An Evangelical Manifesto: Timely or Timeless?

The unveiling of An Evangelical Manifesto, drafted by Dr. Os Guinness with the affirmation of a nine-person steering committee, nearly all of whom we might readily identify as firmly on the Religious Left, has caused no small stir among those whom we might readily identify as firmly on the Religious Right. Some of its critics have concluded the document is the Religious Left’s “broader agenda” come to life, an attempt to solidify a moderate to liberal political agenda in the evangelical conscience. Space will not permit even a cursory summary of the Manifesto’s salient points. Suffice it to say it is a document with a clear articulation of the gospel in the Reformation tradition, a call to evangelicals to return to living the gospel as a priority, and in the living of it, to impact culture through the power of the gospel as politically engaged followers of Jesus Christ.

Almost immediately the Manifesto was judged (condemned?) on the basis of who did or, more importantly to its detractors, didn’t sign it. Within hours of its release the “I follow James Dobson” crowd was pitted against the “I follow Jim Wallis” crowd (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:12) in complete contradiction to the spirit of the Manifesto expressed in its call for both sides to please stop screaming at each other. I’ll leave it to the reader to ascertain which side is screaming loudest.

It’s somewhat pathetic, isn’t it, that rather than making our initial judgments on the merits of the Manifesto we choose first to skip the document altogether and go straight to the signatories to ascertain whether or not we will agree with its contents based on who affixed their names. This tendency is precisely what ails the evangelical movement. Loyalty to personality has replaced commitment to principle. Whether I allow my name to be seen with yours is determined more by your view of global warming, which may be different from my own, than it is by the distinctives of the gospel. It also betrays an inability to think for ourselves.

Two primary reasons come to mind as an attempt to explain why conservative evangelicals are skeptical about the Manifesto. For one, it calls into question our own allegiance to an entrenched political philosophy that has been extremely effective at electing conservatives yet equally ineffective at implementing substantive cultural change. As a case in point, Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land in spite of 35 years of conservative evangelical political engagement. During this same time one state has legalized same-sex marriage while nine others provide the legal rights afforded married couples to same-sex unions, stopping short of calling it marriage. America has seen no substantial change in rates of divorce or the abortion rate. Sexual promiscuity is still encouraged in our public schools through “health clinics” and condom distribution. Our children still have unfettered access to the most virulent forms of pornography in the name of “freedom of expression.” What have conservative evangelicals to show for our political efforts in terms of real change? The Manifesto forces us to face up to some very inconvenient truths and we naturally recoil.

Secondly, many conservatives panning the Manifesto may be doing so because they weren’t included in the three-year process of drafting the document. Given the documents’ call for a move away from Left vs. Right distinctions, it is somewhat unthinkable that Dr. Guinness and his nine person steering committee could not acquire representative voices from among prominent politically engaged evangelical conservatives. However, in a recent interview with Dr. Albert Mohler, Os Guinness readily admitted that he ought to have sought his input by sending him a copy of the Manifesto. The fact that Dr. Mohler’s insight was not sought, along with others who share Dr. Mohler’s worldview, is disappointing, but shouldn’t be the Manifesto’s death-knell.

As an aside, the fact that the steering committee included no African-Americans and no women should assuage the fears of many conservatives that the Manifesto is committed only to being politically correct.

My own view is that Dr. Os Guinness’ Evangelical Manifesto has been the subject of an often ill-tempered criticism by many, some of whom immediately wrote it off by reading into it an assumed liberal political agenda. The Manifesto couldn’t be clearer that it isn’t taking sides:

Christians from both sides of the political spectrum, left as well as right, have made the mistake of politicizing faith; and it would be no improvement to respond to a weakening of the religious right with a rejuvenation of the religious left. Whichever side it comes from, a politicized faith is faithless, foolish, and disastrous for the church – and disastrous first and foremost for Christian reasons rather than constitutional reasons.

Contrary to the assessment of some conservative commentators, nowhere does the Manifesto condemn evangelical political engagement. Rather it rightly points out that political engagement, while certainly the duty of every Christian citizen, is not the priority of the Church. In calling for the Church to rise above the din and the noise of politics, some have characterized the Manifesto as a demand for Christian withdrawal from the political process. Some read Dr. Guinness’ call for “civility” as a call for compromise on the issues important to conservatives, a ruse to get us to drop our guard on abortion and same-sex marriage while the liberals change the priorities to global warming and AIDS/HIV. Only a subjective reading of the document could lead anyone to that erroneous conclusion.

