Evangelicals say Greater, Broader Civic Engagement Needed

Evangelicals from across the nation convened in Washington D.C. for an informal discussion on a document designed to encourage greater civic participation among evangelicals, on Thursday, March 10, 2005.

Sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the participants discussed the paper, “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility,” and assessed the future direction of the evangelical movement.

The paper essentially encourages evangelicals to cover broader topics of Christian concern -- such as religious liberty, poverty, peace, racial injustice, and the environment/creation -- rather than fixating on the fight against abortion and same-sex marriage.

While the paper, which was unanimously adopted by the NAE Board of Directors on October 2004, was generally accepted and supported by the evangelical leaders, others expressed concern that the new broad platform may “dilute the focus of the evangelical movement by taking issues,” according to New York Times.

"The issues of marriage, the issues of pro-life are the issues that define us to this day," said Tom Minnery, vice president of Focus on the Family, at the luncheon. "Do not make this about global warming."

However, the speakers at the event and most of the participants generally agreed that the document was necessary in order to portray the true mix of evangelicals – liberal, moderate and conservative - and their beliefs.

"Evangelicals have sometimes been accused of having a one- or two-item political agenda," said the Rev. Ronald J. Sider, one of the drafters of the document and president of Evangelicals for Social Action. "This document makes it very clear that a vast body of evangelicals today reject a one-issue approach."

The “Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility,” calls on Christians to work for the transformation of “both individuals and institutions” but does not address any specific legislation.

The statement notes that evangelicals must be supporters of the gospel – not a set of political beliefs.

“While we may frequently settle for ‘half-a-loaf,’ we must never compromise principle by engaging in unethical behavior or endorsing or fostering sin,” the statement reads. “As we rightly engage in supporting legislation, candidates and political parties, we must be clear that biblical faith is vastly larger and richer than every limited, inevitably imperfect political agenda and that commitment to the Lordship of Christ and his one body far transcends all political commitments.”

Barbara Williams-Skinner, president of the Skinner Leadership Institute, a Christian training center in Tracy's Landing, Md., reiterated the statement’s call for evangelicals to engage themselves in issues beyond gay marriage and abortion.

"The litmus test is the Gospel, the whole of it," said Ms. Williams-Skinner, an African-American who told the group that she is a Democrat who opposes abortion, according to NY Times.

According to Baptist Press, nearly 90 evangelical leaders have signed on to the document, including: Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship; and Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California and author of “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

Other signers included Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy; NAE President Ted Haggard; Jack Hayford, president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel; Walter Kaiser, president of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary; Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; John Perkins, founder of Voice of Calvary Ministries; Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action; and author and apologist Ravi Zacharias.

The NAE represents 30 million people in 45,000 churches and has 51 member denominations.