More on the Manifesto-Pt. 3

Having looked at the first two mandates of the recently released “Evangelical Manifesto” in greater detail, we can now turn our attention its third and final charge: we must rethink our place in public life. Once again, I’ll offer several excerpts, beginning with this section’s initial paragraph:

We must find a new understanding of our place in public life. We affirm that to be
Evangelical and to carry the name of Christ is to seek to be faithful to the freedom,
justice, peace, and well-being that are at the heart of the kingdom of God, to bring these gifts into public life as a service to all, and to work with all who share these ideals and care for the common good. Citizens of the City of God, we are resident aliens in the Earthly City. Called by Jesus to be “in” the world but “not of” the world, we are fully engaged in public affairs, but never completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, economic system, class, tribe, or national identity.

Working from this framework, the document proceeds to distance Evangelicalism from two common errors, an effort worthy to be quoted at length, concluding with what may be the most memorable statement of the entire enterprise. On the whole, these paragraphs represent a significant challenge to commonly held Evangelical stances regarding our relationship to the world around us.

First, we Evangelicals repudiate two equal and opposite errors into which many
Christians have fallen recently. One error has been to privatize faith, interpreting and applying it to the personal and spiritual realm only. Such dualism falsely divorces the spiritual from the secular, and causes faith to lose its integrity and become “privately engaging and publicly irrelevant,” and another form of “hot tub spirituality.”

The other error, made by both the religious left and the religious right in recent
decades, is to politicize faith, using faith to express essentially political points that have lost touch with biblical truth. That way faith loses its independence, the church becomes “the regime at prayer,” Christians become “useful idiots” for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology in its purest form. Christian beliefs are used as weapons for political interests.

Christians from both sides of the political spectrum, left as well as right, have
made the mistake of politicizing faith; and it would be no improvement to respond to a weakening of the religious right with a rejuvenation of the religious left. Whichever side it comes from, a politicized faith is faithless, foolish, and disastrous for the church – and disastrous first and foremost for Christian reasons rather than constitutional reasons.

Called to an allegiance higher than party, ideology, and nationality, we Evangelicals see it our duty to engage with politics, but our equal duty never to be completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, economic system, or nationality. In our scales, spiritual, moral, and social power are as important as political power, what is right outweighs what is popular, just as principle outweighs party, truth matters more than team-playing, and conscience more than power and survival.

The politicization of faith is never a sign of strength but of weakness. The saying
is wise: “The first thing to say about politics is that politics is not the first thing.”

The Evangelical soul is not for sale. It has already been bought at an infinite price.

This statements lead directly to a discussion of differing conceptions concerning life in the public square, including the repudiation of two erroneous perspectives and advocacy for a third:

We repudiate on one side the partisans of a sacred public square, those who for
religious, historical, or cultural reasons would continue to give a preferred place in public life to one religion which in almost all most current cases would be the Christian faith, but could equally be another faith. In a society as religiously diverse as America today, no one faith should be normative for the entire society, yet there should be room for the free expression of faith in the public square.

Let it be known unequivocally that we are committed to religious liberty for people of all faiths, including the right to convert to or from the Christian faith. We are firmly opposed to the imposition of theocracy on our pluralistic society. We are also
concerned about the illiberalism of politically correct attacks on evangelism. We have no desire to coerce anyone or to impose on anyone beliefs and behavior that we have not persuaded them to adopt freely, and that we do no not demonstrate in our own lives, above all by love.

We repudiate on the other side the partisans of a naked public square, those who
would make all religious expression inviolably private and keep the public square
inviolably secular. Often advocated by a loose coalition of secularists, liberals, and
supporters of the strict separation of church and state, this position is even less just and workable because it excludes the overwhelming majority of citizens who are still profoundly religious. Nothing is more illiberal than to invite people into the public square but insist that they be stripped of the faith that makes them who they are and shapes the way they see the world.

In contrast to these extremes, our commitment is to a civil public square — a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths too. Thus every right we assert for ourselves is at once a right we defend for others. A right for a Christian is a right for a Jew, and a right for a secularist, and a right for a Mormon, and right for a Muslim, and a right for a Scientologist, and right for all the believers in all the faiths across this wide land.

After warning against following the path of forcible coercion or relativistic complacency in relation to the global public square, this section of the Manifesto concludes with the following:

Once again, our choice is for a civil public square, and a working respect for the rights of all, even those with whom we disagree. Contrary to medieval religious leaders and certain contemporary atheists who believe that “error has no rights,” we respect the right to be wrong. But we also insist that the principle of “the right to believe anything” does not lead to the conclusion that “anything anyone believes is right.” Rather, it means that respect for differences based on conscience can also mean a necessary debate over differences conducted with respect.

I’ll close this post by briefly noting that this last point is a much needed in a culture that has largely adopted a historically novel view of tolerance (“we need to acknowledge that everyone is equally right” rather than “we need to respect those with whom we genuinely, even strongly, disagree”) that ironically often leads to striking—and self-refuting—intolerance (“how close-minded of you to adopt a view that doesn’t acknowledge that every view is equally right”).

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