In reality the Manifesto pricks our consciences by pointing out that the place of the Word in the pulpit as the authoritative voice for moral and spiritual change in the at-large culture has been drowned by pro-family political action committees to which the Church has abdicated its prophetic office. We declare in our creed that we have no king but Jesus, yet betray by our actions that our hope is firmly rooted in the outcome of the next presidential election. We have taught our people how to vote (and for whom to vote) all the while leaving them clueless as to how to pray (and for whom to pray). While we frantically sort through labels to determine whether we are on the right, left, or middle we are deaf to the Word which calls us to be above (cf. James 3:13-18).

Nothing I have said here should be interpreted as suggesting the Manifesto is above thoughtful analysis. My chief concern is that in attempting to ascertain what the Manifesto means by what it says, we have often assumed that what it clearly says cannot indeed be what it means. We have allowed our prejudices against some who signed it to call into question the integrity and intentions of those who wrote it.

No one connected with the drafting of the Manifesto claims for it a Divine imprimatur, as if Dr. Guinness has just returned to us with face aglow from Sinai having received the Manifesto on tablets written with God’s own finger. It is, after all, a human document with equally human short-comings. But then again, so was Luther’s 95 Theses. History gives witness to the truth that reformational statements rooted in Scripture endure while those committed to a political agenda quickly fade. History will judge where the principles articulated in An Evangelical Manifesto have their roots.

11 Replies to “An Evangelical Manifesto: Timely or Timeless?”

  1. “It’s somewhat pathetic, isn’t it, that rather than making our initial judgments on the merits of the Manifesto we choose first to skip the document altogether and go straight to the signatories to ascertain whether or not we will agree with its contents based on who affixed their names”

    Couldn’t disagree more, folks read the document, saw how reasonable and well put together it is and how it reflects Christ’s true nature of bottom up instead of top down values approach and wondered why certain folks on the right were not signing on. Also, it’s not like there isn’t a history here with the merger of politics and faith on the right.

    “What have conservative evangelicals to show for our political efforts in terms of real change?”

    Maybe it is time for the social conservatives to rethink their approach, they have chosen a political party as their savior instead of truly enganging in society and allowing the work of christ in us to effect the society. IE we choose to vote a certain party to abolish abortion instead of understanding the social reasons for aborion and trying to change them from bottom up.

    “Rather it rightly points out that political engagement, while certainly the duty of every Christian citizen, is not the priority of the Church”

    This means actually being ingaged in the process, understanding the issues, not accepting immoral actions of a person you voted for and actually listening to an opposing view.

    I hope this manifesto helps use all come together for the sake of christ, our current methods of marrying a certain party and legistating social change from top down instead of bottom up will not only push folks away but it will represent christ in an unworthy manner to those who might need him.

  2. “God had foreordained everything that comes to pass— though He had predestinated the fall of our first parents, yet in no sense was He the‚ Instigator or approver of their sins, and their accountability was left entirely unimpaired—The decree of God in no way infringes on man’s moral agency, for it neither forces nor hinders man’s will, though it orders and bounds its actions.”

    I’m not sure I can parallell this dualistic quote, but should the first part be true… Whats the debate? All the argument must be what is.

    For the record, I follow Jesus.

  3. Listening with your heart takes input from the word, time, practice and patience. Our mortal enemy knows this and is a master at distraction. While we bicker and pick at one another, he walks off with whatever he wants and we are left destitute, not even realizing our loss. At the end of the book, we still win, but how good and how pleasant our journey would be it we would learn to dwell in unity.

  4. I can’t help but suspect that the real conservative problem with this document is not its signatories but the fact that it suggests non-Christians should be treated as something other than mindless tools of Satan. Dobson’s fortune and those of the religious right have been built on creating unthinking fear of those who don’t buy the conservative party line. They would be lost without the hatred that motivates them, and they will not willingly give it up.

