U.S. evangelicals call for step back from politics

DALLAS – A group of U.S. evangelical leaders called on Wednesday for a pullback from party politics so that followers would not become “useful idiots” exploited for partisan gain.

One in four U.S. adults count themselves as evangelical Protestants, giving them serious clout in a country where religion and politics often mix. Conservative evangelicals have become a key support base for the Republican Party.

But the movement has had growing pains and the statement issued on Wednesday, called an “Evangelical Manifesto,” is the latest sign of emerging fractures as some activists seek to broaden its agenda beyond hot-button social issues such as opposition to abortion and gay rights.

“Christians from both sides of the political spectrum, left as well as right, have made the mistake of politicizing faith,” the manifesto declares.

“That way faith loses its independence, the church becomes ‘the regime at prayer,’ Christians become ‘useful idiots’ for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology in its purest form,” it said.

The manifesto was signed by leading and mostly centrist evangelicals such as Leith Anderson, president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals; Mark Bailey, president of the Dallas Theological Seminary; and evangelical academic and author David Gushee.

Many of the more than 70 signatories have been critical in the past of evangelical partisan involvement which was seen as the crucial element behind U.S. President George W. Bush’s re-election victory in 2004.

Leading figures on the conservative “Religious Right” such as Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, did not sign the document and his office said he had not been asked to sign it.