Progressive Evangelicals Revive the 1973 Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern

YMCA Wabash

The Wabash Avenue YMCA, Chicago

In 1973, a group of evangelical leaders gathered at the YMCA on Wabash Avenue in Chicago to affirm the Christian call to racial justice, care for the poor, peace, and equality for women.  The result of this meeting was The Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern.  The signers included Samuel Escobar, Frank Gaebelein, Vernon Grounds, Nancy Hardesty, Carl F.H. Henry, Paul B. Henry, Rufus Jones, C.T. McIntire, David Moberg, Richard Mouw, William Pannell, John Perkins, Richard Pierard, Bernard Ramm, Ronadl Sider, Sharon Gallagher, Lewis Smedes, Jim Wallis, and John Howard Yoder.

Historian David Swartz begins his excellent book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism with a discussion of this meeting.  I encourage you to read his extensive coverage of this important moment in the history of progressive evangelicalism.  I also highly recommend Brantley Gasaway’s Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice.

Forty-five years after this Chicago YMCA meeting, progressive evangelicals have reaffirmed the Declaration.  Here is a taste of “The Chicago Invitation: Diverse Evangelicals Continue the Journey”:

As diverse evangelicals, our faith moves us to confess and lament that we have often fallen short of the biblical values and commitments proclaimed in the gospel and affirmed in the 1973 Declaration. In addition to the 1973 Declaration, many diverse evangelicals, including women, African-American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, and Indigenous leaders, have put out strong statements that have often been ignored. Millions of people, especially younger believers, have left the faith during a time in which evangelicalism has become increasingly partisan and politicized. People on both sides of the political aisle have demonized those who disagree with us and failed to love both our neighbors and our “enemies,” as Jesus instructs us to do. We should not be captive to any political party, because our allegiance belongs to Christ. Like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we believe the church is “called to be the conscience of the state, not the master or the servant of the state.”

Affirming the 1973 Declaration, as well as other historic statements from diverse evangelicals, we recommit to an evangelical faith that follows Jesus’ example of living and sharing a gospel that always proclaims good news to the poor and freedom for the oppressed. (Luke 4: 18-19)

We recommit to a biblical justice that demonstrates the reign of God as we strive for abundant life for all God’s children, which must include combating economic inequality and exploitation.

We recommit to more faithfully and courageously follow Jesus, who affirmed the sacredness and dignity of all human life.

Building on the 1973 Declaration as well as other historic statements from diverse evangelicals, we also commit to love and protect all people—including life at every stage, people of color, women, Indigenous people, immigrants and refugees, LGBTQ people, people who are living with disabilities or mental health issues, poor and impoverished people, and each one who is marginalized, hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, sick, or imprisoned. (Matthew 25:31-46)

We commit to care for and protect the earth as God’s creation.

We commit to resisting all manifestations of racism, white nationalism, and any forms of bigotry—all of which are sins against God.

We commit to resisting patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and any form of sexism and to always affirm the dignity, voices, and leadership of women.

We commit to defend the dignity and rights of all people, particularly as we celebrate and embrace the increasing racial and ethnic diversity in our nation and churches.

Signers include  Ruth Bentley (1973 signer), Tony Campolo, Sharon Gallagher (1973 signer), Shane Claiborne, Ruth Padilla-DeBorst,  Wesley Granberg-Michaelson (1973 signer), Lisa Sharon Harper, Joel Hunter, David Moberg (1973 signer), William Pannell (1973 signer), Richard Pierard (1973 signer), Ronald Sider (1973 signer), Andrea Smith, Jim Wallis (1973 signer), Barbara Williams-Skinner, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Read the entire statement here.  Jim Wallis discusses the statement here.

I have a hard time keeping track of all these religious “declarations,” but I took note of this one because of its connection to the historic 1973 meeting.

3 thoughts on “Progressive Evangelicals Revive the 1973 Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern

  1. John: You’ve attributed to me a number of views which I do not hold, and never expressed.

    Faculty members “can’t be trusted”? Where did I write that? My perhaps too glib “faculty lounge” reference was meant only to indicate that these terms — “patriarchy” and “toxic masculinity” — come straight out of feminist theory and are ubiquitous in higher education. I suspect you know this. They are concepts which are entirely secular, and often employed in distinctly political contexts.

    Your next accusation — again, based on nothing I actually wrote — is that I “dismissed their entire document out of hand” and thereby “demeaned” their life’s work.

    No: I questioned the use and affirmation of those specific terms — I never said the entire Declaration was a series of buzzwords — in a document which claims to eschew political theology. Further, I expressed some concern that the pursuit of biblical justice is related to the sort of #MeToo justice which, among other things, fully embraces these progressive notions of patriarchy and toxic masculinity.

    I agree with much of the Declaration, and fully support, as an evangelical imperative, justice for all people. Perhaps I should have started with an acknowledgement of that broad agreement. But you have misconstrued what I wrote. Maybe that was due to a lack of precision on my part; or, maybe you read things which were not there.


  2. Tony: I think there are a lot of problems with identity politics, but I do believe that “biblical justice” has a historical dimension–it is grounded in the way our society and our churches have treated people of color and women in the past. This must be taken into consideration when he think about applying biblical justice.

    I should also add that most of the signers of this documents do not frequent the “faculty lounge.” (By the way, it seems you are suggesting here that just because someone is a faculty member that they can’t be trusted. This is a Fox News talking point). Many of these signers have been fighting for justice–for African-American and women–for half a century. (No “trendiness” here). I know many of them and have learned a great deal about how to live justly in this world. And, I might add, their view of human dignity for all people and justice for all people DOES stem from their theological convictions. (Although I realize that they might not be YOUR theological convictions). By dismissing their document out of hand as a series of “buzzwords” you demean their life work.


  3. From the linked Wallis piece:

    “Further, we believe it is critical that the evangelical movement be defined by theological convictions and not political ones.”

    I wholeheartedly agree with this. And Dr. Fea has rightly pointed out — indeed, it’s the premise of his new book — that some (I’d wager he would say many) evangelicals have been willing to sacrifice biblical principles in the pursuit of political power. The Gospel of Trump, so to speak.

    But this raised a few questions, as I read through the progressive evangelical Declaration: what, exactly, does “resisting patriarchy and toxic masculinity” (whatever those faculty lounge SJW buzzwords mean) have to do with theological convictions? That sounds very much like trendy political — or, if you prefer, ideological — jargon to me. Physician, heal thyself comes to mind.

    Further, I’d like to know — given the ongoing discussion on this blog of the Kavanaugh hearings — how a “commitment to biblical justice” squares with “Believe All Women” and presumptions of guilt based on one’s skin color affiliation with the purportedly ruling tribe.


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