Monday, May 5, 2008

Evangelical Manifesto - Watching and Waiting, but not holding my breath!

Well the blogosphere is buzzing after CNN broke the story that many evangelical leaders have converged on Washington D.C. and are drafting "An Evangelical Manifesto." Then Dr. Bock's blog mentioned the event and now bloggers all over are awaiting the release of this document on Wednesday.CNN reports from the AP "Conservative Christian leaders who believe the word 'evangelical' has lost its religious meaning plan to release a starkly self-critical document saying the movement has become too political and has diminished the Gospel through its approach to the culture wars."

I anticipate this venture to be rather interesting, though my expectations are low. The only promising things that have been reported are that various individuals such as Richard Land (Southern Baptist Convention) and James Dobson (Focus on the Family) have not been invited. Contra most, I find this factor to be the best thing this project has going for it. Secondly, the one or two people who we know are involved, Richard Mouw (Pres. of Fuller Seminary) and others show promise because they are likely more representative of moderate evangelical voices as opposed to the business-as-usual conservative (often Republican) agenda.

On Darrell Bock's blog I commented,
Please tell me this manifesto isn't going to pit "evangelical" faith with anti-abortion/homosexual/immigration folks, again, is it? For the record I'm not a democrat (or a republican), but if this manifesto in any way: a) supports the war, b) calls for a support of the president, c) aligns Christians against people of any sort (alternative lifestyle, race, immigration status, etc.), and bears any signs of patriotism, nationalism, or Western-centrism, I think many people, myself included, will seriously consider whether 'evangelical' is an association that is worth having.

I remain hopeful about this statement---hopeful that 'evangelical' might be a term redeemed from the grip of fundamentalist right-wing conservatives, who hijacked it years ago when the "Christian right" (which is mostly wrong) rose to power. I'm holding my breath!"

Another gentlemen, from an apologetics website responded to me saying that:
"If being Evangelical DOESN'T pit me against anyone, then it's not a name worth having (where "pit me against" means I reject what the other stands for, not that I don't long to see the other come to have a right relationship with Christ)."
To which I responded:
Thank you for taking the time to respond. However, I think the whole attitude of being pitted against another Christian, until "they get it right" (= believe like me), undermines the very reality of following Jesus. It is predicated on modernity's quest for absolutism, certainty, and the every illusive term "truth." I am decrying exactly what you are hoping for, another creed to "set the truth (= what I believe)" over against other expressions of Christian theology.

I don't know if you realize it Keith, but the watching world does not, in general, take evangelicalism very seriously because evangelical expression has be hijacked by the so-called "Christian right." It seems the only valuable contributions evangelicalism has expended any effort towards revolve around three crux issues: abortion, homosexuality, and creation/evolution. What about matters that Jesus actually spoke about like war, violence, the poor, the immigrant (maybe especially this latter one). Evangelicalism has become a cipher for Republican policy and that must change. I think either the age of religious toleration and appreciation of different expressions of Christianity will take back the title "evangelical" or else the movement will be eclipsed. Think about it, evangelicals in the media are always portrayed as religious fundamentalists, which is rather unfortunate.

I think this really frames the issue. My vision of Jesus and what it means to follow him is to follow his way of peace, of compassion on the poor, on justice and the weightier matters of the law. What has occurred in the past 20 years is that the Christian agenda has been set by ultraconservative leaders who have morphed the fundamentals of the faith and the essence of following Jesus as being against people. However, in my view, this ideology is more driven by modernity's epistemic concerns and the penetration of Western Imperial ideology into Christian expression.

To this latter concern I would like to highlight several points. Postcolonial theory is concerned with the way in which knowledge and power are construed and wielded in the construction of the "other." Note how he mentions that those who he is against are those who do not rightly relate to Christ. By "right" it is clear he means "believe about Christ what I or my community believe about Christ." For him, 'evangelical' is a meaningful term because it delimits boundaries of "right" vs. "wrong," "in" vs. "out." So Roman Catholics are out. Pentecostals are out. My question is, "who is in?" What are the "tenets of faith" for the evangelical? And which person who calls themselves 'evangelical' gets to choose which other people that call themselves 'evangelicals' are out? It seems as though evangelical has become an organization, a power structure, whose internal coherence runs on the fuel of empire not following Jesus.

My other concern is that this Manifesto might evacuate the reality that following Jesus is a politic! That is, in combating the shift to the so-called Christian Right and "liberal left" (so the AP report through CNN), might the very essence of following Jesus be compromised? We shall see.

Articles/Blogs Referenced:
(CNN article; Bock's Blog;)


mike rucker said...

i had some hesitations and misgivings before reading the document, but was actually quite impressed and invigorated after taking in the whole of what it addressed.

they chose not to say that creationism and inerrancy were non-negotiables - i liked that. for the first, there's very little biblical justification anymore behind whatever the latest flavor of anti-natural-selection dessert is being served up; for the latter, somehow we can admit that we can't prove the existence of God, but goshdarnit we have a golden egg this unprovable God laid right here. kind of stupid when you think about it ... not that thinking is a pre-requisite course in any of these endeavors.

more than anything, i was motivated and energized by the very positive nature of the piece - that it wasn't yet another "here's everything we're against" rant but an effort to make the gospel again a message of good news. imagine that - the gospel being good news. American Christianity has lost this defining characteristic ever since it embraced the neo-con's Jesus bobble-head doll.

and, maybe i missed it, but there didn't seem to be great emphasis on evangelism in this Evangelical Manifesto. was that intentional? i didn't see a single chick tract referenced in the bibliography...

perhaps one unintended benefit of the proposal is a clear opportunity to take this EM (Evangelical Manifesto) and align it with the other EM (Emergent Manifesto) and finally have all our EM & EMs in a row without demonizing the other side.

one can only hope...

mike rucker
fairburn, georgia, usa

p.s. like you, i thought the ABSENCE of certain signatures was a plus...

Rob G. Reid said...

Thanks for your keen insight and opinion. It seems we share the same ambivalence about "evangelicalism." I am very encouraged by the attempts being made by evangelicals to divorce themselves from the neo-con movement and so-called "Christian [R]ight." This document is at least a step, I think, in the right direction for the movement.