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Evangelicals draft political guidelines

Los Angeles Times, via the San Francisco Chronicle, USA
June 21, 2004
Larry B. Stammer, Los Angeles Times
www.sfgate.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday June 21, 2004

They warn against close party alignments

The National Association of Evangelicals is circulating a draft of a groundbreaking framework for political action that strongly endorses social and economic justice and warns against close alignment with any political party.

Steeped in biblical morality and evangelical scholarship, the framework for public engagement could change how the estimated 30 million evangelicals in the United States are viewed by liberals and conservatives alike.

It affirms a religiously based commitment to government protections for the poor, the sick and disabled, including fair wages, health care, nutrition and education. It declares that Christians have a sacred responsibility to protect the environment.

But it also hews closely to a traditional evangelical emphasis on the importance of families, opposition to same-sex marriage, and social evils such as alcohol, drugs, abortion and the use of human embryos for stem cell research. It reaffirms a commitment to religious freedom at home and abroad.

In the midst of a presidential election year, war and terrorism, the framework says that Christians in their devotion to country “must be careful to avoid the excesses of nationalism.” In domestic politics, evangelicals “must guard against over-identifying Christian social goals with a single political party, lest nonbelievers think that Christian faith is essentially political in nature.”

“This is a maturing of the evangelical public mind,” said Richard Mouw, president of the Pasadena-based Fuller Theological Seminary, which is one of the nation’s principal evangelical schools. “Instead of just assuming an automatic alliance with a specific party — and that’s been traditionally the Republicans — it says evangelicals ought to be more thoughtful.”

The draft is being privately reviewed by 100 denominational leaders, seminary presidents and others and is subject to final revisions. But officials said the draft is essentially complete in its present form and will go before the National Association of Evangelicals board for approval in October.

Evangelical liberals and conservatives, who have collaborated for three years on the document, said they expect that it will be approved. If the board approves the framework, it would be widely distributed throughout the country to churches, seminaries and para-church groups, such as the Promise Keepers. It would be viewed as an authoritative statement to guide them in their local political actions. In addition, it would become the principal criterion guiding the association’s lobbying efforts before Congress and the White House.

The evangelical association represents 52 denominations and independent churches. Evangelical Christians place great emphasis on what they call the “lordship of Jesus Christ,” on born again religious conversion and the authority of the Bible. Leaders include Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and T.D. Jakes; the association encompasses denominations such as the Assemblies of God, International Church of the Nazarene, and International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

Evangelicals have been assiduously courted by President Bush, who recognizes that they could be counted on in large numbers to vote Republican. Bush, a born-again Christian and member of the United Methodist Church, has won plaudits from both evangelicals and Roman Catholic bishops for his opposition to abortion, to expanded use of human embryos for stem cell research, and to same-sex marriages.

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