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Evangelical leaders call for broader approach to public policy; Land, Dobson lend support

WASHINGTON (BP)–A leading evangelical association has issued -– with the endorsement of such Christian leaders as Richard Land, James Dobson, Chuck Colson and Rick Warren –- a call for a broader approach to public policy issues than evangelicals have been known for in the past.

The National Association of Evangelicals recently held a discussion on Capitol Hill of a document that promises policy efforts related not only to such issues as abortion, marriage and religious liberty but poverty, human rights, peace and the environment. While it says evangelicals “have failed to engage with the breadth, depth and consistency to which we are called,” the statement lists seven guidelines for political engagement by Christians:

— To guard religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

— To promote family life and defend children.

— To uphold the sanctity of human life.

— To gain justice and compassion for the “poor and vulnerable.”

— To safeguard human rights.

— To work for peace and the restraint of violence.

— To protect creation.

Nearly 90 evangelical leaders signed on to the document, including Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship; and Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California and author of “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

Other signers included Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy; NAE President Ted Haggard; Jack Hayford, president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel; Walter Kaiser, president of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary; Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; John Perkins, founder of Voice of Calvary Ministries; Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action; and author and apologist Ravi Zacharias.

The NAE represents 30 million people in 45,000 churches and has 51 member denominations.

The statement, “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility,” addresses not only issues and goals but the method of influencing public policy. While it does not endorse specific legislation, the document calls for Christians to work for the transformation of “both individuals and institutions.” It also says evangelicals should act with humility, civility and integrity in the process.

“While we may frequently settle for ‘half-a-loaf,’ we must never compromise principle by engaging in unethical behavior or endorsing or fostering sin,” the statement says. “As we rightly engage in supporting legislation, candidates and political parties, we must be clear that biblical faith is vastly larger and richer than every limited, inevitably imperfect political agenda and that commitment to the Lordship of Christ and his one body far transcends all political commitments.”

In addition to opposing abortion, euthanasia and same-sex “marriage,” the document urges care for the poor, the disabled, the persecuted, the elderly, minorities and refugees both in the United States and overseas. It calls for churches to “model good race relations.”

The statement encourages governments to use their militaries only under “just-war” criteria and after pursuing peace nonviolently. “Just-war” theory is a classical Christian approach to the use of force that requires certain standards, such as a just cause and its utilization as a last resort.

Land, who did not attend the Washington event, commended the document for speaking “eloquently and succinctly of our call to engage the public policy debates.”

Though Land signed the document as released, he expressed hope that some revisions he recommended would be made. Those suggestions had received what he characterized as a “very favorable” response from NAE.

Among those proposals, he recommended a sentence on evangelicals’ “normative vision” be changed to make it clear that the understanding of the “moral order that God has embedded in his creation” must be biblically informed. In the section on religious liberty, Land recommended a sentence that includes the phrase “gospel pluralism,” which describes the fact “those who obey and those who disobey God coexist in society and share in its blessings,” be revised to eliminate the phrase to say: “This coexistence is foundational to the religious liberty of all.”

Land also proposed the removal of the phrase “in opportunity and outcome” from this sentence: “Though the Bible does not call for economic equality, it condemns gross disparities in opportunity and outcome that cause suffering and perpetuate poverty, and it calls for us to work toward equality of opportunity.” He said the Bible “condemns oppression of the poor by the rich” but it doesn’t appear to be clear about “opportunity and outcome.”

At the March 10 discussion on the statement, some concern was expressed that the NAE not lose its way while calling for engagement on a wider array of issues. During the discussion time, Focus on the Family Vice President Tom Minnery urged the association not to “make this about global warming.” He said the evangelical movement has strong agreement on issues like the sanctity of life and the family but was not united on global warming, which he described later in a written statement as a “very controversial area.”

Though the document does not mention global warming, The New York Times reported the same day as the discussion that NAE leaders are supporting policies to combat it, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D.-Ct., spoke on the issue during his address to the group of evangelicals. Lieberman is co-sponsoring a bill on global warming that he described as a “moderate effort.”

At the event, Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., encouraged evangelicals to continue their work in the needy places of the world. He also urged them not to become “shrill” or “hateful.”

Church historian Mark Noll called the NAE statement “compassionate … thoughtful, humble.” Joe Loconte, a fellow in Religion and a Free Society at the Heritage Foundation, said the document provided evidence that evangelicals “are thinking soberly.”

The statement may be accessed online at www.nae.net.