A group of leading Evangelicals released a document this week called An Evangelical Manifesto. It is addressed not only to other Evangelicals, but to all American citizens for their consideration. Although I didn't notice anyone from Tennessee among the leaders, the document is worthy of discussion in our state since over 50% of the people identify themselves as Evangelical Protestants.
"The two-fold purpose of this declaration is first to address the confusions and corruptions that attend the term Evangelical in the United States and much of the Western world today, and second to clarify where we stand on issues that have caused consternation over Evangelicals in public life."
An important signal of a shift comes in their list of what Evangelicalism means. Biblical authority is listed fourth and not first as is often the case in historic Evangelical statements of faith. The leaders are drawing a clearer line between themselves and Fundamentalists.
The document underscores this shift by calling for Evangelicalism to be "defined theologically and not politically." The authors concede that they "cannot back away from our biblically rooted commitment to the sanctity of every human life, including those unborn, nor can we deny the holiness of marriage as instituted by God between one man and one woman..." But they express the desire to move "beyond single-issue politics..." They call for "engaging the global giants of conflict, racism, corruption, poverty, pandemic diseases, illiteracy, ignorance, and spiritual emptiness..."
Those who are more political than theological in their interests should still consider reading the theological rationale in the document. I think it presents an honest effort at struggling with a long, distinguished tradition of Christianity that has influenced our public life. Driving every sentence are theological reflection and the negative reaction from outsiders. It shows that this group of Evangelicals have taken seriously their own roots and the broader conversation in which they find themselves today.
While there is little movement on the marriage issue that is so important to America's GLBT community, An Evangelical Manifesto moves the marriage issue away from the center of concern. Or perhaps I should say a host of other basic issues have joined marriage and abortion at the center with the effect of putting those concerns in a broader mix. The laser-focus on so-called family values is gone.