Evangelicals Lament a Politicized Faith
Evangelical Christians should be defined by their theology and not their politics to avoid becoming "useful idiots" of a political party, a group of leaders said Wednesday in a new statement.
The document, "An Evangelical Manifesto," reflects the frustration of some within a movement that claims about one in four Americans over how they are perceived by others and who can speak for them. The 19-page document declares that evangelicals err when they try to politicize faith and use Christian beliefs for political purposes.
"That way faith loses its independence, the church becomes 'the regime at prayer,' Christians become 'useful idiots' for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology in its purest form," the document reads.
The statement, however, resisted calls to privatize or personalize the faith, saying their is an important place for evangelical voices in the public square.
"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," the document says.
The manifesto, which at times upbraids evangelicals for contributing to their own image problems, comes about six months after a poll showed that many young people grade Christianity as being judgmental and hypocritical. Drafters of the new document said they knew other evangelicals who were "ashamed" or "reluctant" to describe themselves as evangelical.
A nine-member steering committee spent three years working on the manifesto. The document's initial 75 signatories are evangelical leaders from major coalitions, educational institutions and denominations. They include National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson, best-selling author and megachurch pastor Max Lucado and the Rev. Jack Hayford, president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Critics claim some key names including conservative evangelical leaders such as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Southern Baptist public policy executive Richard Land are missing from the statement.
The Rev. John Huffman, pastor of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, Calif., said the statement's steering committee had conversations with Dobson, though his board recommended he not sign it. Dobson spokesman Gary Schneeberger confirmed this and said the board's reasoning was a private matter.
"Our umbrella is large," said Huffman. "Not all will sign it but we do feel we do need to bring our particular perspective."
Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Wednesday he had not seen the statement before it was released.
"People have a right to invite who they want to to their party," Land said, but he added that the question about religious involvement in politics is a "false dichotomy."
"It's not an either/or," he said. "It's both."
David Neff, editor-in-chief of Christianity Today magazine and a member of the steering committee, said the media's equating "value voters" with evangelicals have contributed to the confusion about who evangelicals are. "If there's an election that this is about, it's the election of 2000, not the election of 2008," said Neff.
The document is intended to explain evangelicals to those outside their fold, as well as to challenge evangelicals to better represent their faith.
" We are troubled by the fact that the confusions and corruptions surrounding the term 'Evangelical' have grown so deep that the character of what it means has been obscured and its importance lost," the manifesto reads. "Many people outside the movement now doubt that 'Evangelical' is ever positive, and many inside now wonder whether the term any longer serves a useful purpose."