In May, a steering committee of nine prominent evangelical leaders and about 80 charter signatories issued an Evangelical Manifesto. In an era when most Americans think of evangelicals mainly as a voting bloc, these leaders tried to refocus the meaning of evangelical identity.
This manifesto had three aims:
- To tell the world and remind evangelical insiders that our identity is centered not in political activism (however positive that activism may be) but in our faith in Jesus and in his radical call to discipleship.
- To tell ourselves that we in many ways fail to live up to our calling in Christ, and that we need to reform our lives and our churches. Without such reform, we can hardly be surprised at the negative stereotypes that abound about North American evangelicals.
- To rethink our place in the public square and to stop exacerbating the political and cultural polarization of U.S. society. When public perceptions of evangelicalism are created by the harshest and most strident voices, it is important to create an evangelical culture of civility.
The document stirred a lot of discussion and criticism. Much of the discussion missed the document's main thrust.
One leader, in an op-ed published the day before the document's release, claimed that it was some kind of "power play" by which "new leadership" was "staking a claim … with different emphases from the traditional, mainstream evangelical movement."
Actually, the steering committee and charter signatories are hardly new faces. They are seasoned leaders who have paid their dues leading large churches, denominations, and organizations such as Youth With a Mission, the National Association of Evangelicals, World Vision, World Relief, Wheaton College, Dallas ...1