Some evangelicals are saying they want to repair the damage done by evangelical activists who've made the faith too political.
At a recent news conference in Washington, D.C., they released a document they titled An Evangelical Manifesto. Some on the religious right suspect it may be an effort to push them out of the spotlight.
But those behind the manifesto, from scholar Os Guinness to Christianity Today editor David Neff, said what's more important is recapturing the term evangelical to serve a higher calling: that of religious faith.
They want evangelicals to once again concentrate on Jesus Christ, His Word, and the good news of salvation. Fuller Theological Seminary president Richard Mouw summed it up this way: "The most important issue that any human being can encounter in the universe is the question of 'what will you do with Jesus?'"
The group of Christian leaders worked for three years to produce the manifesto.
In it, they worry some evangelicals so politicize their faith, they become "useful idiots" for one political party or another.
Pastor John Huffman, the chair of Christianity Today International, says the group is concerned many in the public perceive evangelicals as "a group of strident, religious political zealots determined to take over society with the institution of their religious political philosophy in a theocratic grab for power."
Os Guinness, co-author of the manifesto, warned, "When scholars and writers can look at the evangelical political movement and describe them as 'theocrats' or worse as 'fascists,' something is badly wrong."
Conservative critics of the manifesto say what its backers really want to do is toss the religious right overboard. And important religious right members are conspicuously absent from the list of those backing the manifesto. For instance, neither James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention or CBN founder Pat Robertson signed on to the manifesto.
Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America told CBN News the authors of the manifesto were definitely trying to distance themselves from the religious right.
"Basically, they were saying 'those of you who care about abortion, who care about homosexuality, who care about the family disintegrating don't speak for us, because we are too intellectual, we are too sophisticated to be concerned about those kinds of things," she said.
Crouse warns their fear of appearing too strident may leave manifesto-backers in the mushy middle -- inoffensive, but also ineffective. She complained to the manifesto-authors, "You know, you want to work with everybody, but you don't want to work with those of us who care very deeply about some of the issues that are clearly biblical and some of the commandments that Christ clearly gives."
Crouse critiques the manifesto in-depth on Concerned Women for America's website.
But in the manifesto, its authors say this isn't just about the religious right. They also want to get both sides in the culture wars to simmer down.
They say they repudiate those who want "to give one religion a preferred place in public life." But they also oppose those who want to wash all religion out of the public square, saying "nothing is more illiberal than to invite people into the public square but insist that they be stripped of the faith that makes them who they are."
*Original broadcast May 7, 2008.