Casting Stones

Casting Stones

Guest Post: Whose Evangelical Manifesto?

If all goes according to plan, on or about May 7, a group of evangelical leaders–including the Rev. Rick Warren (of Saddleback Church and “Purpose Driven Life” fame) and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals–will publish a document to be called “An Evangelical Manifesto: The Washington Declaration of Identity and Public Commitment.”
Though the document has been circulating around the Internet for a month, it has been “embargoed.” For purposes of our discussion here, I will honor the embargo and not delve here into the contents except to say this: it contains, like other documents of this kind, both virtues and flaws. It’s better than most, worse than some. But the contents are not my main concern here: In the end, I fear that the contents, however worthy, will be overshadowed by the process of its writing and gathering signatories for it.
Os Guinness, one of the “Manifesto’s” primary authors, told me that a “representative group” has been asked to sign it, and that “scores of people have given input.” In defense of his assertion, I will say that in my investigating, I have determined that, in addition to Warren and Anderson, theologians Timothy George and Richard Mouw have been a part of the drafting process. Jesse Miranda, Richard Ohman, and John Huffman also reportedly had a hand. The involvement of long-time Billy Graham PR guru Larry Ross suggests that Graham might end up a signatory. (Ross would not confirm or deny that.) Best-selling author Dallas Willard and Christianity Today’s David Neff were also involved.
Guinness claims the document is not political in the sense that it says “Christians are not to be defined culturally or politically” and that it is first and foremost a “charitable call to reform.” Nonetheless, the timing of the document’s release, during the “home stretch” of the presidential election season and during a week when many states will be holding primaries, makes the claim disingenuous.
So let’s be plain: Despite Os Guinness’s protestations, this is–unavoidably–a political document. Also, it’s important to be plain about another unfortunate reality: There is an unseemly power struggle going on in the evangelical world these days. It is a struggle for leadership and dominance, for the right to be the unofficial spokesperson for evangelicals. The “religious left” has put forth men such as Jim Wallis. Rick Warren has had everyone from Bono to Barack Obama in his pulpit to help him assert his claim. The Emergent Church is putting forth Tony Jones and Brian McLaren, among others. And, of course, there are the “traditional” leaders of the so-called “religious right,” including Gary Bauer, Tony Perkins, Chuck Colson, and James Dobson.
This unfortunate and unseemly power struggle should not be ignored in evaluating this “Manifesto.” The list of people who have not been asked to sign it, or who have chosen not to, is as revealing as the list of those who have, or will. Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins both told me they had not seen the “Manifesto.” Tom Minnery, executive vice president of Focus on the Family and the organization’s “point person” on public policy issues said neither he nor James Dobson has signed the document.
Other conservative evangelical leaders who often speak out on political issues have been kept out of the process. That list includes Rick Scarborough of Vision America, former White House speechwriter and Beverly LaHaye Institute Senior Fellow Janice Crouse.
Also shunned, at least so far: the Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land, Ohio-based Phil Burress of Citizens For Community Values, Faith2Action’s Janet Folger, homeschool guru Michael Farris, and Concerned Women For America President Wendy Wright.
There is also a growing list of evangelical heavyweights who have been asked to sign but have (so far) refused – due either to flaws in the document or, as one prominent evangelical leader told me, to the “exclusivity” of the list of signatories.
So a reasonable question remains: What is the true purpose of this document? If it really is, as Os Guinness maintains, a “charitable call to reform,” why not let voices from the “conservative” or so-called “pro-family” wing of the evangelical movement have input? The worst that could happen is this: the drafters could ward off a nagging concern that they are backroom schemers, attempting to assert an exclusive claim to leadership over a sometimes (regretfully) fractious, though still powerful, evangelical movement. And what is the best thing that could happen? The signatures of Jim Wallis, Rick Warren, Billy Graham, and Jim Dobson on the same carefully crafted document. Now that would be truly historic.
It seems to me that this is a goal worth striving for — unless, of course, the assertion of power and control, and not a “charitable call to reform,” is what this document is really all about.
Warren Smith is the publisher of the Evangelical Press News Service.

