May 2005 – Almost 90 evangelical leaders have given their approval to a document that calls conservative Christians to go beyond their usual issues, like abortion and homosexual rights, and involve themselves in such matters as poverty, justice and human rights.
Titled For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility, the tome was crafted under the auspices of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). The project was commissioned by the NAE at its 2001 convention, and nearly two dozen leading scholars drafted the document.
The document could carry substantial weight in the evangelical community. The NAE says it represents 30 million people in 45,000 churches and 52 denominations in the U.S.
Giving their assent were evangelical leaders such as Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; James Dobson of Focus on the Family; Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship; Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy; and author Ravi Zacharias. AFA is examining the document, but Chairman Don Wildmon said the ministry was already in agreement with the general sentiments of For the Health of the Nation.
“Evangelical Christians in America face a historic opportunity. We make up fully one quarter of all voters in the most powerful nation in history,” the document states. “Never before has God given American evangelicals such an awesome opportunity to shape public policy in ways that could contribute to the well-being of the entire world. Disengagement is not an option.”
While the statement admits that “American evangelicals continue to be ambivalent about civic engagement,” it establishes a framework for understanding Christians’ responsibility for the culture around them.
For the Health of the Nation lays out seven principles it says should guide Christian political engagement. The principles below are followed by excerpts only, and supporting Biblical references have been deleted due to space considerations. The full text is available at www.nae.net.
(1) We work to protect religious freedom and liberty of conscience. “God has ordained the two co-existing institutions of church and state as distinct and independent of each other with each having its own areas of responsibility …. Participating in the public square does not require people to put aside their beliefs or suspend the practice of their religion….”
(2) We work to nurture family life and protect children. “[T]he family is central to God’s vision for human society …. The mutuality and service of family life contrast strongly with the hypermodern emphasis on individual freedom and rights. … Government does not have the primary responsibility for guaranteeing wholesome family life. That is the job of families themselves and of other institutions, especially churches. … [G]overnments should promote laws and policies that strengthen the well-being of families. … [Issues such as] alcohol, drug, gambling, or credit-card abuse; pornography, sexual libertinism, spousal or child sexual abuse, easy divorce, abortion on demand … seriously impair the ability of family members to function in society. … Similarly, employment, labor, housing, health care, and educational policies concern not only individuals but seriously affect families.… Good family life is so important to healthy human functioning that we oppose government efforts to trespass on its territory….”
(3) We work to protect the sanctity of human life and to safeguard its nature. “Because God created human beings in His image, all people share in the divine dignity. And because the Bible reveals God’s calling and care of persons before they are born, the preborn share in this dignity …. We believe that abortion, euthanasia, and unethical human experimentation violate the God-given dignity of human beings. … Human dignity is indivisible. A threat to the aged, to the very young, to the unborn, to those with disabilities, or to those with genetic diseases is a threat to all.”
(4) We seek justice and compassion for the poor and vulnerable. “Jesus summed up God’s law by commanding us to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves …. By deed and parable, he taught us that anyone in need is our neighbor …. God measures societies by how they treat the people at the bottom.… God’s prophets call his people to create just and righteous societies …. Restoring people to wholeness means that governmental social welfare must aim to provide opportunity and restore people to self-sufficiency.… We further believe that care for the vulnerable should extend beyond our national borders.”
(5) We work to protect human rights. “Because God created human beings in his image, we are endowed with rights and responsibilities. … While it is not the primary role of government to provide everything that humans need for their well-being, governments are obligated to ensure that people are not unjustly deprived of them …. Governments should be constitutionally obligated to protect basic human rights.… [W]e believe that religious liberty, including the right to change one’s religion, is a foundational right that must be respected by governments…. We also oppose the expansion of ‘rights talk’ to encompass so-called rights such as ‘same-sex marriage’ or ‘the right to die.’… Our churches have a special responsibility to model good race relations….”
(6) We seek peace and work to restrain violence. “The peaceful settling of disputes is a gift of common grace. We urge governments to pursue thoroughly nonviolent paths to peace before resorting to military force.”
(7) We labor to protect God’s creation. “As we embrace our responsibility to care for God’s earth, we reaffirm the important truth that we worship only the Creator and not the creation.… We affirm that God-given dominion is a sacred responsibility to steward the earth and not a license to abuse the creation of which we are a part.”