NASHVILLE (BP) -- Christian evangelicals have a prime chance to influence the culture for moral change in the face of declining cultural values, author Stephen Mansfield said at a Conference on the Culture in Nashville.

Mansfield offered hope and direction in reengaging a culture he described as "in the wrong arms," speaking on the role of faith in politics at the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's annual Conference on the Culture in November.

"I'm not saying we're going to have a thoroughly Christian culture. But I do think the opportunity to impact lives and re-engage the culture in a different way is pretty huge," Mansfield told ethicists, pastors and other leaders in attendance. "We are definitely as a culture in the wrong arms. I'm not so much speaking of an individual, but cultural values."

William Cutrer, M.D., a professor of Christian Ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., also addressed the two-day gathering. ERLC annually sponsors the conference event to discuss scriptural responses to pressing moral and cultural issues of the day.

Mansfield encouraged leaders to promote biblically based policies to address issues the Republican Party has overlooked and thereby disaffected certain population sectors, such as African Americans, Hispanics, immigrants and the poor. As an example, he mentioned Leviticus 19:15, which encourages fair treatment across economic lines.

"We're going to have to address the categories that are of interest to people in the culture, and interestingly enough they're also categories that are of concern in Scripture," he said. "How do we articulate our values and certainly have an alliance with the political networks that we need to be a part of, but not limit ourselves?"

Mansfield expressed optimism and hope.

"I believe the Lord would not have brought us to this time, in our culture, in our history to such a time as this and then left us with the vision we have, the passion we have, the training we have, the hopes that we have and no avenues to see them fulfilled or expressed," Mansfield said. "However it looks, the Lord's at work and good things are happening ... that are embers that we can fan in the flame. The Lord is always doing more than you know."

In the public square, Christians must present biblically based policies in non-religious language, he said.

"In my environment in D.C., the suspicion of pastors, anybody with a camera, anybody with a mailing list, is pretty high. You show up as reverend so-and-so," he said, and you're not given a public platform. "The church and Kingdom are not the same thing. The church is a place to train. It's a place to experience the presence of Jesus ... but it's not meant to be the basis of all social action."

Mansfield challenged leaders to change their understanding of key concepts. He defined religion as "ultimate concern," following the logic of the late philosopher Paul Tillich; culture as "religion externalized" and law as "codification of the value system" we have as a result of our culture.

"Whatever a man is ultimately concerned with, whatever concern is his passion, his motivation, that's his religion, regardless of whether he has a membership," Mansfield said. "This helps us identify idols in our own lives and helps us understand people we are dealing with."

The biblical worldview Christian evangelicals embrace has little meaning in today's neo-pagan, postmodern culture, he said, and must be refashioned to appeal to millennials. Just as in ancient times, individuals today have a value system based on a hodgepodge of ideas and philosophies, Mansfield said.

"People are interested in God. They have that ultimate concern, but it's not worked consistently in our lives," he said. "All of us in this room I assume are biblical worldview people. We see a linkage between declaring the Lordship of Jesus and the way that we think about every other thing. But we live in a post-modern age and that's not the way the current generation thinks. They don't think in terms of that linkage."

Identifying himself as Native American, Mansfield said the African American community represents a major untapped resource for growth for the Republican Party.

"The answer is ... to try to understand how the African Americans got there. They were enslaved by people who were thumping the Bible, for the most part. Almost everybody was making a biblical case for that -- Mormons, Protestants, Roman Catholics," he said. "If your primary contact with an African American is to try to persuade them politically, you're not going to make it. They've got to see some other connection."

African Americans making over $90,000 a year comprise one of the fastest-growing economic sectors in the U.S., he said.

"The African American community has not advanced primarily through government action," he said. "It's primarily advanced through very skilled African Americans who broke through."

Mansfield said the cause of Christian evangelicals is broader than that of the Republican Party.

"We have narrowed ourselves to the GOP platform because that's where we fit. That was the house we were in. We wanted to fit the contours of the house that had welcomed us and had articulated our values," he said. "But is could be that we narrowed ourselves too much."

Cutrer speaks on embryo adoption/donation

Cutrer, an obstetrician/gynecologist, led a discussion of bioethics pertaining mainly to a crisis in which about 500,000 frozen embryos with no plan for their future remain on record in the United States, England and Australia.

"Are they human? They are certainly human in origin and left unchecked will be human in destination," Cutrer said of the embryos. "Are they persons? Are they humans with potential or potential humans? How you come down on that determines everything."

Cutrer is not an advocate of freezing embryos, but he does support embryo adoption in cases where the frozen embryo already exists and is in essence an orphan. He acknowledged that even among Christians, opinions on frozen embryos vary.

When he asked a group of 400 adoption lawyers whether the embryos were humans or genetic property, they considered them property, he said.

"How you decide what that is determines a whole lot in terms of your thinking on beginning-of-life issues, end-of-life issues and all of these complex reproductive technologies that we currently have at our disposal," Cutrer said. "Can we do it? Should we do it? The 'can we do it' is the science. The 'should we do it' is the ethics."

"If you decide that the embryo is a person, then you have several biblical approaches. The Good Samaritan parable in looking at the embryo as a neighbor and how one would deal with them; or the Do Unto Others, the Golden Rule," Cutrer said. "The orphan care is a measure of what true religion is about -- caring for widows and orphans.

"These embryos, if you believe they are persons, have truly been abandoned by their parents," he said. "They are truly orphans. The adoption imagery, hopefully all of you love that because that's how we are part of the family of God. Clearly God is an advocate of adoption."

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' staff writer; Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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