This week, a select group of men (if there are any women involved, none have been identified) will issue a document they are calling “An Evangelical Manifesto: The Washington Declaration of Identity and Public Commitment.” We know just a bit about this embargoed document’s existence, not its content, because Warren Cole Smith, publisher of the Evangelical Press News Service, has written about the plan and process of producing the declaration that purports to represent American evangelical beliefs and values. Smith’s point in writing about the manifesto is that the timing of the release makes it a political document, and the closed group of people working on the content apparently excludes traditional conservative and pro-family evangelical voices.
Indeed, releasing the document appears to be staking a claim for new leadership with different emphases from the traditional, mainstream evangelical movement; the declaration’s authors appear to be making a power play to launch new public faces for evangelicalism. Perhaps they heard E.J. Dionne, Jr., a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, opine about what he perceives as a “waning influence of the traditional religious right” and hope to move into the perceived vacuum.
Likely, they also want to subtly shift the understanding of what it means to be “evangelical.” Several prominent self-identified “evangelical progressives” have written books and launched speaking and media campaigns in order to distance themselves from the issues of the religious right — painting themselves as more sophisticated and nuanced in their understanding of evil in the world. One branch created a “Deep Shift” to describe their “new paradigm” for making Christianity more palatable to the world. Others object to the “very narrow” depiction of evangelicals as conservative; they want the leftist social justice issues to be at the heart of “moral and political decision making.” While they object to the political activism of the religious right, their own “vocation” to use “political involvement as a vehicle for social change” is viewed as a mission and high calling.