The Manifesto and the Media

By Jim Wallis 5-15-2008

Last week, I wrote about the new Evangelical Manifesto, of which I was a signatory. It's been interesting to see the news coverage that followed its release.

On the one hand, CNN implied that the statement was pro-Democratic:

For Democrats, the timing is good. The party has been pushing to overcome the "faith gap," that many feel has hurt them with church-going voters. ... Evangelicals are now leading public support for many issues dear to Democrats: global campaigns against AIDS, hunger and poverty.

And on the other, a number of stories spun it as a repudiation of politics, at least in their headlines. Most of the stories, written by religion writers, were quite good, but their content was not reflected by the headline writers. The Los Angeles Times wrote, "Group of evangelical Christians writes manifesto urging separation of religious beliefs and politics," The Tennessean (Nashville) had "Evangelicals call for movement to shun politics," and an Associated Press story ran "Evangelical leaders say their faith is too politicized."

The Manifesto itself, while arguing that "evangelical" must be defined first and foremost as a theological term, not a political one, went on to say:

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. ...

Called to an allegiance higher than party, ideology, and nationality, we Evangelicals see it as 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,

It's a point I have made many times: "God is not a Republican or a Democrat," and that is a good thing. There should be no religious litmus tests for politics - committed Christians will, and should be, on both sides of the political aisle. Indeed, people of faith should never be in any party's or candidate's political pocket and should, ideally, be the ultimate swing vote because of their moral independence from partisan politics.

But the media just can't help themselves and always want to squeeze everything into their old framework of left and right, Democrat and Republican. But "left" and "right" are not religious categories, and people of faith should define their political involvement in moral terms, not partisan predictability, and that's exactly what the Manifesto said. Even the media coverage of the Manifesto shows how much the statement is needed.

Let me make a prediction. In the future, we will see new alliances and campaigns led by people of faith on a wide range of moral issues - such as poverty, the environment, pandemic diseases, torture, and human rights, and a much wider and deeper focus on the dignity and sanctity of life, including war and peace and even the death penalty along with unborn children - that will involve people of faith across the political spectrum and will shake up politics. The social movements that really change politics are precisely that - public engagement defined by religious and moral commitment that defies normal political categories. Eventually, even the media will finally get it. Stay tuned.

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