political seems limited. Does this mean they can not preach on politics or talk about political issues? Does this mean do not pay attention to politics and world events? I think ultimately they need to seek to be more Christ-like as individuals. To let their relationship with Christ define their politics… I think then you would see real change and people would not simply buy into what they are told or what is comfortable.

    I guess it seems they are talking about one symptom, not the disease.

    At the same time, maybe this is a good thing. Maybe God will use this to bring about healthy change and draw people closer to Him.

  5. Kacie says:

    I haven’t read the manifesto yet, but I am looking forward to it. As one of the young and disillusioned, I am hesitant to align myself with “evangelicalism”, but because no one seems to clearly define what evangelicalism actually is, I don’t really have anything solid to base that on. Instead I distance myself from the opinions of the people that I know who call themselves evangelicals. I have been wishing that I could find a succint and generally agreed upon statement about the nature of evangelicalism, so this is great.

  6. Jennifer says:

    I think it might be too little, too late.But, I just finished reading “Deconstructing Evangelicalism” by Hart.

    I’m not sure the word Evangelical is worth saving.

  7. Tiffany says:

    I don’t know…I’m tempted to say that I think this is just us creating more work for ourselves. Not that the manifesto is silly, but the work in and of itself, the principles driving it, I don’t know that I’m seeing what they are seeing. What’s the goal here? I think I get it overall; I get the thought behind it…the effort to try and define us as Evangelical Christians and to separate those who are Christ followers from those who maybe are not or who don’t know if they are or not. But, I thought we were post moderns, don’t we dislike being defined? (he he he) Is the hope that this manifesto will change someone or something?

    My heart feels that this is one of those things we shouldn’t get caught up in too deeply. We spin our wheels a lot trying to explain who we are when really, we just want people to know us. Just like they want to be known. We are all defining ourselves and redefining ourselves as time marches on.

    One of the beautiful aspects of God is the mystery that surrounds Him. What’s the point of pouring over manifestos? Part of me feels sad that this is even required of us…that we’ve come to this point that we need this in-depth definition of who we are. Do we think people other than us will read it?

    I’m a Christian. I’m a Christ follower. I love Jesus. And I just don’t feel deeply compelled to be aligned with someone who has given themselves a label or a name. No biggie to me….it’s just not what matters.

    I apologize for my rambling on your blog…I’m a wordy-wrestler. Thanks for the good read though.

  8. chad says:

    for the most part, the “manifesto” speaks my language as a Christian trying to redeem the title of “evangelical.” for the past few years i’ve been more inclined to think of myself as a “Mission Friend” as was the practice of early members of the Evangelical Covenant Church. it’s interesting, and sad for that matter, that the word “mission”, which was such a large part of the identity of the early Protestant church, has now almost entirely been changed to “evangelical”…i am excited to see a resurgence in focus on the missional attitude of Evangelicals both in arease of justice and mercy and in communicating the Gospel more clearly and unashamedly…

    i was especially impressed with the “confessions” which begin on page 11 of the PDF version of the “manifesto.” i wonder. will we see any change or will the capitalistic, individualistic, corporate driven American church continue ?

    does this, or better yet, WILL this document matter?

  9. BDO says:

    Think of the latter prophets when they were trying to tell the people of Israel to repent and to turn to God. They were but one single voice amongst a sea of popular opinion and thought. History always has a way of repeating itself. But that is ok. To every season…

    This manifesto will have its place.

    We must keep the struggle alive! Remember, that no matter what we call ourselves, Mission Friend, Christian, Christ Follower, Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic, or Jesus Freak…we are brothers & sisters in the same Family and in our own way sowing our seeds for the Lord!

    God Bless!

    http://www.beatingdebt.wordpress.com

  10. eugenecho says:

    @jennifer
    @chad

    i think i agree with you both.

  11. chad says:

    having read the manifesto, and consequently struggling with the desire to turn all the topics there that are close to my heart into full-scale conversations, i am left with one enduring question at the end of the document: “How does one NOT become classified as an evangelical?” They seem to take pretty broad liberties in appropriating people from all over time and space to fall under their banner and I, for one, do not appreciate that. There are many points in their identity-building section which I feel are dangerously wrong or at least misleading. and so I do not think I would classify myself as an Evangelical.

