Christian Clerics Circulate 'Evangelical Manifesto' Urging Faithful to Avoid Single issue Politics

Prominent evangelicals urged Christian conservatives Wednesday to support "an expansion of our concerns beyond single-issue politics," angering some leaders on the religious right who have been closely allied with the Republican Party.

In a 19-page document called "An Evangelical Manifesto," more than 70 theologians, pastors and others said faith and politics have been too closely mixed. They warned against Christians adopting any one political view.

"That way faith loses its independence, Christians become 'useful idiots' for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology," they wrote.

Many veteran Christian activists on the right side of the political spectrum do not support the declaration.

James Dobson, founder of the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, reviewed the document and was invited to sign it, but did not, said Gary Schneeberger, a spokesman for Dobson. Dobson consulted the group's board of directors — a common practice — and the board agreed he shouldn't sign "due to myriad concerns about the effort," Schneeberger said.

"One of the things that disappointed Dr. Dobson was that when the manifesto was initially circulated, no African-American pastors or theologians were on the invite list," Schneeberger said. "His thinking was, 'How can this purport to represent the voice of evangelicals when people so vital to who we are as a movement are excluded from involvement?"'

He would not discuss any other of Dobson's concerns.

The Rev. John Huffman, pastor of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, a megachurch in Pasadena, Calif., acknowledged the effort lacks participation from African-Americans and women. But he said the initial signers are merely a beginning and "anyone can sign on if this resonates with them."

Richard Land, head of the public policy arm of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant group in the country, said he was not asked to sign the document. The Southern Baptists routinely receive video greetings from President Bush at their annual meetings.

Janice Shaw Crouse, director of the Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute, said the manifesto was "blurring the distinctions between liberal and conservative" and would confuse Christian voters about the issues that are most important: opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

Jerry Newcombe, a senior producer of the conservative Christian TV show "The Coral Ridge Hour," said the manifesto creates a "straw man" by portraying some evangelicals as intolerant and seeking to create a theocracy.

"Part of the whole point they were making was that we need to be more civil in our dialogue. I agree. But I guess the question is who is being uncivil here?" Newcombe said. He said atheists "really want to shut down voices on the other side."

Conservative Christians comprise about one-third of GOP members, but polls have found that younger evangelicals are less tied to the party than their parents and are seeking a broader agenda, that includes fighting poverty, racism and global warming.

Separate polls have found that many non-Christians have negative views of today's Christians, saying they are too judgmental and political.

"Our problem is not mislabeling by the press or rebranding because we have a bad image," said Os Guiness, an evangelical scholar and a drafter of the document, which was released in Washington. "The problem is reality. Much of evangelicalism is not evangelical."

Among the drafters and preliminary supporters of the manifesto are Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in California; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners Magazine; and Frank Wright, president of the National Religious Broadcasters.

The manifesto has been in development for a few years and organizers insisted they did not time the release for the presidential election. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, has been struggling to win over evangelicals.

John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, said the document held a message for both major parties.
"Republicans need to realize that evangelicals care about a lot of things," Green said, "The message to Democrats is similar: Don't ignore us. If you pursue the right issues and have the right platform, there are many evangelicals who will consider voting for you."

The document says liberals share the blame for mingling politics and religion, but most sharply condemns evangelicals, saying many of their problems "are those of our own making."

The declaration seeks "an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics, such as abortion and marriage." It also condemns anti-intellectualism among fundamentalists and the "pose as victims" that many U.S. evangelicals adopt.

Evangelicals need a new tone in expressing their views, the document says. The culture war has become a "holy war" with a "dangerous incubation of conflicts, hatreds and lawsuits."