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The Buzz

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Issue: "Return of the Lion," May 17, 2008

Defining evangelical

Leaders of the "Evangelical Manifesto," headed by Christian writer and commentator Os Guinness, went public with a defining document signed by 75 Christian leaders at the National Press Club May 7.

"When scholars and writers can look at the evangelical political movement and describe them as theocrats, or, worse, as fascists, something is badly wrong," Guinness said to a small gathering of the press.

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Public-relations consultant Larry Ross; John Huffman, chairman of Christianity Today International; Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; and David Neff, editor in chief of Christianity Today, joined Guinness as representatives of a nine-member steering committee that put together the three main goals of the manifesto: to reaffirm "evangelical" as a theological position first and foremost, to reform areas in which evangelicals have made mistakes, and to reposition evangelicalism as a movement committed to issues of justice and compassion.

Max Lucado and Jim Wallis are among those who support the manifesto, signing as individuals and not as representatives of their organizations. James Dobson was not asked to sign the manifesto and Chuck Colson declined to do so.

"Our primary identity, by definition, is theological," Huffman told the press. "We are increasingly perceived as people whose primary agenda is political. That simply is not the case."

At least one member of the audience wasn't convinced. "Isn't this a reaction to the use of 'evangelical' in the political realm, especially in the election?" asked a reporter for The Washington Times. Mouw disagreed and said the signers include a fair representation of McCain, Clinton, and Obama supporters.

"This is an attempt to say that evangelicals are followers of Jesus, theologically, spiritually first and foremost," Guinness added. "The manifesto calls people to be fully engaged in politics and never completely equated with any political party or ideology."

Another question from the press: "Why would the average Joe pew sitter care about all this relabeling?" Neff said the manifesto calls for a return to a classic Christian faith, identified by transformation: "I think any Christian has a stake in what we're talking about here today."

Guinness added that it wasn't about re-labeling at all, but about reformation: "It isn't branding. Evangelicalism is badly off-base at its heart." (Read more at worldmag.com and see "The battle of ideas in America," May 3, 2008.) -Zoe Sandvig, in Washington, D.C.

Israel at 60

Israel celebrated the 60th anniversary of its creation on May 8 with fireworks, air force flyovers, street parties, and backyard barbecues, but jubilation was clouded by doubts over the government and security prospects.

As U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the region, it became clear that a key component of peace talks, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is under scrutiny over alleged business dealings and bribes. Police investigators met with Olmert for more than an hour on May 2, according to the newspaper Yedioth Ahronot. Olmert called the rumors "grave and malicious," but opposition leaders charged that the Israeli government is "drowning in corruption."

Baylor head gets faculty slap

The faculty senate at Baylor University, by a 29-0 vote (with two abstentions), rapped the knuckles of Baylor President John Lilley, who this spring denied tenure to 12 of 30 applicants, a much higher percentage than in past years. The faculty senate, unsurprisingly, wants professors to have primary decision-making power in appointments, promotions, and dismissals, but this is more than a typical battle about governance: Outsiders speculate that the tenure denials were part of the battle about Baylor's future as a Christian institution. Ten of the 12 professors denied tenure are appealing, and several have expressed concern that university research standards changed midstream without notice.

Methodist action

Delegates to the the United Methodist General Conference on April 30 rejected changes to the denomination's Social Principles that would have acknowledged that church members disagree on homosexuality. They instead adopted a minority report that retained language from the denomination's 2004 Book of Discipline describing homosexual practice as "incompatible with Christian teaching."

The adopted wording also states that "all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God," and that United Methodists are to be "welcoming, forgiving and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us."

Delegates also approved a new resolution opposing "homophobia and heterosexism," saying the church opposes "all forms of violence or discrimination based on gender, gender identity, sexual practice or sexual orientation."

Penalty restored

A seven-month nationwide suspension of death-row executions ended May 6 when Georgia conducted the first execution since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that a method of lethal injection is not unconstitutional. William E. Lynd, 53, was put to death by injection for the 1988 killing of his girlfriend, Ginger Moore. No prisoners had been executed in the United States since last September, while the court deliberated over lethal injections.

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