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Evangelicals Wary of Partisan Politics

"Politics for politics' sake" will result in "narrower participation in denominational life, a shallower pool of wisdom and giftedness in our enterprises and a shrinking impact upon the world"
( [email protected] ) Jun 21, 2004 08:29 PM EDT

In lieu of the rising tide of ‘automatic republicanism” within evangelical Christian bodies, the leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals – the network 30 million protestant Christians in 52 conservative denominations – drafted a guideline that advises members to vote by faith rather than favor.

According to the Los Angeles Times, which obtained a copy of the draft on June 20, 2004, the guidelines advise believers to "be careful to avoid the excesses of nationalism.”

On the flipside, the guidelines urge evangelicals to be involved in the political process by voicing their opposition to social evils, such as drugs, alcohol, abortion and stem cell research.

"When social structures result in such gross disparities and suffering, the Bible writers envision structural solutions, such as periodic land redistribution so that everyone can have access to productive resources and be dignified members of their community," the draft, mailed to about 100 leaders, states.

Ron Sider, co-chairman of the committee developing the framework and president and founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, told the LA times, "We're up to our necks in politics."

"What we haven't done is a very good job of thinking through a sophisticated, integrated, comprehensive framework that is grounded in biblical values but takes in the complexity of the world," Sider is sited as saying.

According to Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, such guidelines reflect the “maturing of the evangelical public mind.”

"Instead of just assuming an automatic alliance with a specific party - and that's traditionally the Republicans - it says evangelicals ought to be more thoughtful,” Mouw said.

Such a “maturing” of the mind has been witnessed in several other large evangelical groups as well. The Southern Baptist Convention – the largest protestant denomination in the U.S. with 16 million members and among the most evangelical of all church groups – passed a proposal that urged its member to “vote in accordance with biblical values” rather than political alignment, during the Convention’s annual meeting last week.

The SBC Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman also iterated this call for “prayerful politics” rather than “partisan politics” during a recent conference at Union University.

“One of the challenges we now face, in my opinion, is how to move beyond aggressive partisan politics to a model of denominational decision-making that is more normative for Southern Baptists and more beneficial,” said Chapman.

“Some Southern Baptists want to make every decision -- even those not affecting doctrine and practice -- based on loyalty to friends, parties or agendas." He predicted that "politics for politics' sake" will result in "narrower participation in denominational life, a shallower pool of wisdom and giftedness in our enterprises and a shrinking impact upon the world."

The NAE draft also states a similar calling for civic engagement.

"Jesus calls us as his followers to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our goal in civic engagement is to bless our neighbors by making good laws. Because we have been called to do justice to our neighbors, we foster a free press, participate in open debate, vote, and hold public office. When Christians do justice, it speaks loudly about God," the draft states.

"We call on all Christians to vote and to communicate biblical values to their government representatives," it continues. "We urge Christians to take their civic responsibility seriously even when they are not fulltime political activists so that they might more adequately call those in government to their task, and we encourage our children to consider vocations in public service."

Meanwhile, the draft also states that Christians should be wary of aligning themselves too closely with any one political party “lest non-believers think that Christian faith is essentially political in nature.” Group leaders will review the guidelines before taking the draft to the association’s board for a vote in October. If approved, it will be distributed to the thousands of churches in the Association's fifty-two member denominations.

To see the list of members, visit the NAE website at: http://www.nae.net/index.cfm?FUSEACTION=nae.members