America's 50 million evangelicals have received a call "to shape public policy" and expand the role of religion in public life, according to a document produced by the National Association of Evangelicals.
Still in draft form, the 12-page document, "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility," says evangelical Christians have a duty to affect society "because Jesus is Lord over every area of life."
Written by Christianity Today magazine editor David Neff, the document chides evangelicals for inactivity, stating that only half of them voted in the 2000 election.
Evangelical Christians, who emphasize personal conversion, faith in Jesus and public preaching, make up about one-quarter of the electorate.
The report says that evangelicals are ambivalent about civic engagement because of "Christianized versions of interest-group politics" that have "produced access without influence" and discouraged many Christians from getting involved.
An earlier version of the document reported in the Sunday editions of the Los Angeles Times said "evangelicals must guard against overidentifying Christian social goals with a single political party."
That sentence produced enough inquiries to the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) that its drafters revised it during a conference call yesterday to instead read evangelicals "must be careful not to equate Christian faith with partisan politics."
"We say we are at a historic moment where we dare not disengage from public life," said Richard Cizik, NAE's vice president of governmental affairs.
Evangelical Christians have disparate viewpoints on issues like war and the environment, but fairly similar doctrines on abortion, euthanasia and the need to spread their faith through personal proselytizing.
President Bush counts himself as one of them. His re-election campaign has heavily courted this group, hiring Ralph Reed, an evangelical strategist known for his work with the Christian Coalition, as its Southeast regional chairman.
However, evangelical Christians are not always dependable when it comes to voter turnout.
Four million stay-at-home evangelicals almost cost Mr. Bush the 2000 election, Bush political adviser Karl Rove told an American Enterprise Institute seminar in 2001. The Bush campaign expected 19 million to turn out, he said, but only 15 million did.
The stay-at-home factor is what motivated a core group at the 2001 NAE convention in Dallas to draft a document urging Christians to get more involved in politics, Mr. Cizik said. About a dozen evangelical scholars contributed material.
"It's a good document, and it's strong," said Diane Knippers, director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and co-chairman of the drafting committee. "It clearly identifies areas with a broad evangelical consensus -- marriage being between a man and a woman, abortion and human cloning -- but also treats fairly places where there are disagreements, such people who are pacifists versus those who hold 'just war' positions."