Evangelicals consider distancing from political parties

Monday, June 21, 2004

LOS ANGELES -- A national evangelical group is mulling guidelines that would warn the faithful against allying themselves too closely with any one political party, "lest nonbelievers think that Christian faith is essentially political in nature."

A draft of guidelines circulating in the National Association of Evangelicals advises believers to "be careful to avoid the excesses of nationalism" while maintaining a commitment to religious freedom at home and abroad.

The framework, obtained by the Los Angeles Times, exhorts evangelicals to oppose "social evils" such as alcohol, drugs, abortion and stem-cell research.

The proposal shows that evangelicals have become more conscious of their political impact, experts told the Times in Sunday's newspaper.

"This is a maturing of the evangelical public mind," said Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary. "Instead of just assuming an automatic alliance with a specific party -- and that's traditionally the Republicans -- it says evangelicals ought to be more thoughtful."

Evangelical Christians have been assiduously courted by President Bush, who has recognized they could be counted on in large numbers to vote Republican.

Bush, himself a born-again Christian and member of the United Methodist Church, has been praised by evangelicals and Roman Catholic bishops for opposing abortion, expanded use of human embryos for stem-cell research and gay marriages.

Those drafting the guidelines said evangelicals must step back from politics and rethink their approach -- a feeling reflected in the new document.

"We're up to our necks in politics," said Ron Sider, co-chairman of the committee developing the framework.

The draft must be reviewed by religious leaders before going to the association's board for a vote in October. If approved, it would be distributed nationally to churches, seminaries and affiliated church groups, such as the Promise Keepers.

The framework also would become the main criteria guiding the association's lobbying efforts before Congress and the White House.

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