Christian Organizations Call Evangelicals Back to “Civic Responsibility”

Today the National Association of Evangelicals and World Relief released a statement on the Washington Post titled “A Call to Civic Responsibility: For the Health of the Nation.”

The opening paragraph states:

“As evangelical Christians, we are called by Jesus to love God and to love our neighbor. …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 rest of the Statement is divided into three brief sections: Repent, Renew, and Resolve.

Under “Repent,” the statement acknowledges that the evangelical church(es) have often failed historically to oppose unjust systems that have harmed vulnerable groups, including people of color, women, children, the unborn, immigrants, refugees and the poor. The statement continues, “We have not always treated those who hold different opinions — both inside and outside of our faith — with dignity. We have not always displayed the beauty of the gospel of Jesus or the joyful relationship with him through faith.”

In the following section, the signatories “Renew” their commitment “to follow the way of Jesus [by] seeking the flourishing of our communities through just and merciful laws and leadership.” They delineate eight areas of human flourishing:

  • Protecting religious freedom and liberty of conscience
  • Safeguarding the nature and sanctity of human life
  • Strengthening marriages, families and children
  • Seeking justice and compassion for the poor and vulnerable
  • Preserving human rights 
  • Pursuing racial justice and reconciliation
  • Promoting just peace and restraining violence
  • Caring for God’s creation  

Finally, the signatories Resolve to:

  • Seek racial justice and reconciliation, asking for or extending forgiveness on an individual, local and national level;
  • Uphold a comprehensive pro-life ethic that protects both the unborn and the vulnerable of all ages, enriching life through equal opportunity and justice so that all women and men may flourish;
  • Resist being co-opted by a political agenda and instead pursue the breadth of commitments that Jesus displayed and Scriptures teach;
  • Embody God’s love for all, treating people with dignity even when we must confront them as required by our Christian conscience and convictions; and
  • Pray for all who carry the responsibilities and burdens of leadership.

You can read the full statement in its entirety here.

Why Does This Matter?

On the one hand, the significance of such a statement is self-evident, as it relates to the church’s social witness in the broader culture and society at large. On the other hand, it’s importance in our current historical and cultural moment cannot be understated or overlooked. The NAE and World Relief were both founded in the 1940s by Harold Ockenga, who was one of the principal figures that trailblazed the modern evangelical movement in the 20th century (sometimes referred to as “neo-evangelicalism”). In reaction against the Christian fundamentalists of his day (who seemed largely unconcerned about societal ills) Ockenga and his colleagues (like Carl Henry) founded these two organizations for evangelical Christians to positively engage culture and actively promote justice and social reform.

Despite this vision, the organizations have sometimes struggled with consistency throughout their history. They remained relatively quiet during the Civil Rights era, and the NAE actively lobbied the government to restore Bob Jones University’s tax exempt status in the 70s and 80s despite some of the institution’s segregationist policies. In recent decades, however, they have reaffirmed their commitment to social justice causes. In 2013, for example, the NAE formed the Evangelical Immigration Table, a taskforce of evangelical leaders that advocate for the humane treatment of immigrants and refugees, and explores things like immigration reform while respecting the rule of law. This latest Statement shows the organizations’ desire to continue the legacy and vision of their founder(s).

And during a time that social justice and related subjects are hot topics among evangelical Christians, this Statement sends a pretty clear message: one that is non-partisan but not apolitical. Rather than being non-partisan in a way that avoids political topics, this recent Statement transcends conventional partisan categories. It is unquestionably pro-life, and yet also extends this concern to issues of racial justice and immigration. Like their evangelical forbearers, they are acutely aware that the gospel has social implications, contra the “just preach the gospel” types. I think Harold Ockenga and Carl Henry would be proud. In fact, I’d be willing to bet they are right now.

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Harold J. Ockenga, founder of NAE and World Relief

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