Conservative Christian leaders who believe the word "evangelical" has lost its religious meaning plan to release a starkly self-critical document saying the movement has become too political and has diminished the Gospel through its approach to the culture wars.
The statement, called "An Evangelical Manifesto," condemns Christians on the right and left for "using faith" to express political views without regard to the truth of the Bible, according to a draft of the document obtained Friday by The Associated Press.
"That way faith loses its independence, Christians become `useful idiots' for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology," according to the draft.
The declaration, scheduled to be released Wednesday in Washington, encourages Christians to be politically engaged and uphold teachings such as traditional marriage. But the drafters say evangelicals have often expressed "truth without love," helping create a backlash against religion during a "generation of culture warring."
"All too often we have attacked the evils and injustices of others," they wrote, "while we have condoned our own sins." They argue, "we must reform our own behavior."
The document is the latest chapter in the debate among conservative Christians about their role in public life. Most veteran leaders believe the focus should remain on abortion and marriage, while other evangelicals - especially in the younger generation - are pushing for a broader agenda. The manifesto sides with those seeking a wide-range of concerns beyond "single-issue politics."
Among the signers of the manifesto are Os Guiness, a well-known evangelical author and speaker, and Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a leading evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif. Organizers declined to comment until the final document is released.
They say more than 80 evangelicals have signed the statement, although only a few names have been released. A. Larry Ross, spokesman for the authors, said the theologicans and Christian leaders involved are seeking to "go back to the root theological meaning of the term evangelical."
Some champions of traditional culture war issues are not among the supporters.
Richard Land, head of the public policy arm for the Southern Baptist Convention, said through a spokeswoman that he has not seen the document and was not asked to sign it.
James Dobson, the influential founder of Focus on the Family, a Christian group in Colorado Springs, Colo., did not sign the document, said Gary Schneeberger, a Dobson spokesman. Schneeberger would not say whether Dobson had read the manifesto or had been asked to sign on.
Phil Burress, an Ohio activist who networks with national evangelical leaders, said that if high-profile evangelical leaders such as Dobson and Land don't support the document, "it's like throwing a pebble in the ocean" and will carry no weight.
But the drafters hope they can start a movement among evangelicals to reflect and act on the document. "We must find a new understanding of our place in public life," the drafters wrote.