A terrible question now stalks this land: Who will step forward to lead America out of the bitterness and divisions over race and religion in public life?

Race is the older problem, and to Americans it stands as class does for the English — an abiding curse that has not healed and will not go away. Religion in public life is the newer challenge. Once thought settled through what James Madison called "the true remedy," it has degenerated sharply with the endless controversies of the past generation.

Both race and religion require healing and civility for their resolution, but in the present bitter climate, each has been used to exacerbate the other, and civility has been shouldered aside as weak and ineffectual.

Who, then, will deliver the Gettysburg Address of the American "culture wars?"

This challenge must ultimately be shouldered by a leader of national stature. At the same time, each faith community can step forward, reach out to people of other faiths, and propose a vision of civility in public life.

American evangelicals might seem an unlikely source of such a possibility. Recently they have been viewed as the problem, not the answer. But a newly published declaration represents just such a promising offer.

An Evangelical Manifesto, released Wednesday, is, in part, a proposal for a civil public square. The statement addresses the confusions about evangelicalism within and the consternation without, and re-affirms what "evangelical" means and who evangelicals are.

Starting with an urgently needed internal reform, it then sets out a vision of civil public life that is just and free for people of all faiths and those of no faith. Herein lies its promise — but only if adherents of other faiths (or no faith) embrace ...

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