‘Man­i­festo’ seek­ing path of cen­trism vexes evan­gel­i­cals

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Ju­lia Duin

A panel of 77 evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians is­sued a “man­i­festo” at the Na­tional Press Club May 7 os­ten­si­bly to clar­ify “the con­fu­sions and cor­rup­tions sur­round­ing the term ‘evan­gel­i­cal’ “ but which ended up caus­ing fer­ment within their move­ment.

The 19-page doc­u­ment, which de­fined a mid­dle path for the na­tion’s 45 mil­lion evan­gel­i­cals be­tween “lib­eral re­vi­sion­ism and con­ser­va­tive fun­da­men­tal­ism,” at­tacked the bandy­ing about of the term “evan­gel­i­cal” by the re­li­gious right and left.

“Chris­tians from both sides of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, left as well as right, have made the mis­take of politi­ciz­ing faith,” it said. “It would be no im­prove­ment to re­spond to a weak­en­ing of the re­li­gious right with a re­ju­ve­na­tion of the re­li­gious left. A politi­cized faith is faith­less, fool­ish and dis­as­trous for the church.”

Evan­gel­i­cals con­sti­tute about 26 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion and are a po­tent po­lit­i­cal force, par­tic­u­larly within the Repub­li­can Party over the past 30 years, help­ing put Ron­ald Rea­gan, Ge­orge H.W. Bush and Ge­orge W. Bush into the White House.

The doc­u­ment, posted at www.evan­gel­i­cal­man­i­festo.com, also gave the his­tory of evan­gel­i­cal­ism in Amer­ica, set forth seven be­liefs ba­sic to all evan­gel­i­cals, de­scribed some fault lines within the move­ment and called for “a civil pub­lic square” where peo­ple of all reli­gions can be heard on pub­lic pol­icy. It warned against a world­wide back­lash against all re­li­gion in pub­lic life and cau­tioned Chris­tians against any “dan­ger­ous al­liance be­tween church and state.”

Sev­eral drafters held a press con­fer­ence to ex­plain their mo­tives. Richard Mouw, pres­i­dent of Fuller The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary, said they en­coun­tered friends who were ashamed to call them­selves “evan­gel­i­cal” and were “em­bar­rassed by the pub­lic be­hav­ior of some in the evan­gel­i­cal move­ment.”

“When you have best-sell­ing au­thors who ap­pear on pub­lic television with feel-good gospels who have to apol­o­gize to their own churches that they have di­luted the faith when they get home, some­thing is pro­foundly wrong,” said Os Guin­ness, founder of the Trin­ity Fo­rum in Burke.

“When you have evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers who make pre­dic­tions in the name of God which are by bib­li­cal stan­dards false prophecy, some­thing is badly wrong. When schol­ars and writ­ers can look at the evan­gel­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal move­ment and call [their fol­low­ers] theocrats or worse, fas­cists, some­thing is badly wrong.”

How­ever, the nine-mem­ber draft­ing com­mit­tee and 77 sig­na­to­ries omit­ted some of the most fa­mous names in the evan­gel­i­cal move­ment: Tony Perkins of the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil, poll­ster Ge­orge Barna and sev­eral top South­ern Bap­tists.

“Theirs is an ivory tower per- spec­tive,” said Mr. Perkins, who was not asked to sign. “It’s an ageold prob­lem with peo­ple who are con­cerned with be­ing spo­ken well of. They want to rid the world of evil but they don’t want to get their hands dirty. It’s not true that you can’t preach the Gospel and be en­gaged in tak­ing on the cul­ture.”

Evan­ge­list Billy Gra­ham de­clined, but he rarely signs such doc­u­ments, or­ga­niz­ers said. James Dob­son, founder of Fo­cus on the Fam­ily, and his board had “nu­mer­ous prob­lems and con­cerns” about the doc­u­ment, said his spokesman, Gary Sch­nee­berger.

“I was never asked to sign it,” said Richard Land, pres­i­dent of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion’s Ethics & Re­li­gious Lib­erty Com­mis­sion, “nor was I al­lowed to see the doc­u­ment be­fore­hand. I’m not sure there’s any­thing in it I’d dis­agree with.”

Al­bert Mohler, pres­i­dent of South­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in Louisville, Ky., said he was passed over but doubted he would have signed a doc­u­ment “that vague.”

The doc­u­ment, he said, “is of­ten elo­quent and many ways sets forth some key evan­gel­i­cal con­vic­tions. My ques­tions have to do with its ac­tual in­tent. How specif­i­cally do those who are fram­ing this doc­u­ment wish to de­fine evan­gel­i­cal­ism with ref­er­ence to some cru­cial ques­tions, such as abor­tion and gay mar­riage? They ap­pear to be call­ing for ci­vil­ity, but how do they sug­gest dis­cussing th­ese is­sues in the pub­lic square and be as civil as they think them­selves to be?”

Jan­ice Crouse, di­rec­tor of the Bev­erly LaHaye In­sti­tute at Con­cerned Women for Amer­ica, crit­i­cized the paucity of fe­male sign­ers (six out of 77) and the “con­tra­dic­tions” in the doc­u­ment.

“While call­ing for more civil di­a­logue, they called the ‘po­lit­i­cally vis­i­ble pub­lic voices’ of evan­gel­i­cal­ism ‘po­lit­i­cal zealots’ and de­clared that their ‘emo­tional re­sponses’ harmed the brand name of evan­gel­i­cals,” she said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.