Last week several prominent evangelical scholars and leaders unveiled a document called The Evangelical Manifesto. The work sent a shockwave through some evangelical circles. The shockwave is partially based upon misconceptions and misinformation. Some leading evangelicals felt attacked. Others were alarmed by the unique political timing of this “non-political” document.
Confusion about The Manifesto can be demonstrated by the following titles of articles, which appeared in papers across the nation. Cathy Grossman, of the USA Today staff, entitled her recent article, Manifesto aims to make 'evangelical' less political. Rebecca Trouson of the LA Times ran a similar article stating, Group of evangelical Christians writes manifesto urging separation of religious beliefs and politics. Kathleen Falsani of the Chicago Sun Times wrote, Evangelicals try to reclaim their good name - Manifesto warns not to attach loaded labels to theological term. Finally, Mark Kelly of the Baptist Press released a document entitled ‘Evangelical Manifesto' Targets Stereotypes.
The theologians and religious leaders who drafted The Manifesto attempted to clarify the definition of the term "evangelical" and remove the popular fallacy that evangelicalism is a political ideology. While I applaud the efforts of the writers, the work in its current form stops short of giving guidelines for appropriate cultural involvement that can accomplish historic, positive cultural change. My colleague, Tony Perkins, (president of the Family Research Council and co-author of the book Personal Faith, Public Policy) made this statement last week, “The signers of The Manifesto may want good government and a godly environment, but they do not want to take the steps necessary to achieve those goals.”
This statement by Tony Perkins implies that the emphasis that Os Guinness (the senior architect of the manifesto) made about “civility” smacks of Ivory Tower rhetoric instead of a realistic assessment of the rough and tumble mindset of contemporary activists. I agree with Alan Jacob’s article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, Come On, You Call This a Manifesto? Jacobs a Wheaton College professor states that a true manifesto typically issues a clearer call to action.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.