The mainstream media has been rushing to understand evangelicalism with its megachurches, media empires and power brokers.
When they ask who we are, I have a simple answer: “An evangelical is a person who believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Bible is the Word of God and that everyone must be born again to have assurance of heaven.” We are distinct from cultural Christians whose liberalism keeps their interpretations fuzzy, but we constitute a broad-based segment of Christianity. I jokingly say that evangelicalism is a theological continuum that stretches from Benny Hinn to R.C. Sproul.
As the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), I am asked not just to define who we are, but to describe where we stand on a variety of issues, from economics to the environment—and everything in between. Evangelicals have a great interest in these subjects—we’re commissioned to care for the poor, and we are the sole stewards of the earth. Consequently, evangelicals should play an important role in the formation of public policy regarding these areas.
Our primary purpose is to advance God’s kingdom by reaching the lost and through faithfulness to our local churches and our families. Within that context, though, I have a list of priorities for how we evangelicals can influence culture. These are my most urgent issues:
1. Promoting judicial integrity and restraint. Evangelicals should insist that the Senate conform to the Constitution and remove the artificial barriers to justices being voted on by the whole Senate.
2. Protecting traditional marriage and family. If the government is going to be involved in marriage at all, we should fight to ensure that the definition of marriage remains a union between one man and one woman. Any alteration of this would open a Pandora’s box that would be devastating to future generations.
3. Affirming a culture of life. We believe in the intrinsic value and dignity of each human life. As a result, we must renew efforts to protect people of all ages, races and economic status. The value of life is being undermined all around us, and we need to tell our government institutions to protect and serve.
4. Fighting for the hearts and minds of the next generation. More than 50 percent of baby boomers in America believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that the Bible is the Word of God. Less than 4 percent of our current high school students believe the same. When they grow up, it won’t matter if we’ve won on any of the items above. We must improve our families and youth training programs. Churches should intentionally and strategically grow young, not grow old.
5. Combating poverty and improving the human condition. Caring for the needy is fundamental to the gospel and to our future. In order to care for others, we need representative government, free-market economies, and generous individuals and churches. Evangelicals need to be the world’s experts on creating wealth and helping the poor gain opportunity. And if the poor reject their opportunities, we still need to do what it takes to care for them in Christ’s name.
6. Advocating international religious freedom. The power of the state should not be used to promote religion, but to provide an atmosphere where people can freely discuss and debate religious issues with mutual respect. To advocate for our own religious views and to attempt to persuade people of other faiths is good for all. Just as freedom to debate political and social issues bring to light better solutions, so religious thinkers need to be able to discuss in the midst of contrasting views.
7. Expansion of faith-based ministries. When people are serving others, they should never be excluded from state support for their work simply because they are motivated by convictions found in their faith.
8. Construction of a Bible-based ethic regarding creation care. God created the environment and then gave us authority over it. He made us stewards of the heavens and the earth. We must care for what we have been given. We evangelicals should be at the forefront of the environmental discussion, and refuse to allow liberal groups to dominate this area of interest. This is our calling.
Remember, the kingdom of heaven is not only in heaven, but it is also here on earth. Simply put, we’re on the world stage, and we have an opportunity to help people worldwide. With these and other subjects in mind, we can make this world a better place for all.
Ted Haggard pastors New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is the author of many books and is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals.