May 14, 2008
From Useful Idiots to Political Misfits
A new manifesto says evangelicals have been co-opted by politics; will the next generation make the same mistake?
What is an "evangelical"? According to almost 80 prominent pastors, theologians, and activists, the word "evangelical" has become "a term that, in recent years, has often been used politically, culturally, socially - and even as a marketing demographic."
The group signed and released a 19 page "Evangelical Manifesto" last week in Washington D.C. The goal of the document is to "reclaim the definition of what it means to be an Evangelical." They believe that theological, rather than political, principles should define evangelicalism, and they offer a strong rebuke to those who would equate the word with either end of the political spectrum. When evangelicalism is politically defined, they say, it makes Christians "useful idiots" for politicians and parties.
The manifesto's signers are a diverse bunch including Timothy George, dean, Beeson Divinity School; Os Guinness; Richard Mouw, president, Fuller Theological Seminary; David Neff, editor in chief of Christianity Today; and Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine. Absent are some high profile Religious Right folks like James Dobson. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has written about why he won't sign the manifesto even though he agrees with 90 percent of its content.
One commentator has noted that the manifesto represents a divide between the "old-style populist evangelicals" (think Religious Right, Moral Majority, pro-life, anti-gay marriage) and what he calls the increasing ranks of "cosmopolitan evangelicals" (think global awareness, social justice, poverty, AIDS). He says this bunch (shall we call them Cosmo-Christians?) are "the new public face of the evangelical movement."
It isn't that Cosmo-Christians don't care about abortion, sexuality, or marriage issues, they're simply acknowledging that there are other moral issues address by scripture and impacted by evangelical belief. A Seattle Times article this week reports on this trend:
Eugene Cho, a founder and lead pastor at Seattle's Quest Church, which caters to a predominantly under-35 crowd, urges young Christians to look beyond the two or three issues that have allowed Christians to be "manipulated by those that know the game or use it as their sole agenda." "While the issue of abortion - the sanctity of life - must always be a hugely important issue, we must juxtapose that with other issues that are also very important."
Polls have shown that young Christians aren't any less concerned about the "family values" issues that have traditionally driven Christians to the Republican camp?. It's just that they're also concerned about issues such as social justice and immigration, issues traditionally associated with Democrats.
Shane Claiborne calls these young evangelicals who don't feel at home in either party "political misfits" which, I suppose, is a step up from "useful idiots."
With the election driving political conversations in churches and among evangelicals, these trends are worth discussing. Do you think evangelicals have become useful idiots for the Republican Party? Are we in danger of becoming equally useful and idiotic tools for the Democrats? And do you resonate with Claiborne's label? Are you a political misfit?
Here are a few additional resources to check out. Then come back and share your comments.