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.