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An Evangelical Manifesto: Why I Signed; Evangelical Manifesto; Faith and Politcs; Christianity and Politics

An Evangelical Manifesto:
Why I Signed

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2008 by Mark D. Roberts

Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you give credit where credit is due. For all other uses, please contact me at Thank you.

An Evangelical Manifesto: Why I Signed

Part 1 of series: An Evangelical Manifesto: Why I Signed
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I am one of the "charter signatories" of An Evangelical Manifesto: The Washington Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment. In this post I want to explain, briefly, why I signed.

Before I do, however, I want to make a couple of prefatory comments. First, before you evaluate this Manifesto, be sure to read it (PDF version, 20 pages ), or at least the Executive Summary (6 pages) of the Manifesto that was prepared by the authors. Whatever you do, don't believe the descriptions and summaries provided by the mainstream media, who rarely "get" religious distinctions. For example, the MSNBC website posted a Reuters story with the headline: "Evangelical leaders urge step back from politics." This headline utterly misrepresents the contents of the Manifesto, so much so that I wonder if the person who wrote the headline actually read the Manifesto itself.

Second, I want to say that it's usually an odd thing to sign a statement like this. For me, the oddness is centered in the extent to which a statement written by others doesn't say things quite the way I would. Or, in some cases, a statement I'm willing to sign for most of what it affirms might say things that I prefer not to say at all.

When it comes to An Evangelical Manifesto, I'm not currently aware of anything that I wish I could excise from the document. But I must admit to being less than fond of the word manifesto. It's not a bad word, necessarily, (Marxist associations aside). It's just not a word I would tend to use. For me, it's just a little too bumptious.

I do rather like the use of the word An in An Evangelical Manifesto, however. An implies that this is not meant to be The Evangelical Manifesto, as if this is the only true representative statement for all evangelicals. In fact, the writers of this statement explicitly state that they "do not speak for all Evangelicals" (Executive Summary or ES, p. 6). The writers explains:

Evangelicals have no supreme leader or official spokesperson, so no one speaks for all Evangelicals, least of all those who claim to. We speak for ourselves, but as a representative group of Evangelicals in America. (EM, p. 2)

Well, I guess I have to give up my goal of becoming the supreme leader of Evangelicalism! Seriously, though, I appreciate this perspective. In fact, if the Manifesto had claimed to speak for all Evangelicals or to be the only Evangelical option, then I wouldn't have signed it, even it represents where I stand on many issues. I'm quite sure there will be many Evangelicals to who exception to this Manifesto, or at least to certain parts of it. In fact, the statement explicitly rejects views held by some Evangelicals.

By the way, if you're not familiar with the word "Evangelical," you can find a helpful explanation in the Manifesto (pp. 4-11). A shorter definition comes in the Summary (p. 2). Here's my even shorter version: Evangelicals are Christians who affirm the full divinity and humanity of Jesus as the only Savior; understand salvation as centered in the cross and received through faith alone; live in the power of the Spirit and guided by the fully trustworthy Bible; look for the future return of Christ; and believe it's right to share these commitments with others so they might experience salvation. You'll find Evangelicals who will want to quibble about this definition (which, for example, lacks mention of the resurrection or biblical inerrancy), but it surely gets close to the center of the target.

Okay, then, so why did I sign this statement? I signed because An Evangelical Manifesto expresses many of my concerns and convictions about the interplay of Christian faith and politics. (I have written about this elsewhere, including: Evangelical Christians and Social Activism; The Force of Freedom: The Political Theology of George W. Bush; The Church and Politics in America; The Presidential Election: A Christian Response.)

For example, according to the Manifesto Summary:

To be Evangelical is to be faithful to the freedom, justice, peace, and well-being that are at the heart of the good news of Jesus. Fundamentalism was world-denying and politically disengaged at its outset, but Evangelicals have made a distinguished contribution to politics . . . (ES, p. 3).

Evangelicals are often lumped in with Fundamentalists in the secular media. But these two movements, though sharing some things in common, differ widely on the extent to which Christians should be engaged with the world, politically, intellectually, and culturally. Fundamentalists tend to be separated from the world, while Evangelicals believe we are called to be "in but not of the world."