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recovering ex-Pentecostal

posted April 15, 2008 at 11:56 am

“If it really is, as Os Guinness maintains, a “charitable call to reform,” why not let voices from the “conservative” or so-called “pro-family” wing of the evangelical movement have input?”
You’ve answered your own question – the conservative and soi-disant “pro-family” wing is not INTERESTED in reform.
Good heavens, why not ask why the “reverend” Fred Phelps is not invited to particpate? Or the rabidly anti-Catholic John Hagee?
Besides, the conservative evangelical movement already has their many bully pulpits, TV broadcasts, etc. in which they broadcast their hate-messages. We already KNOW what the Bauers, Perdins’s, Lands and Dobsons believe. I think this forum is meant to counter their, um, “thought”.

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posted April 15, 2008 at 6:19 pm

It seems to me that the “Manifesto” may prove to be more of a watershed than it was intended to be. Rather than advancing the idea that only a certain individual or group of individuals are entitled to speak for the evangelical community, it may reveal who is and is not really an evangelical. Since the final document and its signatories are still somewhat enigmatic, it would be unfair to say which group is or is not evangelical.
However, whatever definition of the term “evangelical” one uses, few would deny that it has historically identified a group unwilling to be labeled either “liberal” or “fundamentalist.” The pejorative use of these two terms from the poles of the Christian community spectrum necessitated the “middle ground.”
But, as is the case in many such definitions, the “middle ground” is shifting, or more accurately, widening. What we once called liberal now qualifies as evangelical, and “fundamentalists” have become increasingly maginalized as the Amish and more conservative Mennonite groups were in a previous century. We have attached the word “legalism” to efforts mounted to stay the influence of the world on the church. It reminds me of the little old lady who prayed, “Lord, forgive me. I do so many things I used to call sin.”
I fear that rather than allowing the church to teach doctrine and inform lifestyle with Scripture, we have chosen to pressure the church into accepting both doctrines and lifestyle practices as normative that were soundly rejected by the previous generation. In the interest of “personal freedom” we have torn down fences before we learned exactly why they were built. Perhaps we have released an unthinkable beast on the church. Personal choice has become the watchword, and hence the continual widening of what we call “evangelical.”
Nowhere is this better confirmed than in the findings of a recent survey among Roman Catholics in the USA pursuant to the Pope’s visit. The survey found that a high percentage of Catholics in our country feel that the Catholic Church is out of touch with their views. This is to say that in the minds of those surveyed, the church’s value to their culture is diminished to the degree that it fails to capitulate to the shifting sands of their adjusted spiritual standards.
Maybe it’s time we rethink the term “evangelical” and seek to find consensus on a practical definition of its boundaries. Only then will we know who can speak for that segment of the community.

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Donald Floyd

posted April 15, 2008 at 10:10 pm

At what point are we the church going to open the Bible and really read and be obedient to what God’s word says, not what we interpret it to say. If you really read and study the Bible you will notice that the left is way way off and the far far right is way off too! The left tolerates everything and the far right tolerates nothing. What does God tolerate?

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posted April 16, 2008 at 9:28 am

The ‘church’, the visible entity, the buildings, the money grubbing hirelings, has been given over to delusion.
One man was given to be THE example to be followed.
1Corinthians 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ
That is God’s COMMAND, not Paul’s opinion.
God determined Paul’s ‘purpose’,
1Corinthians 2:2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
And he by GOD’S DIRECTION, was chargeable to no man.
He was a tent maker.
NOWHERE today do we find FOLLOWERS of this man.
You are most likely to find those that DETEST God’s Words, through Paul.
The ‘church’ has flown over the cuckoo’s nest.
In the service of the TRUTH, the LIVING WORD, JESUS CHRIST,

