Thursday, May 08, 2008

Evangelical Manifesto

So have you seen the Evangelical Manifesto? (The link will take you to the website where you can download the Manifesto in PDF form.)

Seems those who claim the title of “Evangelical” are attempting to distant themselves from…something. What, exactly, is not patently clear. I understand the distaste these individuals feel with being constantly associated with political movements—but then I didn’t see anything specifically saying what political movements they either do not want to be associated with or do want to be associated with.

It speaks in great generalities, with few specifics.

I did find this statement interesting:

On the one hand, we repudiate those who believe their way is the only way and the way for everyone, and are therefore prepared to coerce others.

Why? Isn’t this exactly what the Evangelical is doing? Notice these other quotes from the document (emphasis added):

First, we believe that Jesus Christ is fully God become fully human, the unique, sure, and sufficient revelation of the very being, character, and purposes of God, beside whom there is no other god, and beside whom there is no other name by which we must be saved.

Second, we believe that the only ground for our acceptance by God is what Jesus Christ did on the cross …

Third, we believe that new life, given supernaturally through spiritual regeneration, is a necessity as well as a gift; and that the lifelong conversion that results is the only pathway to a radically changed character and way of life. Thus for us, the only sufficient power for a life of Christian faithfulness and moral integrity in this world is that of Christ’s resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, we repudiate all who believe that different values are simply relative to different cultures, and who therefore refuse to allow anyone to judge anyone else or any other culture. More tolerant sounding at first, this position leads directly to the evils of complacency;. for in a world of such evils as genocide, slavery, female oppression, and assaults on the unborn, there are rights that require defending, evils that must be resisted, and interventions into the affairs of others that are morally justifiable.. [emphasis in original]

Sure seems to be saying they think theirs is the only way, the way for everyone, and they are quite prepared to coerce others. If they deem it “justifiable.”

Frankly, the paper comes across as (a touch whiney) public relations piece. The “why” of this manifesto is more interesting to me. Why did they think such a document (which they obviously spent a great deal of time wording just so) was necessary right now?

The obvious answer is the concern “Evangelical” is becoming a bad word. That the general public is associating certain demeanor or characteristic with a person who calls themselves an “Evangelical” and this document is an attempt to provide a new spin on the same thing.

I am in no position to speculate as to all the nuances of this document coming out now. I thought it might be an intriguing read for some. You might also want to read some of the comments. My favorite was:

Dear Sir: I would like to know more about the individuals who have worked on the manifesto. Have all these people truly "trusted" Christ as personal savior, before they can write about such issues? You do realize that not every theologian, pastor, etc. are not all born again believers.

Wouldn’t want some of those writing such a historic piece of work! *wink*


  1. I suppose I'm one of those people the commenter was talking about.

    I know this is a minor point, but I thought it was interesting that they chose the term "Manifesto" for this project.

    In the US, the word "manifesto" conjures up two associations: Communist and Unabomber. People who write manifestos are obsessive people with loopy worldviews.

    In the rest of the world, but particularly Britain (and other parliamentary democracies), a "manifesto" is an official statement of principle from a political party, not unlike a "platform" in the US. The word "manifesto" conjures up Tony Blair's "New Labour" and Margaret Thatcher's poll tax. People who write manifestos are slick political operatives.

    So with these two associations, why did this group of Evangelical Christians decide to go there?

  2. Bible believing Christians don't like the term "fundamentalist" because it evokes negative associations. Now they seem to be upset because "evangelical" has come to evoke similar associations. Someday maybe they'll figure out that their annoying behavior is going to taint any term they use to describe themselves.

  3. Hadn't seen the, uh, manifesto. Apparently its flaws are quite obvious (on the one hand we say no X, but on the other we say X). It's better to ignore the villification of the label. Sooner or later, it'll come back in style. One looks silly trying to dance around the label, and rightfully so.

  4. If evangelicals don't like their public image, I call their attention to Hosea 8:6 "For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind:

  5. A quibble with Vinny's choice of words: "Bible believing Christians."

    Lots of folks believe the Bible, but not all of them believe in a 6000 year old earth and talking snakes.

  6. Bob,

    You are correct, but I am running out of terms. How about "biblical literalists"?

  7. Am I the only one whose first thought was "I know you are but what am I?"

  8. Flycandler,

    You are right. It IS odd they would use the term “Manifesto.” The most common association with the word would be either the Communist Manifesto or the Humanist Manifesto—neither of which I would think the Evangelicals would like to be considered in the same league.