  5. ” can’t help but suspect that the real conservative problem with this document is not its signatories but the fact that it suggests non-Christians should be treated as something other than mindless tools of Satan. Dobson’s fortune and those of the religious right have been built on creating unthinking fear of those who don’t buy the conservative party line. They would be lost without the hatred that motivates them, and they will not willingly give it up.”

    Said the single secular humanist on this blog who is a liar because he is a secular humanist, who has no accountability because he is a secular humanist, who is possessed by Satan himself because he is a secular humanist, who is for gay marriage because he is a secular humanist, who likes abortion and uses the fetuses to offer sacrifices to Satan, whom possesses him because he is a secular humanist. I learnt that from my mentor P. Robertson…..
    Is that pretty accurate of you Skeptimal?

  6. “…who likes abortion and uses the fetuses to offer sacrifices to Satan, whom possesses him because he is a secular humanist. I learnt that from my mentor P. Robertson…..
    Is that pretty accurate of you Skeptimal?”

    You caught me, darn it! I didn’t think anyone would be able to pierce the Satanic veil of deception I weave around myself using witchcraf–er–I mean…the “theory of evolution.”

  7. That was pretty good Iggy. Skeptimal, I do appreaciate your comments on this blog, they are well thought out and you understand where the real danger lies. As an evengelical the world is always framed that we are in lockstep with God and everyone else is in lockstep with satan. Even to so-called liberal christians who think that social justice and helping the poor are as important a the right wing social causes. I agree with many of the social ills that the right wing bring up, I simply think they are fighting them in a, dare I say “unChristlike” manner. I choose Christ, not his right wing blowhards…..

  8. Pix,

    Thanks for that. This is an unusual forum, in that Paul has strongly held opinions, but he allows dissent to be voiced. I respect that a great deal, and I respect that you and I probably would disagree strongly on many issues. And these are more than just idle discussions if you believe abortion is murder and I believe the religious right intends to establish a theocracy.

    No matter who is in the majority regarding philosophy or religion, civilization itself is built on our ability to peacefully co-exist despite our differences. I fear that many on the right would rather end civilization than live peacefully with liberals, moderates, or non-Christians.

    We are all better off, however, if we insist on treating each other with respect and protect each other’s rights and dignity. That’s why the “manifesto” is so encouraging to me. It suggests that *some* Christians are willing to negotiate for lasting peace.

  9. Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all.

  10. To further that point skeptimal, I would have to say that GW Bush has been the greatest eye opener to what goes wrong when politics and faith is merged. Many Christians under 40 look at the current situation and reject much of what the far right is doing. While they agree on the social ills they reject the method of going to the voting booth to fix those ills. They are becoming engaged in society and working with all people to fix the issues instead of looking to corrupt politicians as an answer.
    The right can no longer sing the tune it used to, they need to come to the center, realized that a theocracy is not going to be established and start trying to be reconcilers instead of dividers. This is the Jesus way, this is the Christian way. BTW, good book on this topic, Faith and Politics by ex republican Senator John Danforth.
    Regarding the topic of abortion, I do think it is murder, however, I think the right is fighting the issue the wrong way, instead of going to the voting booth to fix the issue they should be going to the inner-city and trying to resolve the underlying reason why many abortions happen. In a Christian, “love the sinner, hate the sin” way we can make a difference in people lives while maybe reducing the amount of abortions that are needed from the under privilege people who make a mistake and can’t afford to support themselves let alone a baby. But our answer is to vote people who claim to support our values, while they do nothing for the social cause and do everything to make the plight of the poor worse. We choose a “hate the sin, and don’t care about the sinner or their situations”. Note, I never said that abortion is acceptable, but I think the method I propose would go a long with people like skeptimal, who think that abortion is not murder. We in the evangelical community have lost our way, and I point to the late 70 early 80’s to the merger of our faith and politics as a key factor.

  11. This blog is SO excellent IF it is read in context! I have been going back and reading the responses in context with the surrounding ones and find it quite “better than most” in blogdom…this particular response from Pixel gives me a bit of a chuckle from my view point…someone who came of age in the 60’s… Ok children have you ever heard any of these words???…Hippies, the Beatles (the group not the cars), the Cuban Missle Crisis, Free Love, John F. Kenedy’s Camelot, Jesus People, Viet Nam, Martin Luther King, the Berlin Wall…for the most part, all scary and survivable…to every thing turn, turn, turn, there is a season… *: )

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