THE NEW NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF EVANGELICALS
WASHINGTON -- A new National
Association of Evangelicals gathered here this week. Its new
president, Free Methodist Bishop Kevin Mannoia, 44, has already moved NAE's
headquarters from Wheaton, IL, where it was founded in 1941, to the Los
''We are committed to the mission
of engaging and transforming our culture,'' says Mannoia. ''If there is a
place that signals what America will become it is the Los Angeles area. It
has within its context, the issues of urbanization, globalization,
multi-ethnicity. We want to establish an advocacy presence in Hollywood as
we have one in Washington. We are bringing the voice of 30 million people to
the table. We can have a powerful effect on shaping the culture.''
The several hundred attendees at
the NAE included a wider range of ages than in past years because Mannoia
challenged its 51 different denominational heads to bring young leaders.
Participants were also much more
multiethnic. AMEN (Alianza de Ministerios Evangelicos Nacionales), an
alliance of Hispanic leaders from thousands of churches, held its own summit
with the NAE, thanks in part to John Mendez, a new NAE vice president.
For the first time, NAE's chairman
is an African-American, Ed Foggs, whose term as General Secretary of the
Church of God (Anderson, Ind.), just ended.
In his latest book, ''Surveying the
Religious Landscape,'' George Gallup, Jr. (and D. Michael Lindsay), reports
''Nearly four in ten adults (39 percent) claim to be evangelical
believers.'' By Gallup's definition, a born-again or evangelical Christian
''believes the Bible is the actual Word of God, has experienced personal
conversion, and seeks to lead non-Christians to conversion.''
While evangelicals are America's
largest Christian group, only 30 million Americans are in the 45,000
churches affiliated with the NAE. That is likely to change. Charismatics are
now welcome and the newest group to affiliate is the rapidly growing
Vineyard Christian Fellowships.
The NAE also removed a restrictive
rule that prohibited a denomination from having a ''dual membership'' with
another umbrella group, such as its liberal foe, the National Council of
Churches. The Reformed Church in America, an NCC affiliate, has petitioned
the NAE for membership. All of the African American denominations in the NCC
are similarly evangelical.
So is the Southern Baptist
Convention, the largest Protestant church in the nation.
However, Mannoia insists that the
reason to drop the dual membership rule was not to increase the size of
NAE's membership. ''It is a statement that the NAE is mature enough to have
the confidence in the center to take down the demarcating lines. While our
heritage has served us well, where there is vibrant health, we don't need to
be afraid of who is in our circle.''
Politically, most evangelicals are
conservative. Yet in this primary season, their political interests have
been poorly understood by both George W. Bush and John McCain.
Rich Cizik, NAE Vice President for
Governmental Affairs, could not understand why Bush would even visit the
fundamentalist Bob Jones University ''and damage himself'' with evangelicals
who are allied with Catholics on many moral issues and believe deeply in
racial reconciliation. Similarly, McCain's charges that Pat Robertson and
Jerry Falwell are ''evil'' was self-destructive, a signal to many
evangelicals that he could not be trusted.
A survey of 425 NAE national
leaders turned up some surprises. Less than a tenth had become as
disillusioned as Cal Thomas with the political process to believe that
evangelicals should ''withdraw from politics'' for soul-winning. Nearly half
felt evangelicals should stay focused on politics, while two-fifths believe
they should engage in politics and faith matters.
When asked if evangelicals should
aim to change individual hearts or social institutions, the former option
was preferred to the latter (30 percent to 6), but two-thirds argued for
While many believe the largely
white NAE leadership is 99 percent Republican, a third identify themselves
as Democrats or Independents. More than nine out of ten NAE leaders believe
abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest or the life of
the mother, but they are evenly divided on a constitutional amendment for
school prayer and two-thirds do not believe immigration is a problem.
To improve society, Mannoia
believes conservative Protestantism need to ''get its hands dirty,'' rather
than decrying moral evils or ''circling our wagons into a nice holy
huddle.'' He says ''The kingdom of God is not to overpower, push aside, or
agitate, but we are to be the salt and light. We must become serious about
Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.