I have a couple of comments and questions to make about whether the Evangelical Manifesto set to be released today at a news conference in Washington DC will provide any sort of consensus to salvage the term Evangelical “before its character is obscured and its importance is lost.” Before getting to that, the article in USA Today by Cathy Grossman sets the scene.
Grossman writes, “The manifesto condemns Christians on the right and left for using faith to express political views without regard to the truth of the Bible.” Therefore, when faith loses its independence from the public square, the manifesto claims, “Christians become useful idiots for politicians.” According to A. Larry Ross, a spokesman for the group, the public will be invited to discuss the document and sign on in agreement, adding that “more than 80 influential Christians” have already signed it. “The goal is to lay down lines on the turf and go back to the root theological meaning of the term evangelical before its character is obscured and its importance is lost,” he said.
Some influential Evangelicals have expressed concern about the manifesto. Frank Page, president of the SBC, says he is concerned it will be “spun to conclude that Christians should hold back from speaking out on public policy.” Ed Stetzer, who has not seen the manifesto, goes on to say in Grossman’s article, “Christians need to speak prophetically to all parties, not be beholden to one. Evangelicals need to be known for what we are for: showing and sharing the good news of Christ, not only what we are against on public policy.” Al Mohler, James Dobson and Richard Land are among others named that have not signed on.
Now, I would like to add a few comments:
- If this Evangelical Manifesto is actually going to be useful, the primary point that Christians should express political views with a regard of the truth of the Bible needs to be made clear. This is where Stetzer’s comment is helpful.
- However, if it is spun to conclude that Christians should hold back from speaking out on public policy, then it will not be helpful.
- Besides, IMO attempting to save a term from the misfortune of other words like fundamentalism is entirely secondary to truly pressing matters of public policy (e.g. abortion, being careful not to turn the immigration issue into a racial one, not allowing education to be taken away from the family).
- Whether the manifesto gains widespread support or not, Christians should know they can only speak intelligently concerning issues in the public square if they first regard the truth of the Bible in a way that honors the supremacy and good news of Christ, “not only what we are against in public policy.”
What do you think? Can an Evangelical Manifesto help Christians focus properly on their role in the public square “to speak prophetically to all parties . . . showing and sharing the good news of Christ, not only what we are against in public policy,” with the clear teachings and principles of Scripture guiding us? Can it actually save the term evangelical? Do you have any concerns about this?
Update: Interestingly, unlike the USA Today article suggests, the document only deals with the issue of Evangelicals and the public square in part of the document. The manifesto attempts to reclaim the term evangelical and to express how Christians should engage public policy issues, the culture we live in, and the globalization of the public square in the Internet Age. I certainly recommend you read it.