Friday, May 9, 2008

"What is right outweighs what is popular"

Evangelicals wiser than me comment on an "Evangelical Manifesto."

Joe Carter has signed it [and if I thought my signature would be significant, I would too]:
This manifesto has bolstered my confidence that I won't be the last person in America to call himself an evangelical. On page 4, they note that the evangelical identity is "powerful and precious to groups as well as to individuals."
Identity is central to a classical liberal understanding of freedom. There are grave dangers in identity politics, but we insist that we ourselves, and not scholars, the press, or public opinion, have the right to say who we understand ourselves to be. We are who we say we are, and we resist all attempts to explain us in terms of our "true" motives and our "real" agenda.
This is an excellent point that should be acknowledged by the nomenclative cowards who have abandoned the term "evangelical." Too often my fellow former evangelicals think that dumping the term will make them (or to be more generous, The Gospel) more palatable to the outside world.

What they are missing (or simply refuse to admit to themselves) is that it is not the term "evangelical" that the world despises but the beliefs behind the word. Call yourself whatever you want - "post-evangelical" is my favorite - but the minute you tell the world that homosexual behavior is sinful, that killing infants in the womb is wrong, and that man has an inherent dignity because we are made in the image of God then you can expect to have that label spat upon too.
The Washington Times quotes Richard Land and Albert Mohler:
"I was never asked to sign it," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, "nor was I allowed to see the document beforehand. I'm not sure there's anything in it I'd disagree with."

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said he was passed over but doubted he would have signed a document "that vague."

The document, he said, "is often eloquent and many ways sets forth some key evangelical convictions. My questions have to do with its actual intent. How specifically do those who are framing this document wish to define evangelicalism with reference to some crucial questions, such as abortion and gay marriage? They appear to be calling for civility, but how do they suggest discussing these issues in the public square and be as civil as they think themselves to be?"
Alan Jacobs in the Wall Street Journal - he thinks it's wimpy, but a real "Manifesto" is needed:
At the bottom of page 15, these words appear: "The Evangelical soul is not for sale." This is what is called "burying the lead." Had the Evangelical Manifesto begun with this affirmation, it could have been a manifesto indeed - a declaration of political, cultural and intellectual independence. "We're fed up with being the Republicans' lapdogs, but don't think we're joining the Democratic kennel" - if only the document had spoken so clearly, so forcefully! If only it had given us some sense of whom it is speaking to, and why.... Moderation is all well and good, I guess; but for my money, the fearless spirit of the true manifesto is just what an increasingly somnolent evangelical movement needs.
Perhaps it does need to be said more clearly. Perhaps the message is buried. But this seems to be what needs to be said. From the "Manifesto":
...[W]e 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.
Alex Chediak interviewed one of the authors, Os Guinness, and got a clarification about whether the statement represented a retreat from being anti-abortion:
CHEDIAK: When you express your desire that we move beyond single-issue politics, are you saying that Christians should be more open to voting for pro-choice candidates if they demonstrate passion and concern for issues like poverty, racism, and the environment?

GUINNESS: Emphatically not, and the Manifesto is blunt about the undiminished fight for life and marriage. [....]

CHEDIAK: The Manifesto reads, "we Evangelicals wish to stand clear from certain conservative and fundamentalist positions in public life that are widely confused with Evangelicals." Why let others dictate what we can be (publicly) for or against merely by their inappropriately conflating pro-life (or whatever) with evangelicalism?

GUINNESS: Life is not the problem, and you are right that we should not be defined by the world. As I said at the press conference yesterday, the issue is not re-branding or image. It is reality. But the Bible says a lot about the fact that we should so live that the name of God is honored. Thus when the Lord is publicly represented by Pastor Fred Phelps (‘God hates fags’) or by the Reconstructionists, it is not surprising that we are called ‘homophobic,’ ‘theocratic,’ and seeking to impose Christendom.

CHEDIAK: You call on "Those who share our dedication to the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed," urging them to work with us to "bring care, peace, justice, and freedom to those millions of our fellow-humans who are now ignored, oppressed, enslaved, or treated as human waste and wasted humans by the established orders in the global world." I agree with this call, but would you acknowledge that our differing worldviews might result in our having widely diverging methods to addressing these problems? For example, socialistic reforms seem to minimize the doctrine of man's depravity. Any thoughts?

GUINNESS: Good point. Francis Schaeffer used to call for our being ‘co-belligerents’ rather than ‘allies’ when it comes to causes we share with people of different faiths, such as atheists against abortion or feminists against pornography. But we always recognize the ultimate inadequacy of their basis for fighting the issue, and when the appropriate moment comes we can be clear about pointing them to Christ. William Wilberforce is a great example – he worked with people of all sorts of spiritual and moral (and immoral) backgrounds, yet led many of them to faith in Christ too.
My impression is that many of those involved in the Evangelical/political environment who should, logically and properly, have been asked to sign the "Manifesto," were not asked. I am impressed by the restraint they have thus far demonstrated. I think the document itself is worthy of that restraint.

Update 5/9: Denny Burk believes that the effect of the "Manifesto" is to dilute our moral and political commitment:
The Manifesto calls for “an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics, such as abortion and marriage” (p. 13). The blanket dismissal of “single-issue politics” is what concerns me. Yes, the Manifesto says that “we cannot back away from our biblically rooted commitment to the sanctity of every human life, . . . nor can we deny the holiness of marriage as instituted by God between one man and one woman” (p. 13). But the document also seeks to raise other “public square” issues as if they have the same moral urgency as abortion and marriage. I for one am unwilling to tell evangelicals that they should treat the Kyoto Protocols with the same moral urgency with which we address the abortion issue—especially when it comes to evangelical engagement in electoral politics. Abortion and marriage are transcendent moral issues, and evangelicals should treat them as such.

I am especially concerned about single-issue politics in this high political season in which we presently find ourselves. In November, Americans will go to the polls to elect a president who is likely to appoint at least two Supreme Court Justices. Those Justices will determine whether Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land for the next generation or whether it will be finally overturned. Roe v. Wade has presided over the legal killings of over 50 million babies since 1973. When I step into that voting booth in November, I will not pull the lever for a candidate who will continue the immoral regime of Roe v. Wade, no matter how much I like his views on the Kyoto Protocols or balancing the federal budget. ....
Those are crucial "single issue" criteria for me, too.

Alan Jacobs expands on his concerns at The American Scene:
...[W]hat does it mean for evangelicals to be pro-life (regarding abortion, I mean) if they’re not going to vote pro-life? I can imagine good answers to this question, but the Manifesto doesn’t provide any. And if it’s going to be a real manifesto, not just an inside-the-Beltwayish White Paper, it really should.

And the biggest question of all: For whom was this written? Who cares, or is thought to care? I can’t figure that out at all.
It was, I guess, written for people like me, living in places like I live. I appreciate the distinctions the "Manifesto" makes, but the news media have focused only on what they consider its political implications - and I don't believe it has any of those, as least insofar as influencing how anyone will vote.

Thoughts on the Evangelical Manifesto - the evangelical outpost, Washington Times, Come On, You Call This a Manifesto? - WSJ.com, Alex Chediak Blog: Interaction with Os Guinness on Evangelical Manifesto, Denny Burk » Critical Reflections on “An Evangelical Manifesto”, the manifesto that isn't | Politics | The American Scene
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