Evangelical Leaders Sign 'Chicago Invitation' to Counter Pro-Trump Narrative of Evangelicalism

Sojourners founder Jim Wallis speaks in support of the Dream Act during a press conference outside of the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 1, 2017.
Sojourners founder Jim Wallis speaks in support of the Dream Act during a press conference outside of the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 1, 2017. | (Photo: The Christian Post / Samuel Smith)

Over three dozen progressive evangelical leaders signed onto a statement countering the "false narrative" that has led many to paint evangelical Christians as only white conservative Trump supporters.

Organized by the evangelical social justice organization Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action, at least 39 left-leaning Christian leaders have signed on in support of a new declaration called "The Chicago Invitation: Diverse Evangelicals Continue the Journey."

The document comes 45 years after Evangelicals for Social Action and Sojourners helped organize the "The Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Concern."

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The declaration embraced the rights of the poor and called out the American Church's involvement and attitudes on racism that helped fuel structural injustices. The 1973 declaration also called for better redistribution of wealth and challenged the "misplaced trust" in the nation that led to a "national pathology of war and violence."

Although the declaration brought about a movement of "new evangelicals," Sojourner's founder Jim Wallis, who was included in that left-leaning group, believes that the evangelical movement has been taken over by the conservative religious right and politically co-opted through the 1980s up to today.

Today, many Americans associate the word "evangelical" with white social conservative Christians who heavily supported President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

On the 45th anniversary of the 1973 gathering to draft the "Chicago Declaration" in September, a younger generation of evangelical leaders met with some of the declaration's original signatories to draft the brand-new "Chicago Invitation."

"Sadly, in 2018, several false narratives around the identity of evangelicals in the United States undermine Christian witness and distort American politics," the document reads. "Often, evangelicals are identified in the media and by the public as being predominantly white, right wing, and unconcerned about the poor and oppressed."

The document condemns the media narrative that stems from exit polls that show that 81 percent of evangelicals voted for Trump in the 2016 election. The new document declares that exit polling data only represented white evangelical voters and did not accurately tally evangelical voters of color.

"When evangelicals of color and younger evangelicals are accurately accounted for, the picture changes significantly," the invitation declares. "For example, evangelicals of color voted overwhelmingly otherwise."

In contrast to prevailing narrative, the document notes that the term "evangelicals" refers to an ethnically diverse group of believers who reflect an ongoing commitment to Christ, authority of Scripture, evangelism and "God's biblical call to justice."

"As diverse evangelicals, our faith moves us to confess and lament that we have often fallen short of the biblical values and commitments proclaimed in the Gospel and affirmed in the 1973 Declaration," the Chicago Invitation asserts. "In addition to the 1973 Declaration, many diverse evangelicals, including women, African-American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, and Indigenous leaders, have put out strong statements that have often been ignored. Millions of people, especially young believers, have left the faith during a time in which evangelicalism has become increasingly partisan and politicized."

The invitation asserts that evangelicals should "not be captive to any political party."

"Like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we believe the Church is 'called to be the conscience of the state, not the master or the servant of the state,'" the new statement reads. "In Affirming the 1973 Declaration, as well as other historic statements from diverse evangelicals, we recommit to an evangelical faith that follows Jesus' example of living and sharing a Gospel that always proclaims good news to the poor and freedom for the oppressed."

The document also commits those who signed it to "love and protect all people," including those of color, refugees, women, LGBT communities, indigenous groups, people with disabilities and anyone who is marginalized, hungry, thirsty, imprisoned or sick.

"We commit to resisting all manifestations of racism, white nationalism, and any forms of bigotry — all of which are sins against God," the invitation declares. "We commit to resisting patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and any form of sexism and to always affirm the dignity, voices, and leadership of women."

Those who signed onto the Chicago Invitation include, Wallis, Sojourners Executive Director Adam Taylor, Red Letter Christians' Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne, activist and author Lisa Sharon Harper, and Evangelicals for Social Action President Emeritus Ron Sider, also an original signatory of the 1973 declaration.

Joel Hunter, a former megachurch pastor who served as one of President Barack Obama's spiritual advisers and prayed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, also signed the statement.

Other signatories include Hyepin Im, CEO of Faith and Community Empowerment and member of the Evangelical Immigration Table; Mae Cannon, author of the Social Justice Handbook who previously served at Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois and World Vision; Jason Fileta, executive director of Micah Challenge USA; Mayra Macedo-Nolan, board chair of the Christian Community Development Association; Walter Arthur McCray, the president of the National Black Evangelical Association; and Soong-Chan Rah, professor of church growth and evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary.

"Reaffirming the truth about evangelicalism is critical, in part, because public perceptions of evangelicals continue to undermine and hurt the very witness and reputation of the Christian church as a whole," Wallis and Taylor wrote in a joint op-ed Wednesday. "Sadly, many unaffiliated Americans, who represent the fastest growing group in our religious landscape, often don't differentiate between evangelicals and other Christians. By correcting the public narrative to include diverse evangelicals, we can help rehabilitate the perception of evangelicals and enable our nation and the church to better cross the bridge into a more inclusive, multiracial future that mirrors God's kingdom come."

In May, a group of about 50 evangelical leaders met at Wheaton College, an evangelical institution in the Illinois suburbs of Chicago, to discuss the state of evangelicalism in the era of Trump. Wallis was one of the leaders who attended that meeting.

"What we are now engaged in is 'spiritual warfare,' as described in our Scriptures." Wallis wrote in a reflection of the meeting. "We don't finally put our trust in politics, but in God who will win with the long arc of the universe that 'bends toward justice' as Dr. King reminded us. I only made one comment at the end of the Wheaton meeting when I said, 'I have been listening as I hope you all have been too. The question this meeting is asking about the future of evangelicalism has been answered by the voices of color and women in this room. They are pointing us to the evangel, the Good News Jesus said he would bring to the poor in his opening statement in Luke 4. That's our future, let's listen.'"

Last month, another meeting was held in Chicago in which the "Chicago Invitation" emerged. The document was intentionally called an invitation as a symbol of the leaders inviting an open dialogue about the present and future of the evangelical movement.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith Follow Samuel Smith on Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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