    I was thinking of speculating as to the why and timing of this Manifesto, but realized that was all it was—speculation. Something anyone can do. I don’t have a clue as to the choice of either, really.


    Actually what I was struck with more was how easy it was for them to come up with criticism for what they viewed as “liberal,” and how hard it was for them to come up with criticism for what they viewed as “fundamentalist.”

  9. The Communist Manifesto is actually a pretty solid work. I strongly recommend it in a positive sense to anyone interested in political philosophy. The Humanist Manifestos (three or four of them) are also quite good.

    "Manifesto" just means an explicit statement of one's political and ethical principles. I consider clarity and precision to be fundamental intellectual virtues; I have to endorse, at least in principle, any endeavor that fulfills those virtues.

    That some or even many people with whom one disagrees have explicated their values does not argue against explication per se.

  10. Of course, actually contradicting yourself in your manifesto is a sign that you've failed to apply the full power of logical thought to your ideas.

  11. Just curious here. Could you define this term you used? "They are quite prepared to coerce others." I'm a little confused by the term because I understand it to mean "to compel by force, intimidation, or authority, esp. without regard for individual desire or volition," and I don't know a single "Evangelical" that would suggest that a person can become a Christian apart from the individual's volition. The notion of forcing someone to be a Christian seems completely foreign to me and any other "Evangelical" I've ever known or heard.

    Vinny, the idea is not that they don't like the term, "Evangelical." It's that they don't like that it's come to mean so many things that it is meaningless. (That's not in their defense. It's merely an explanation.)

    To flycandler and dagoods, you may think of "manifesto" as something negative, but it is simply a public declaration of principles or intentions, so I'm just wondering what word would you recommend instead?

    (To everyone, I'm not defending the Evangelical Manifesto. Seems like a pointless document to me.)

  12. Stan,

    Oh, I know what they say. I was focusing more on what they do. I have seen people kicked out of churches for not believing the correct way. For not subscribing to the correct “only” as the Manifesto would state. I have seen people denied positions for not having the right “only.” People ostracized, marriages refused, funerals denied.

    And if those people changed their positions or agreed to what the church desired—guess what? All of a sudden those closed doors become wide open. What was prohibited is allowed.

    What about teaching of hell? Understandably you may not see it that way, but I see it as a form of coercion. Telling my children if they pick the right box and ONLY (there’s that word again) the right box they will have candy canes and apple pie and happy thoughts forever and ever and ever. But if they don’t pick the right box, if they don’t choose the correct “only” they will BURN and SCREAM and be in PAIN and DARKNESS and ALONE with the BOGEYMAN while their friends are having ice cream and cookies and cake with Jesus.

    “To compel by intimidation without regard for individual desire or volition.” Hmmm…seems to fit.

    Even the ban on homosexual marriage is a form of coercion. What harm does it cause a Christian if two sinners marry? Christians…may I say Evangelicals?…don’t want homosexuality to occur at all, so they desire to make it as uncomfortable as possible by denying homosexuals the luxury of marriage.

    As to a different word than Manifesto—traditionally they go with “Creed,” “Confession” or “Statement.” Even “Tenet.”

  13. Stan, I'm not saying that "manifesto" is an inherently negative term. I know what the precise definition is.

    I'm simply perplexed that Evangelicals, who have religious marketing down pat, chose to go with a term that has such negative connotations not just in the culture at large (Americans hear "manifesto" and think "dangerous nut", British folks hear "manifesto" and think "sleazy politician"), but to their particular audience. Remember, this was the group used so masterfully by Ronald Reagan et al. to demonize Communists and their manifesto.

    For the record, I am not a Communist, but I think Marx was on to something in regards to the division of labor, on opposing child labor, and on supporting the equal rights of women. I also think he stole "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" from the Bible.

    As far as the Evangelicals, I find it more interesting that they chose an overtly political and potentially toxic term like "manifesto" over the terms that the church has traditionally used: "creed" and "confession". It's because the Evangelicals are fundamentally opposed to the idea of a creed, and a confessional statement to them is simply a bureaucratic term for a creed.

    In the Reformed tradition to which I belong, we have historically defined creeds and confessions as the means by which "the Church declares to its members and to the world
    -who and what it is,
    -what it believes,
    -and what it resolves to do."

    That's what this group is essentially trying to do, but with a movement that has no real organized structure but does have a historical aversion to creeds and confessions. Yet, they need something that performs the same functions, so they come up with a less objectionable (to them) term.

    And as someone familiar with creeds and confessional statements, I think this one is pretty lousy.