The Common Good

An Evangelical Manifesto

Sojomail - May 8, 2008


The way the war on drugs has been pursued is one of the biggest reasons for the growing racial disparities in criminal justice over all.

- Ryan S. King, a policy analyst with The Sentencing Project, which recently released a report describing large disparities in the rate at which blacks and whites are arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses, even though the two groups use illegal drugs at roughly equal rates. (Source: The New York Times)

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The church has a serious image problem. A recent book, unChristian, by Barna pollster David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons reveals much about how Millennials, the emerging generation - both those inside and around the church - view Christianity. The results weren't good. An overwhelming majority of young people view Christians as hypocritical, too judgmental, too focused on the afterlife, and too political in the worst sense of the word. And that image is often particularly true of evangelicals. That's a lot of baggage we're carrying around.

But other studies show that when you ask people what they think about Jesus, you get answers like: compassionate, loving, caring, hung out with sinners and poor people, for peace. We have a serious image problem. People think that we should stand for the same things as Jesus did. So it's time to change the image.

A substantial group of evangelical leaders are trying to do just that. This morning, a new statement, An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment, was released in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Washington, D.C. The statement has two purposes - to address the confusion about who evangelicals are and to clarify a view on evangelicals in public life.

On the first point, the manifesto says:

Our first task is to reaffirm who we are. Evangelicals are Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth. (Evangelical comes from the Greek word for good news, or gospel.) Believing that the Gospel of Jesus is God's good news for the whole world, we affirm with the Apostle Paul that we are "not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation." Contrary to widespread misunderstanding today, we Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally.

It then goes on to identify seven "beliefs that we consider to be at the heart of the message of Jesus and therefore foundational for us." They are primarily theological affirmations, including:

We believe that being disciples of Jesus means serving him as Lord in every sphere of our lives, secular as well as spiritual, public as well as private, in deeds as well as words, and in every moment of our days on earth, always reaching out as he did to those who are lost as well as to the poor, the sick, the hungry, the oppressed, the socially despised, and being faithful stewards of creation and our fellow creatures.

On the question of public life, the manifesto recognizes that the political categories of left and right simply don't fit religion, and it is a big mistake to try to fit religion into them. The people I meet across the country are yearning for a moral center to our public life and political discourse, with a fundamental emphasis on the common good. They want to understand better the moral choices and challenges that lie beneath our political debates. More and more people want to see a common-good politics replace the politics of individual gain and special interests.

The manifesto affirms that:

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.

I very much affirm the views expressed in the manifesto and was happy to accept an invitation to be one of the charter signatories. Click here to read the statement, a helpful study guide, and to see who the charter signatories are.

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"Arise, then, women of this day!" goes the Mother's Day proclamation. But this is not your wake-up call to french toast and flowers. Instead, this phrase was the rallying cry for the first "Mother's Day of Peace" back in 1870—back before the day became laden with Hallmark and guilt. Julia Ward Howe, the creator of Mother's Day, pleaded with women to speak out against war, not only for the sake of their sons, but for the sons of mothers across the globe. Today, mothers must not only seek peace for their sons, but for themselves.

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