The Common Good

An Evangelical Manifesto

Sojomail - May 8, 2008


QUOTE OF THE WEEK

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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HEARTS & MINDS BY JIM WALLIS


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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This Mother's Day, Forget the French Toast (by Nicole Sotelo)

"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.


In Praise of the Dishonest Manager (by Elizabeth Palmberg)

One of Jesus' most in-your-face stories, and a personal favorite of mine, is the Parable of the Dishonest Manager in Luke 16. I would loosely paraphrase its central insight as follows: "If you have the sense God gave a dog, you will realize that you can't hold onto money very long anyway, but you can keep the friends you make by giving it to those in need. You do the math." The passage doesn't say anything about burning sulfur, just about priorities and how to take the long view.


Which Jesus? The Horror (and Hope) of Religion and Politics (by Becky Garrison)

Earlier last month, I was able to attend a press screening for the James Carroll documentary Constantine's Sword. In this film, Carroll takes the audience on a visceral and visual tour, noting those points in history -- starting with the reign of Constantine -- where Christianity melded with the political empire. Lest anyone think such actions are a thing of the past, several documentaries I just saw at the Tribeca Film Festival serve as visceral reminders of the ensuing carnage that still happens when the church becomes too closely aligned with the state. I sat through Milosevic on Trial, transfixed as the trial and excerpts from the graphic video and photographs that were introduced as evidence unfolded before my eyes. One montage I cannot get out of my mind involved snippets from a ceremony in which an Orthodox priest blesses the Scorpions, followed by a brutal sequence of atrocities committed by this Serbian paramilitary group.


Democracy Deferred in Zimbabwe (by Nontando Hadebe)

It appears that no candidate has won and that a rerun is inevitable. There are widespread concerns about the integrity of the election process. Although the opposition has reservations about the results, they have been placed in a difficult position. If they boycott the rerun, then the government will be declared winners. However, the ongoing post-election violence against opposition members has created a situation in which it is impossible for there to be free and fair elections.


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