Friday, May 20, 2011

Manifesto aims to make 'evangelical' less political

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY

An "evangelical manifesto" being released today by a group of Christian scholars and theologians is expected to try to take back the term
"evangelical" from politics and return it to its theological roots.

"Evangelical" has been widely used to refer to Christians who have conservative political views, but the Evangelical Theological Society requires members to agree on just two points: inerrancy of Scripture, and belief in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as "separate but equal in attributes and glory" and essential for salvation.

The manifesto condemns Christians on the right and left for "using faith" to express political views "without regard to the truth of the Bible," according to a draft obtained last week by the Associated Press. When faith "loses its independence," it says, "Christians become 'useful idiots' " for politicians.

But the president of the research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention says he's concerned that it will be "spun to conclude that Christians should hold back from speaking out on public policy."

LifeWay Research president Edward Stetzer says a new LifeWay survey finds that 52% of U.S. adults do not think "Christians are too involved in politics," and that is particularly true of evangelicals (72%).

Evangelical writer Os Guinness and eight other scholars, pastors and theologians drafted the manifesto to reclaim "evangelical" because the term risks sliding into the same disfavor and misuse as "fundamentalist," which lost its moorings as a statement of core Christian beliefs and became a pejorative code word, says A. Larry Ross, spokesman for the group.

The text, which Ross says has been revised since the Associated Press saw it last week, will be made public at a news conference in Washington, D.C., and posted at The public will be invited to join in a discussion or sign on in agreement.

More than 80 "influential Christians" have lent their names to "prime the pump," Ross says.

But several prominent evangelicals, including Richard Land, head of the public policy arm for the Southern Baptist Convention, and James Dobson, the influential founder of Focus on the Family, a Christian group in Colorado Springs, have not signed on, the Associated Press said.

Ross declined to comment on who was asked to sign but noted: "This is inclusive, and everyone is invited to decide for themselves when they read it. The goal is to lay down lines on the turf and go back to the root theological meaning of the term evangelical before its character is obscured and its importance is lost."

Stetzer, who has not seen the manifesto, says: "Christians need to speak prophetically to all parties, not be beholden to one. Evangelicals need to be known for what we are for: showing and sharing the good news of Christ, not only what we are against on public policy.

"You cannot stand for justice and be afraid to speak of Jesus," he says.

The LifeWay survey asked 1,201 adults April 10-12 whether they agreed that "I'm concerned that at times Christians are too involved in politics." The survey's margin of error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Evangelical Manifesto here.

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