An Evangelical Response to 'An Evangelical Manifesto'
- Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Who are these believers who represent "caricatures of the false hostility between science and faith?" The context would seem to implicate those who believe in a young earth cosmology. This represents millions of evangelicals -- perhaps by many surveys the vast majority. Are they (we) to be written out of evangelicalism? If this paragraph does not refer to young earth creationists, to whom could it possibly refer? [Wheaton professor Alan Jacobs comes to the same conclusion in his analysis, published in The Wall Street Journal.]
This is one of the chief problems with the document. When it lets loose a salvo of criticism, it is never clear who the intended target really is. Reporters present at the press conference expressed some degree of exasperation at this point. When asked for specifics about who they were criticizing, the organizing committee refused to say.
The document points to the politicization of the faith as a main concern. In a crucial section of the text, the Manifesto reads:
"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.
"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. In our scales, spiritual, moral, and social power are as important as political power, what is right outweighs what is popular, just as principle outweighs party, truth matters more than team-playing, and conscience more than power and survival."
The obvious backdrop to this is the 2008 presidential race and the group's assertion that evangelicalism is too wedded to the Republican Party. Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw, one of the speakers at the press conference, explained this to National Public Radi
"Well, I think that we have seen, in the last 30 years or so, you know, the evangelicals, really became prominent in American political life around 1980 with the formation of the Moral Majority, and I think that many of them have a vested interest in promoting and using their religious leadership to promote a certain kind of political agenda. And when there are those of us who want to say we claim the label, even though we don't necessarily identify with that political agenda, that ideology, this obviously will create some tension."
That agenda surely is clarifying. There can be no doubt that far too many evangelicals have confused the Gospel with a political agenda -- and even with the Republican Party. This can be even worse than theological confusion -- it can represent idolatry.
But what the document never makes clear is how to hold to deep moral and political convictions, based in biblical principles, without running the danger of identification with a political agenda -- at least to some extent. Does the Manifesto suggest a Gnostic form of political engagement?
Finally, the document is, in essence, a call to civility. Indeed, civility is perhaps the main thrust of the document. The Manifesto seeks to define a civil public space where persons from all belief systems are welcome to contend for their own beliefs and convictions. This public space is a "civil" rather than a "sacred" or "naked" public square.
This "civil public square" stands against the theocratic yearnings of the "sacred public square" and the secularism of the "naked public square." In the Manifesto's words:
"In contrast to these extremes, our commitment is to a civil public square -- a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths too. Thus every right we assert for ourselves is at once a right we defend for others. A right for a Christian is a right for a Jew, and a right for a secularist, and a right for a Mormon, and right for a Muslim, and a right for a Scientologist, and right for all the believers in all the faiths across this wide land."
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