To cite another example, the Manifesto authors "repudiate two equal and opposite errors into which many Christians have fallen." (ES, p. 4, their emphasis). One is the error of privatizing faith, whereby it is irrelevant to social and political realities. The other error is politicizing faith, making faith essentially a means of supporting some political agenda, either right or left. So what does a non-privatized (public) and non-politicized faith look like?

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. (EM, p. 15).

This expresses well my own convictions. Throughout my adult life, I have been amazed by the extent to which some Christians believe that genuine faith aligns 100% with their political party. This has been true of folks on both right and left. Those who believe that a real Christian can only be a Democrat, or a Republican, or a Green, or whatever else, implicitly condemn the genuine faith of their political opponents, or at least their discernment. I know mature, biblically-founded Christians who are Republicans. And I know mature, biblically-founded Christians who are Democrats. And I know mature, biblically-founded Christians who aren't allied with either major party. In fact, I had bunches of all of these in the church I pastored for sixteen years.

Once again, the Manifesto puts nicely what I believe to be true of our basic political identity as Christians:

Citizens of the City of God, we are resident aliens in the Earthly City. Called by Jesus to be "in"the world but not "of"the world, we are fully engaged in public affairs, but never completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, economic system, class, tribe, or national identity. (EM, p. 14)

As the New Testament puts it, we are first and foremost citizens of heaven (e.g. Phil 3:20). This primary citizenship does not necessarily diminish our loyalty to country or party. But it does give us a perspective from which to evaluate and critique the views and actions of both country and party. Our first loyalty is to God and his kingdom.

I have more to say about why I signed An Evangelical Manifesto. I'll save it for tomorrow.

An Evangelical Manifesto: Why I Signed (Part 2)

Part 2 of series: An Evangelical Manifesto: Why I Signed
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Yesterday I began to explain why I joined the list of "charter signatories" for An Evangelical Manifesto: The Washington Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment. I summed up my rationale this way:

I signed because An Evangelical Manifesto expresses many of my concerns and convictions about the interaction of Christian faith and politics.

In yesterday's post I began to lay out some of those concerns and convictions. Today I'll continue the conversation.

The Manifesto repudiates "the two extremes that define the present culture wars in the United States" (Executive Summary [ES] p. 4). And what are these?"

"On one side, we repudiate the partisans of a sacred public square, those who would continue to give one religion a preferred place in public life" (ES p. 4). (Note: Had I written this statement, I would have reserved "repudiate" for views, not people.) Clearly, this is a critique of those who, arguing from the Christian roots of American history, would want Christianity to assume a privileged place in American society today. The Manifesto argues that our society is, and should be, one in which various religious traditions stand on equal ground.

"On the other side, we repudiate the partisans of a naked public square, those who would make all religious expression inviolably private and keep the public square inviolably secular" (ES p. 4). It is increasingly common these days to hear secularists and even some Christians call for prohibiting religious ideas in public conversation. According to this view, for example, presidential candidates have no business talking about their religious faith (or lack thereof). Religious people can participate in public matters, but without speaking of their religious convictions. It is extraordinarily narrow-minded of proponents of the naked public square to argue that people should not bring their deepest beliefs and moral convictions into public conversations.

So what does the Manifesto suggest instead of a sacred or naked public square?

We are committed to a civil public square – a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths as well (ES, p. 4).

The authors of the Manifesto want a seat at the table of social and political discussion. They don't want to have to hide their religious convictions. And they're willing to give the same opportunity to non-Evangelicals, whether they are otherwise religious or non-religious. The point is that all people should be included in the conversation, and should receive respect from their conversation partners.

Why does this even have to be mentioned in American society, with our long, long history of religious freedom and religious participation in public discourse? The Manifesto explains:

Third, we are concerned that a generation of culture warring, reinforced by understandable reactions to religious extremism around the world, has created a powerful backlash against all religion in public life among many educated people. If this hardens into something like the European animosity toward religion in public life, the result would be disastrous for the American republic and would severely constrict liberty for people of all faiths. The striking intolerance shown by the new atheists is a warning sign (ES p. 5)

In this generation of "culture warring," there have been some leading Christians who have sounded as if they want to impose their religious convictions on others. I expect some have actually wanted to do this. Others have simply spoken unwisely. And many others have been misunderstood and misrepresented by the secular media, which have given the impression that Evangelical Christians want to impose that which they simply want the freedom to believe, practice, and advocate. (For an example of such misunderstanding and misrepresentation, see my series: The Great Commission and the "Christers": A Critical Examination of "The New Blacklist" by Doug Ireland.)

