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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. ...

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