Skip to comments.Please, We’re Not That Kind of Evangelical [OPEN]
Posted on 05/24/2008 4:47:40 AM PDT by markomalley
It may turn out to be the stuff worthy of mention in half a news cycle or it may be a lasting point of historical reference. In terms of its political significance, I expect it will be the former. In terms of the long history of evangelicals trying to situate themselves within what they view as the larger culture, I expect it will have at least a minor place in any future discussion of our religious and cultural circumstance.
An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment was rolled out at the National Press Club on May 7. I will have a more thorough discussion of it in the forthcoming issue of First Things, but a few brief reflections may be of interest.
It is a long twenty-page statement, with the first half devoted to the Christian beliefs that make one an evangelical, and the second to putting as much light as possible between the signers, on the one hand, and the fundamentalists and conservative activists with whom they do not want to be confused, on the other. The theological section is more or less unexceptionable, and I expect some of the seventy or so charter signers were chiefly interested in making a clear public witness to their evangelical faith. They were also, and understandably, concerned with the excessive politicizing of the public perception of evangelicalism. It was utterly predictable, however, that the manifesto would be viewed not as a theological but as a political statement.
All the media attention went to the second half that deals with politics. Typical headlines for the inside-the-pages reports were: Evangelical leaders say their faith is too politicized (Associated Press), Manifesto aims to make evangelical a less political term (USA Today), and US evangelicals call for step back from politics (Reuters). More precisely, the manifesto calls for stepping back from the religious right and, more precisely yet, from the single issue politics of abortion and family concerns.
Not surprisingly, most of the big names of American evangelicalismRick Warren, James Dobson, Charles Colson, Tony Perkins Richard Land, et aliawere missing from the manifesto. A few declined to sign. Most were not asked. They are, for the most part, the evangelicals from whom the drafters of the document were trying to distance themselves. More leftward evangelicals, such as Ronald Sider and Jim Wallis are, understandably, boosters of the manifesto. Wallis is, of course, a key player in the Democratic partys religious outreach efforts. He modestly describes his political preferences asin a book by that titleGods Politics. So much for depoliticizing religion.
Alan Wolfe of Boston College, a prolific commentator on the religion-and-public-life scene and an aggressively nonreligious partisan of conventional liberalism, puts the matter bluntly: American evangelicalism has been maturing for the past three or four decades. An Evangelical Manifesto enables everyone interested in politics and religion in the United States to see and evaluate the results. And those results tell us what we have been learning throughout the 2008 presidential campaign: the age of Karl Rove truly is over.
As I say, there is much that is admirable in the manifesto, especially in its theological affirmations. But mainly it comes across as a striking instance of evangelicals approaching their cultural betters with hat in hand and pleading to be liked, or at least less disliked. One is reminded of the brilliant book of some thirty years ago by sociologist John Murray Cuddihy: No Offense: Civil Religion and Protestant Taste. In it he argued that prominent Jews, Catholics, and liberal Protestants made their bid to be accepted by an elite culture in which Protestant taste had been stripped of any Christian particularity. The main thing left in the secularized version of Protestant taste was the commandment to give no offense. The yearning of these socially aspiring religious leaders, said Cuddihy, was to be accepted. Among their strategies was to sharply distinguish themselves from the great unwashed of their tribes who were clearly unacceptable and who, truth to tell, didnt give a fig about being admitted to the parlor. I may be a Jew, but Im not that kind of Jew. I may be a Catholic, but Im not that kind of Catholic. I may be an evangelical, but Im not that kind of evangelical. In the last case, that kind of evangelical refers to fundamentalists and politically conservative activists.
I have no doubt that some who signed the statement simply wanted to affirm the important truth that evangelical Christianity is defined by the lordship of Christ and not by political partisanship. Issuing what is inevitably perceived as a politically partisan manifesto is an ill-chosen means for achieving that purpose. Only the naive or disingenuous among the signers will express surprise that the media depicted the manifesto as an election-year effort to drive a wedge between conservatives and what is portrayed as a more authentic evangelicalism. Whatever the good intentions of some signers, the reporters got the story right.
Keenly aware of the hour of history in which we live, and of the momentous challenges that face our fellow humans on the earth and our fellow Christians around the world, we who sign this declaration do so as American leaders and members of one of the worlds largest and fastest growing movements of the Christian faith: the Evangelicals.i
Evangelicals have no supreme leader or official spokesperson, so no one speaks for all Evangelicals, least of all those who claim to. We speak for ourselves, but as a representative group of Evangelicals in America. We gratefully appreciate that our spiritual and historical roots lie outside this country, that the great majority of our fellow-Evangelicals are in the Global South rather than the North, and that we have recently had a fresh infusion of Evangelicals from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. We are therefore a small part of a far greater worldwide movement that is both forward looking and outward reaching. Together with them, we are committed to being true to our faith and thoughtful about our calling in todays world.