    That being said, I did agree with a good deal of what they had to say – and i want to echo Chad here (ha ha) about the section on confessions, that was a little bit of justice right there. I am also encouraged by their vision for the future.

    One thing it looked like they touched on, but didn’t fully expand was the idea that for the Church to be healthy, it must constantly be growing and responding; it is the stagnant state you find most churches in that is (I think) responsible for so much of the damage done by the Church in the world today.

    also, there wasn’t nearly enough focus on racial reconciliation (although I did see that they mentioned it, briefly) – the language in the opening paragraphs seems to passively support the Dominant White Culture and not a vision for a healthier, more Christian alternative. Didn’t see anything in there on women in the Church either.

  12. mikerucker says:

    well, i’m enjoying reading the various opinions here and there around the web. i had some hesitations and misgivings before reading the document, but i’m actually quite impressed – even invigorated – after taking in the whole of what it addresses.

    one of the things i like is that the authors have chosen not to list creationism and inerrancy as non-negotiables. for the first, there’s very little biblical justification anymore behind whatever the latest flavor of anti-natural-selection dessert is being served up; for the latter, somehow we can admit that we can’t prove the existence of God, but goshdarnit we have a golden egg this unprovable God laid right here. still, some people hold to these positions; so be it. there’s simply too much of a tendency to add items to the ever-increasing laundry list of ideas and doctrines to which we have to pledge allegiance before we’re allowed into the room marked “Christian.”

    nothing’s going to please everybody, and there are a few things i object to. for instance, i don’t agree with this statement: We Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally. Jesus’ message uses “action” verbs: teach them to DO as I have commanded you, LOVE God and LOVE your neighbor, by this will all men know … if you LOVE one another. any theology that defines us must have feet.

    i did, however, like these words: We are also troubled by the fact that the advance of globalization and the emergence of a global public square finds no matching vision of how we are to live freely, justly, and peacefully with our deepest differences on the global stage. somehow, we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to peacefully share the same bathroom over the next few decades in our ever-shrinking world.

    one interesting thing: maybe i missed it, but there doesn’t seem to be a great emphasis on evangelism in this Evangelical Manifesto. do you think that was intentional? i didn’t see a single chick tract referenced in the bibliography…

    more than anything, i find myself motivated and energized by the very positive nature of the piece – that it isn’t yet another “here’s everything we’re against” rant but an effort to make the gospel again a message of good news. imagine that – the gospel being good news. American Christianity has lost this defining characteristic that once served it well.

    perhaps one unintended benefit of the proposal is a clear opportunity to take this EM (Evangelical Manifesto) and align it with the other EM (Emergent Manifesto) and finally have all our EM & EMs in a row without demonizing the other side.

    one can only hope…

    mike rucker
    fairburn, georgia, usa
    mikerucker.wordpress.com

  13. Kacie says:

    I spent last night pouring over the Manifesto with my husband, and was very impressed and encouraged by it. I had a classic case of cynicism with the American church, and I have often joined the ranks that throw a lot of blame towards evangelicals. It has sort of been a catch all phrase that different people use different ways. It is not always necessary to define, but sometimes it is needed for creating an identity. When I read the manifesto I’m encouraged by the fact that it is open as open as it is AND YET it is also heavily Christocentric, justice oriented, and theological. It addresses both our goals and our flaws.

    I have friends who have pulled away from fundamentalism and walked away from the church. They see that I remain in the church and I don’t know how to explain to them WHERE I remain, since I’m not committed to any denomination. I find the manifesto to be a beautiful declaration that…. surprise…. I fully agree with! I could use much of what is written in it to explain where I stand. It is very nice to find an actual outline of what it means to be evangelical. I appreciate it, and am pleasantly surprised to find that with this definition I actually am still an evangelical.

    My suspicion is that some, despite agreeing with the manifesto, will react against being categorized.

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