After the release of the Evangelical Manifesto, Frank Pastore interviewed Manifesto signer and National Religious Broadcasters President Frank Wright.
Frank Pastore: The Evangelical Manifesto. You probably heard about it some time ago and you chose to sign it. Why?
Frank Wright: Well, I actually had a chance to read it and study it over a period of several days before I signed it. And I didn’t sign it on behalf of the National Religious Broadcasters, in fact no one signed on behalf of an organization, all the signers were signing as individuals.
Here’s the background on this: 50, 60 years ago the term “fundamentalist” in our cultures wasn’t a bad term. It described those people who were committed to the fundamental teaching of scripture, the fundamental articles of faith, the means of grace. “Fundamentalist” was once upon a time a good thing. Over time the culture sort of decomposed or destroyed that word, and gave it a very pejorative meaning. And if you would have asked an average Christian today, “Are you a fundamentalist?” they’d go, “Oh, no, no, no, not me. Don’t put me down in that camp.” And many fundamentalists, including my mentor Dr. D. James Kennedy began to describe themselves as Evangelicals. They felt that term was a better fitting term.
What’s happened in the last 20 or 30 years is the same thing: The term “Evangelical” has been deconstructed by our opponents on the left and made into something pejorative. So, with that as a background, what attracted me to the Evangelical Manifesto was that it was an affirmative articulation—and I thought a biblical one—of what it meant to be an Evangelical, what doctrines did you hold, what defined who we were. In other words, it was an attempt for Evangelicals themselves to define the meaning of the term, rather than having unbelievers and the culture continue to define it in a pejorative manner.
In the aftermath of the press conference introducing it, it took on quite a different character. Instead of an effort to reach the culture with a different understanding of “what it means to be an Evangelical,” it turned a little bit into a skirmish between Evangelicals on the left and conservative Evangelicals on the right.
Pastore: A lot of the Evangelical Manifesto goes after fundamentalists and they refused to name names. I don’t know who they are talking about. My guess is they are talking about James Dobson and Tony Perkins and Chuck Colson and those of us that are on the political right who are taking the Christian worldview into the political realm, like with this gay marriage here in California. I don’t want to be passive about this. I don’t want marriage re-defined. I want Christians to vote and be involved and to express their worldview. I think this document undermines a lot of that. Am I right, wrong, indifferent, am I missing it?
Wright: No you’re not, you’re tapping into how the debate actually turned out, which was not how the Manifesto was intended. Let me back up two steps and remind you of a conversation we had about a Dr. Stephen Carter at Yale University. He wrote a book entitled “God’s Name in Vain.” In that book his thesis was that the African-American church in America had lost its prophetic voice in the culture by being too closely identified with the Democrat Party. He warned white Evangelicals (he himself is an African American) and said, “You have the same risk if you become too closely identified with the Republican Party. You could lose your prophetic voice in the culture.”
It was in that spirit that I saw those comments about how Christians should engage the culture. The Manifesto does not call for withdrawal from the culture; however, it’s pretty vague about how you should actually engage….
Where you have seen the debate go is exactly what has led me to have such dismay. I actually wrote to the membership of the National Religious Broadcasters and said I had serious concern about the way the Manifesto is being used to have some groups of Christians throwing stones at others. And, as you rightly said, the stones are being thrown at those who are particularly involved in cultural engagements. I think that is dead wrong, so I have stood up and said I do not support that effort, I will not stand with those Evangelicals that criticize those of us that are involved in engaging the culture. So, you’re right in saying that’s where the debate seems to have drifted. I don’t believe that’s where it was intended, and in some ways it was hijacked by some of the more liberal signers of the Manifesto. So, it’s been disappointing from that standpoint.
Pastore: Then you and I are on the same page….
My heart on this and I think the heart of so many people involved is that we do want to have the right voice to a culture. We want to represent the Gospel appropriately with the right texture, but we don’t want to compromise. And with less than half of Christians even registering to vote, there’s a disconnect. I want to prevent anything that would allow a person to embrace the position: “Hey, I’m spiritual, I’m not political.” I just believe that politics is theology applied. It’s how we love our neighbors as ourselves collectively. I just don’t want to see that diminished at all.
Wright: You’re exactly right—and sadly—to the extent that this Manifesto has some impact in reducing people’s willingness to engage the culture, and I mean that broadly—I mean for Christians to serve in medicine, education, business, government, politics, community service. To the extent that this leads to any pulling back from cultural engagement I think one day this Manifesto could be looked at as a tragedy. If it’s looked at rightly and in a balanced way and things are not read into it with someone’s agenda it still could be a positive thing. But I agree with you that we cannot let something like this sap the energy that it’s going to take to engage a culture drifting so badly away from truth.