In my opinion, the Manifesto hits the nail on the head by referring to "understandable reactions to religious extremism around the world" (ES p. 5). Recently I was giving a lecture at Austin Graduate School of Theology. After my presentation, I was asked why I thought atheism has had such a run of popularity. I gave a few reasons, the most important of which pointed to the reaction to religious extremism. On September 11, 2001, our national consciousness was rocked by the unthinkable as we were attacked. Who was behind the attack? A particular category of religious extremist, sometimes called "Muslim fundamentalists." This fact has led many to propose that the world would be better off without religion, or without any public expressions of religion, at any rate. They point, not only to Islamic extremism, but also to violence done by others. Christians get tarred with the brush of the Crusades and abortion-clinic attacks. And, of course, religion's detractors almost completely fail to mention any of the positive things done in the name of religion (feeding the hungry, building hospitals, etc. etc. etc.). And they also neglect the horrors done in the name of secularism (Stalin's genocide, for example) or try somehow to blame religion for secularist atrocities (as Christopher Hitchens does in god is not Great.) (Photo: Some oak tress in Austin, not far from Austin Graduate School of Theology.)

I would agree with the Manifesto that such anti-religious reactions are "understandable." But to move from outrage over 9/11 to the conclusion that religion should be banned from the public square is a simplistic and unpersuasive position. Moreover, it is fundamentally opposed to the basic vision of our nation as a place of freedom, including freedom of speech and religion.

There is much more in An Evangelical Manifesto that I'm not going to comment on now. Once again, I'd urge you to read the whole statement (PDF version, 20 pages), or at least the Executive Summary (PDF, 6 pages) of the Manifesto that was prepared by the authors.

I'm going to close this post by quoting from the closing section of the Manifesto. Its invitations are well worth accepting:

We urge our fellow-Evangelicals to consider these affirmations and to join us in clarifying the profound confusions surrounding Evangelicalism, that together we may be more faithful to our Lord and to the distinctiveness of his way of life.

We urge our fellow-citizens to assess the damaging consequences of the present culture wars, and to work with us in the urgent task of restoring liberty and civility in public life, and so ensure that freedom may last to future generations.

We urge adherents of other faiths around the world to understand that we respect your right to believe what you believe according to the dictates of conscience, and invite you to follow the golden rule and extend the same rights and respect to us and to the adherents of all other faiths, so that together we may make religious liberty practical and religious persecution rarer, so that in turn human diversity may complement rather than contradict human well-being.

We urge those who report and analyze public affairs, such as scholars, journalists, and public policy makers, to abandon stereotypes and adopt definitions and categories in describing us and other believers in terms that are both accurate and fair, and with a tone that you in turn would like to be applied to yourselves.

We urge those in positions of power and authority to appreciate that we seek the welfare of the communities, cities, and countries in which we live, yet our first allegiance is always to a higher loyalty and to standards that call all other standards into question, a commitment that has been a secret of the Christian contributions to civilization as well as its passion for reforms.

We urge those who share our dedication to the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed to join with us in working to bring care, peace, justice, and freedom to those millions of our fellow-humans who are now ignored, oppressed, enslaved, or treated as human waste and wasted humans by the established orders in the global world.

We urge those who search for meaning and belonging amid the chaos of contemporary philosophies and the brokenness and alienation of modern society to consider that the gospel we have found to be good news is in fact the best news ever, and open to all who would come and discover what we now enjoy and would share.

Finally, we solemnly pledge that in a world of lies, hype, and spin, where truth is commonly dismissed and words suffer from severe inflation, we make this declaration in words that have been carefully chosen and weighed; words that, under God, we make our bond. People of the Good News, we desire not just to speak the Good News but to embody and be good news to our world and to our generation.

Here we stand. Unashamed and assured in our own faith, we reach out to people of all other faiths with love, hope, and humility. With God’s help, we stand ready with you to face the challenges of our time and to work together for a greater human flourishing. (EM pp. 19-20)