(RNS) — Weeks before Election Day, leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals have reaffirmed their call for Christian engagement in the public square, signing a statement about issues on which they agree.
Dozens of leaders highlighted their reaffirmation of a 2004 NAE public policy guide called “For the Health of the Nation” in a full-page ad in the print edition of The Washington Post on Tuesday (Oct. 6).
“As evangelical Christians, we are called by Jesus to love God and to love our neighbor. As citizens who follow this call, we must engage with humility, civility, intellectual rigor and honesty in the complex and contentious social issues that face our nation,” the ad reads. “We invite all followers of Jesus — whether Democrats, Republicans or Independents — to join us in seeking the health of the nation for the good of all people.”
The president of the NAE, the Rev. Walter Kim, said the statement’s goal “is not political in nature” but rather has been and should be used by evangelicals of a variety of political and denominational affiliations to address eight issues, including protecting religious freedom, safeguarding the sanctity of human life, pursuing racial justice and seeking compassion for the poor.
“Today evangelical faith is often being narrowly defined and easily misunderstood and we believe this has long-term ramifications for our public witness in society and effectiveness,” said Kim in a conference call for the media on Tuesday. “So leaders of the church, we need to remind our communities of the biblical values that unite us.”
Speakers on the call voiced concern about the credibility of evangelicals as they engage current issues.
“This is all the more critical, it seems to us, at this time period when there are evangelical Christians, like many young people, people of color, who are wondering is there still a place within the evangelical community, and we would wish to resoundingly say yes,” Kim said.
Rather than having evangelicals “get dragged into a purely partisan political” effort, Bishop Timothy Clarke, senior pastor of First Church of God in Columbus, Ohio, said the collaboration seeks “to take the high road to establish a place of moral authority and speak out of compassion and conviction to the pressing issues of this day.”
In addition to recommitting to principles of engagement, officials of different evangelical organizations said they also repent for failures to love all who should be considered their neighbors.
“Despite the example of Jesus and the teaching of Scripture, many of us have not adequately opposed the unjust systems that fail people of color, women, children and the unborn,” said Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, the relief and development arm of NAE. “We have not always fulfilled God’s command to protect the immigrant, the refugee and the poor, and we have not always treated those who hold different opinions — both inside and outside of the faith — with dignity.”
The Rev. Jeanette Salguero, co-founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, added that it is important for evangelicals to participate in but not be co-opted by public spaces in which they find themselves.
“Evangelicals have too often unquestionably allowed the marriage of political agendas with their understanding of faith,” she said. “And this is too narrow of a conception of the gospel Jesus has called us to follow. We are not called to love only those who look like us.”
Signatories on the ad included officials representing a racially and denominationally diverse spectrum of evangelicalism such as the Rev. A.R. Bernard, pastor of New York’s Christian Cultural Center; Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities; Tom Lin, president of InterVarsity; and Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.