Monday, November 5, 2012

A New Evangelical Manifesto, a book review and a confession

Manifesto: A written public declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government.

"If you've never changed your mind about something, you may be dead.."
-Richard Cizik. 

My beliefs have evolved quite a bit over the years.  Ideas or philosophies that I once accepted without question, have been seriously unpacked, deconstructed, reassembled, and expressed in whole new ways.

For instance, I was once a (wait for it..) registered Republican. Now, I suspect that my more conservative readers may have just gasped, assuming that I've now fallen off a moral and philosophical cliff and into the "left-wing abyss."   My more moderate or liberal readers, especially those who know me in person, may be equally mortified learning of my recent conservative past.   While it's true that I am no longer a Republican, neither am I a Democrat.  Both political parties feel too extreme for  me.  I'm an Independent.

Since my gradual changes over the years, I've become more open to different ways of looking at issues than I might have been in the past. 

One of the advantages of this is discovering some awesome books that really challenge my old ways of thinking and present ideas that I believe have helped me to become more compassionate in how I live out my faith.  I must say though, that I am in no way implying that those who hold to one political side or the other are not compassionate, just that this is what I have experienced in my own life

So with all of that, it's been really cool to come across great books like the one I recently had the opportunity to read and review.  It's an anthology entitled A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good, edited by David P. Gushee. 

A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common GoodDavid is one of the founding members of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good (NEP), which mission states:
".. exists to advance human well-being as an expression of our love for Jesus Christ, which is itself a grateful response to his love for us and for a good but suffering world."

I love anthologies. To hear several voices in one volume on a plethora of related topics makes my brain happy.  And this book does not disappoint.

I was only familiar with one of the authors when I began (Brian McLaren), but have now become intrigued with everyone who contributed.  Of course I have my favorites.

The topics dealt with range from alternative ways politically active evangelicals can work towards common ground solutions to less abortion(a departure from the "winner take all" attitude of many from the religious/conservative Right),to reexamining the death penalty, the world's poor, human trafficking, peacemaking, gender issues, and so much more.
Here is the chapter list:

Introduction. David P. Gushee

Section I: A New Kind of Evangelical Christianity…
1. The Church in America Today (Brian McLaren)
2. Where the Church Went Wrong (Steven Martin)
3. A Disenchanted Text: Where Evangelicals Went Wrong with The Bible (Cheryl Bridges Johns)
4. My Journey Toward the “New Evangelicalism” (Richard Cizik)
5. A Theology That “Works” (Paul Markham)
6. God’s Vision for the Church—Kingdom Discipleship (Glen Harold Stassen)
7. Kingdom Community (Steven Martin)

Section II: Leading to Holistic Love of Marginalized Neighbors, such as…
8. Those Trafficked and Commodified (Jennifer Crumpton)
9. Those Suffering Preventable Diseases (Andi Thomas Sullivan)
10. Our Muslim Neighbors (Rick Love)
11. People of All Races (Lisa Sharon Harper )
12. Women (Jennifer Crumpton)
13. Children (Laura Rector)
14. The Dying (Scott Claybrook)
15. The Global Poor (Adam Phillips)

Section III: …And Redemptive Approaches in Public Life
16: Ending the Death Penalty (Timothy W. Floyd)
17: Making Peace (Paul Alexander)
18: Abolishing Nuclear Weapons (Tyler Wigg-Stevenson)
19: Overcoming Global Warming (Jim Ball)
20: Reducing Abortion (Charlie Camosy)
21: Resisting Consumerism (Jennifer Crumpton )
22: Standing Fast Against Torture (David P. Gushee)

I mentioned that I had my favorites.  I want to highlight a couple of them. 
The first is one of the founders of the NEP, Richard Cizik.
His essay entitled My Journey Towards the "New Evangelicalism," caused me to take the longest bunny trail from reading the book than any of the others.  When I read how Richard was encouraged to resign(or fired) from his position as Vice President for Governmental Relations of the National Association of Evangelicals, that was just too intriguing for me not to investigate further.  He got into some trouble for sharing his evolving views on an NPR radio program called "Fresh Air".  It's worth it to ditch my blog for a few minutes to take a listen, trust me.  Here is the first interview from 2008 and when they had him back on in 2010.

In case you don't want to or don't have the time to check out the broadcasts at the moment, I'll give you the shorthand version.  In the first interview, Richard shared how he was working to educate fellow Christians on the impact of climate change, supported civil unions for gays and lesbians, and government funding of contraception to reduce abortions. But the icing on the cake and perhaps the most offensive to his bosses and other conservative leaders, was his admission to voting for then Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 Virginia primary.

The story of the devastating effect his forced resignation had on him and his family is heartbreaking for sure.  But out of that experience was born the NEP, an important voice in the public arena.

The other essay that caused me to happily trail off was by filmmaker Steven Martin.

In his chapter entitled, Where the Church Went Wrong, he shares the premise of the three films he made on the role of the Church during the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany.  While it's true that during the Holocaust, many people of faith rescued and hid Jews at great personal risk.( Corrie Ten Boon comes to mind) And there were even organized resistance movements involving the likes of celebrated martyrs including Sophie Scholl and Deitrich Bonhoeffer.

But what I had no idea of until I read this volume, was that much of the Christian church in Germany at the time leading up to the Nazi takeover,were complicit in the government's making scapegoats out of the Jewish community. And in many cases, actually leading the charge in using theology to "prove" that the Jews were evil and the cause for all that was wrong with their country.
One such individual was Karl Themel, a pastor from Berlin who used his skills in administration and organization to decipher church baptismal records for Nazi advantage.  Themel acquired a special office, with the church's support, and went to work.

   This guy, so convinced he was on the right side of political and spiritual power, actually used what he discovered in church records to find those baptized Christians with Jewish ancestors. Then, turned over this information to the government. Over 2,700 people went to concentration camps as a result.  Pretty evil stuff..

Not a happy-go-lucky chapter. But one of great importance. A warning of the horrors that can arise when the Church is seduced by power instead of obedience to Jesus.

Every chapter has challenging, thought-provoking points to make. But I also found this book to be encouraging. While it does point out many of the Church's mistakes, it also shows a way that Christians can be engaged in a more holistic way with society.  A way that is more loving and nuanced as opposed to simply "black" and white" thinking and what we're against.

As is often the case, the very people I might think need a book like this the most, wouldn't come near it with a ten-foot pole, citing that it's "too liberal" or lacking a true biblical perspective.   
And a few years ago, I might have felt that way as well.   But to those out there with those feelings I say give it a chance. Give these writers a chance. 

And to those who may have turned their backs on Christianity or the Church because it just seemed too bigoted or close-minded, I invite you to investigate what these followers of Jesus have to say about the issues contained here and maybe even discover some common ground.

I suspect that no matter who you are, or what "side" you claim, A New Evangelical Manifesto makes a compelling case, many of them in fact, that will have you pondering for quite a while. I know it did me.

The New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision of the Common Good - part 1, interview with David Gushee on Patheos

The New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision of the Common Good - part 2 interview with Brian McLaren on Patheos

New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
- New Evangelical Manifesto's sponsoring organization

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.