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Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist

  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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The “Evangelical Manifesto”

Posted by James McPherson on May 8, 2008

Some leading evangelicals, mostly but not entirely liberal in their political orientation, this week have issued an “Evangelical Manifesto.” It reaffirms general beliefs shared by both liberal and conservative evangelicals, while calling for Christian conservatives to go beyond single hot-button issues in their considerations of politics. Of course one of those who refused to go along with the manifesto was Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, who in the past has taken advantage of his own political power to threaten Democrats who aren’t conservative enough.

The release of the manifesto illustrates the natural tension between political goals and religious beliefs. Evangelicalism has become strongly identified with the Religious Right and with Republican politics. As I’ve noted elsewhere, both groups have embraced the relationship for their own political reasons while overlooking their differences–differences suggested by Jerry Falwell in 1965 when he said preachers were not called “to be politicians, but soul-winners.” Falwell, who was speaking as a criticism of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists, later would found the Moral Majority and help the twice-marrried and not particularly religious Ronald Reagan defeat born-again evangelical Jimmy Carter. Issues such as the women’s movement, school prayer, religious taxation, abortion, gay rights and pornography (along with oddities such as the Panama Canal, which at least some Christians apparently considered a gift from God to the United States) all prompted conservative Christians to become more active in politics.

Incidentally, though I believe that conservative evangelicals are wrong in many of their political and theological beliefs and often short-sighted in their political activities, I admire the Christians–along with the Muslims, Jews and others–who make a connection between their faith and the world in which we live. I have little personal use for any religion that does not seek to make the world a better place for all of us (including, of course, those of other faiths). I also generally have no problem tolerating varying views of what defines “better,” except when those views stress intolerence.

I don’t agree with some of my Christian friends that faith provides the only reason to do good deeds. I became a journalist largely because I wanted to help change the world, though I was an atheist at the time. Many an atheist has helped us all more than has an average churchload of Christians. But so have many Christians. In one obvious example relevant to the general themes of this blog, journalists and those interested in self-government owe much to the Seventh-day Adventists, who have done more than perhaps any other group to help define press freedom in America.  I have seen the value of faith communities, particularly in times of crisis, and I have appreciated the incredible works done by people of faith since before I became one. If they do so for religious reasons, God bless ’em. And if they do so for other reasons, God bless ’em, anyway.


4 Responses to “The “Evangelical Manifesto””

  1. mikerucker said

    good thoughts. i’m enjoying reading the various opinions here and there around the web. i had some hesitations and misgivings before reading the document, but i’m actually quite impressed and invigorated after taking in the whole of what it addresses.

    one of the things i like is that the authors have chosen not to list creationism and inerrancy as non-negotiables. for the first, there’s very little biblical justification anymore behind whatever the latest flavor of anti-natural-selection dessert is being served up; for the latter, somehow we can admit that we can’t prove the existence of God, but goshdarnit we have a golden egg this unprovable God laid right here. still, some people hold to these positions; so be it. there’s simply too much of a tendency to add items to the ever-increasing laundry list of ideas and doctrines to which we have to pledge allegiance before we’re allowed into the room marked “Christian.”

    nothing’s going to please everybody, and there are a few things i object to. for instance, i don’t agree with this statement: We Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally. Jesus’ message uses “action” verbs: teach them to DO as I have commanded you, LOVE God and LOVE your neighbor, by this will all men know … if you LOVE one another. any theology that defines us must have feet.

    i did, however, like these words: We are also troubled by the fact that the advance of globalization and the emergence of a global public square finds no matching vision of how we are to live freely, justly, and peacefully with our deepest differences on the global stage. somehow, we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to peacefully share the same bathroom over the next few decades in our ever-shrinking world.

    one interesting thing: maybe i missed it, but there doesn’t seem to be a great emphasis on evangelism in this Evangelical Manifesto. do you think that was intentional? i didn’t see a single chick tract referenced in the bibliography…

    more than anything, i find myself motivated and energized by the very positive nature of the piece – that it isn’t yet another “here’s everything we’re against” rant but an effort to make the gospel again a message of good news. imagine that – the gospel being good news. American Christianity has lost this defining characteristic that once served it well.

    perhaps one unintended benefit of the proposal is a clear opportunity to take this EM (Evangelical Manifesto) and align it with the other EM (Emergent Manifesto) and finally have all our EM & EMs in a row without demonizing the other side.

    one can only hope…

    mike rucker
    fairburn, georgia, usa

  2. […] which has been co-opted by certain figures for political purposes. Some commentary here here and here. (And for Jim Wallis’ comments about the media reaction go here). Jim McPherson — […]

  3. […] how a president should demonstrate his faith. Jerry Falwell once suggested that preachers should stay out of politics. But one of Bush’s biggest appeals was his willingness to state publicly his […]

  4. […] how a president should demonstrate his faith. Jerry Falwell once suggested that preachers should stay out of politics. But one of Bush’s biggest appeals was his willingness to state publicly his belief […]

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