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posted May 3, 2008 at 2:49 pm

It’s about time that the churches STOP preaching politics and start doing their job – preaching the word of God. I’m not at all surprised at the people who were left out. Those were the ones who have been preaching politics in the pulpit for years and who have bought into (and preached) the lie that a person can’t possibly be a christian unless he/she is republican. (I heard on CNN some years back that this piece of propoganda started with Bush Sr. so he could get the christian vote.) Teaching politics in the pulpit has done nothing but divide the body of Christ and cause hard feelings amongst those who disagree. Many christians have been ostracized from the church because they disagree with the political viewpoint of the pastor or group. Frankly, their churches should have lost their tax exempt status years ago. I believe it is about time that some Christian leaders speak up and say “enough!” to these people who are preaching politics rather than the word of God. I know people who have quit conventional churches altogether because of the politicizing, and these people get more prayers answered than the church goers I know. I also know of two people who have switched to the catholic church because they don’t have to listen to politics there. Personally, I will not go to a church that holds contempt for me because I’m not a republican. Most of the churches I’ve been exposed to in the past ten years have the attitude of the poster above who said that “the left tolerates everything.” That is NOT true but christians going to the “religious right” churches have been brainwashed to believe it is. That same poster stated that the far right tolerates nothing. Excuse me, but the “religious right” is the group that cares nothing about the poor or about helping people. They’re against abortion (so am I), BUT once the person gets here, they could care less about them. Many people believe the “religious right” group to be modern day pharisees.

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posted May 4, 2008 at 11:46 pm

As someone who has been behind the pulpit I couldn’t agree more that church is too political. I am a layspeaker and have almost quit that. I have seen a lot of people hurt by the “political religion” that has taken over the church. And 99% I have seen has been slated toward the GOP view. I have seen church splits, people quit, and other things happen. The end result I think of this has been to create a lot of “born again atheists”. So many are turning away from God and a lot is due to the arrogance of this mentality. Too many in the church today wat to crucify people instead of picking up their own cross. Its about time that the religeous group realize the way politics has taken over Christianity.

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posted May 5, 2008 at 10:18 am

I don’t think publishing manifestos and arguing about who will sign them, or whether it’s politics, or who’s a “real” evangelical is what Christ wants to find us doing when he returns. We are all going to be surprised when He separates the tares from the wheat.
And it won’t be long!

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clete purcel

posted May 8, 2008 at 9:38 am

What a waste of time and effort this manifesto is. The entire exercise will end up being counterproductive. Every time people of faith – however well intentioned – attempt to conduct a PR campaign of any kind it winds up backfiring. This will be no exception. Shocked that otherwise intelligent people like Guinness would be party to such a sophomoric publicity ploy.
In response to the poster named Linda – I completely agree that one does not have to be a Republican in order to be a Christian. However, there exists not a shred of evidence that Bush Sr. ever said this. You make a heavy charge based on hearsay only.

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posted May 8, 2008 at 12:34 pm

I have been attending evangelical churches since I was a toddler about 60 years ago. Politics is not mentioned. I have seen and heard moral teachings: Marriage between one man and one woman is a gift from God, and is the highest ideal for many reasons. Abortion is a sin, but the sinner can be forgiven. Christians should love and help their fellow human beings. Government has no business trying to suppress public expressions of faith and cram immorality down the throats of Christians. The message of Jesus should be taken throughout the world by Christians without government help or interference. And many other Biblical principles. If these values happen to coincide occasionally with a political party’s standards should the churches change what they preach?
One group of Christian churches preaches politics, appeals openly for members to vote for certain candidates, many of their pastors are paid to deliver votes. These churches deliver votes to Democrats in the 90 – 95% margins. Interestingly I see little criticism of those Christians for their politics.

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young girl

posted May 24, 2008 at 5:52 am

It’s a pleasant surprise to find a sanctury from all that modern inane garbage they call music.

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