The two-fold purpose of this declaration is first to address the confusions and corruptions that attend the term Evangelical in the United States and much of the Western world today, and second to clarify where we stand on issues that have caused consternation over Evangelicals in public life.
As followers of the narrow way, our concern is not for approval and popular esteem. Nor do we regard it as accurate or faithful to pose as victims, or to protest at discrimination. We certainly do not face persecution like our fellow-believers elsewhere in the world. Too many of the problems we face as Evangelicals in the United States are those of our own making. If we protest, our protest has to begin with ourselves.
Rather, 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. 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.
In contrast to such doubts, we boldly declare that, if we make clear what we mean by the term, we are unashamed to be Evangelical and Evangelicals. We believe that the term is important because the truth it conveys is all-important. A proper understanding of Evangelical and the Evangelicals has its own contribution to make, not only to the church but to the wider world; and especially to the plight of many who are poor, vulnerable, or without a voice in their communities.
This manifesto is a public declaration, addressed both to our fellow-believers and to the wider world. To affirm who we are and where we stand in public is important because we Evangelicals in America, along with people of all faiths and ideologies, represent one of the greatest challenges of the global era: living with our deepest differences. This challenge is especially sharp when religious and ideological differences are ultimate and irreducible, and when the differences are not just between personal worldviews but between entire ways of life co-existing in the same society.
The place of religion in human life is deeply consequential. Nothing is more natural and necessary than the human search for meaning and belonging, for making sense of the world and finding security in life. When this search is accompanied by the right of freedom of conscience, it issues in a freely chosen diversity of faiths and ways of life, some religious and transcendent, and some secular and naturalistic.
Nevertheless, the different faiths and the different families of faith provide very different answers to life, and these differences are decisive not only for individuals but for societies and entire civilizations. Learning to live with our deepest differences is therefore of great consequence both for individuals and nations. Debate, deliberation, and decisions about what this means for our common life are crucial and unavoidable. The alternative the coercions of tyranny or the terrible convulsions of Nietzsches wars of spirit would be unthinkable.
We ourselves are those who have come to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the way, the truth, and the life, and that the great change required of those who follow him…
To read the entire manifesto for yourselves, click here.
My pastor signed this. Also I read that Erwin Lutzer, Kay Arthur and Max Luado signed this. SO we have a variety of people who signed it. I think some people are confusing this with the recent envangelicial grennie movement.
since you’ve generally been a Protestant basher on threads I’ve lurked but not participated, why don’t you stick to something you know something about?
I've been a Protestant basher generally?
Please point out where.
Unless you consider a vigorous defense of my own Faith as Protestant bashing, I don't recall the last time I "bashed." Not saying it hasn't happened, but I sure can't think of the last time I've done so.
Of course, if you think that I have "bashed," you can feel free to complain to the management about me and get me zotted.
I didn’t say I didn’t like you, just no need to wake up on a Saturday A.M. with fire in your belly to renew past FR unity damaging battles. And if you’re disturbed by what I said, please do follow your own advice and hit the abuse button
Perhaps someone can clarify for me the meaning of the term "evangelical". I always thought it was a christian denomination; now I understand it to denote certain charastics of multiple denominations. Does this also apply to non-christian groups? Is there such a thing as an evangelical Jew or Muslim? And how does a christian distinguish an "evangelical" church within the same denomination?
Understand. The point of my response was that I, intentionally, make a really strong effort not to slam other folks' beliefs. I will, OTOH, vigorously defend mine. If you know of times that I have slammed other folks' beliefs (other than a comment that they should study their Bible more before slamming mine or comments along that vein), then I'd genuinely like to know about it...if, for no other reason, than to apologize for doing so, particularly if I did so without provocation.
You must have him confused with some other “Protestant basher”. Somewhere. Not even on this forum.
Mark is very even-handed and “slow to anger”-— a good style for many of us to learn.
my default on the new format on FR is coming up “all threads” instead of news/ activism. I don’t really have a problem with your coming out swinging on the religion forum. That’s not what I come for, except on rare occasions, so I’ll just be careful to check which forum I’m on. Have a great Memorial Day weekend!
I've heard a lot of folks with that complaint. You have a good Memorial Day weekend, as well. Don't forget to take a few minutes to remember what it's there for!
Perhaps someone can clarify for me the meaning of the term "evangelical". I always thought it was a christian denomination; now I understand it to denote certain charastics of multiple denominations.
Different meanings in different contexts. Sometimes it is in a denominational name, whether appropriate or not (ex. Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Evangelical Free Church). Historically, it can mean Lutheran in particular, or Lutheran and Reformed (historic reformational). In roughly post WWII 20th century US-ian, it means non- or minimally confessional conservative protestant, but distinguished from "fundamentalist".
“My son, beware anything beyond these. Of making many manifestos there is no end, and reading of them is a weariness of the flesh.”