A group of mainly conservative Evangelicals has recently promoted an “Evangelical Manifesto” that appears to be designed as a voice of moderation calling on Evangelicals to avoid getting sucked into becoming toadies for a political ideology.

Like the “Baptist Manifesto” of 1997, which promoted a more communitarian and less individualistic approach to being Baptist, I think the document suffers from a poorly chosen name. Anyone old enough or well-read enough to remember the impact of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto is bound to deal with some mental confusion. Marx’s work was so influential that it’s hard to separate the word “Manifesto” from “Communist,” which makes it difficult for many people to give anyone else’s “manifesto” an unbiased hearing.

I suspect that most people will not care enough about the subject to read the Evangelical Manifesto, and some who do care will rely on media summaries for their judgment, rather than slogging through the entire 19-page document, which is replete with seven-point statements that are sometimes repetitive.

In general, the paper appears to be a good thing, as it calls upon Evangelicals to realize that equally devoted followers of Christ may see things differently on the political front — there’s no one way for true believers to vote, no one issue that drives our votes, or one party to whom Evangelicals must pledge allegiance. In the light of the past 20 years’ marriage between the most conservative Evangelicals and the Republican Party (some think of the GOP as “God’s Only Party”), that word is welcome.

Even so, the statement gives much more attention to the dangers of “liberal revisionist tendencies” (eight paragraphs including five specific condemnations) than the errors of Christian fundamentalism (two paragraphs of general observations).

Some of those who champion the Evangelical Manifesto have been involved in precisely the same sort of political approach they now condemn, according to an analysis by Bob Allen at EthicsDaily.com, leading one to wonder how much they have changed and what their motives might be.

Given the falling stature of the Christian Right and it’s unflagging support for the debacles of the current administration — and the reality that Democrats now seem to be talking much more openly about their faith — more cynical folk might see the statement as more tactical than confessional, though the authors to confess to a number of past missteps.

I couldn’t help but note that the statement took pains to define “Evangelical” by laying out seven characteristic beliefs, essentially: 1) Christ is fully human and fully divine; 2) salvation is only through Christ; 3) a truly regenerate life must be empowered by the resurrection of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit; 4) the scriptures are inspired by God, exhibit “total truthfulness,” and are the final word for faith and practice; 5) true disciples serve Christ in deeds as well as words, including ministry to the poor and oppressed; 6) hope and strength come from a belief in the Second Coming of Christ; and 7) all followers of Christ are called to grow through worship, fellowship, discipleship and ministry, and to share their faith with others.

Most Evangelicals would find little fault with the list as given. If “total truthfulness” of Scripture is a more palatable code term for the fundamentalist “inerrancy” doctrine, however, it narrows the field considerably. My guess is that the writers intended to leave the door open for interpretation there.

Despite the underlying questions, the document’s call for a less radicalized approach to political involvement that does not see “the Christian position” as monolithic is welcome.

Whether it has any discernible impact on current practices — such as the distribution of one-sided “Christian voter guides” — remains to be seen.

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