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1973: Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern

Historical background:

After World War II, several of the younger leaders of American Protestant evangelicals became concerned over what they saw as a lack of commitment among evangelicals to the proclamation and achievement of social justice. Partly this was a legacy of the most publicized split between the "fundamentalists" and "liberals" in the early years of the century which made many evangelicals suspicious of the so-called social gospel.

However, in the 1960's and 1970's some evangelical preachers, theologians, and educators began to feel that they had gotten too far away from the Biblical injunctions on helping the poor and oppressed.

Some of these men and women gathered together in Chicago in 1973 to prepare a statement on the need for Christian social action. According to the letter of invitation which went out, "At a recent conference at Calvin College, a planning committee (John Alexander, Myron Augsburger, Paul Henry, Rufus Jones, David O. Moberg, William Pannell, Richard Pierard, Ronald J. Sider, Lewis Smedes, and Jim Wallis) was formed to plan a Thanksgiving Workshop on Evangelicals and Social Concern.

At this workshop, a statement called "A Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern" (also known as the Chicago Declaration) was signed by participants. In this statement they admitted that they had individually and corporately participated in forms of racism and exploitation and pledged themselves, according to a press release, to "rethink their lifestyle and work for a more just distribution of the world's resources."


Chicago Declaration of Social Concern

"As evangelical Christians committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and the full authority of the Word of God, we affirm that God lays total claim upon the lives of his people. We cannot, therefore, separate our lives from the situation in which God has placed us in the United States and the world.

We confess that we have not acknowledged the complete claim of God on our lives.

We acknowledge that God requires love. But we have not demonstrated the love of God to those suffering social abuses.

We acknowledge that God requires justice. But we have not proclaimed or demonstrated his justice to an unjust American society. Although the Lord calls us to defend the social and economic rights of the poor and oppressed, we have mostly remained silent. We deplore the historic involvement of the church in America with racism and the conspicuous responsibility of the evangelical community for perpetuating the personal attitudes and institutional structures that have divided the body of Christ along color lines. Further, we have failed to condemn the exploitation of racism at home and abroad by our economic system.

We affirm that God abounds in mercy and that he forgives all who repent and turn from their sins. So we call our fellow evangelical Christians to demonstrate repentance in a Christian discipleship that confronts the social and political injustice of our nation.

We must attack the materialism of our culture and the maldistribution of the nation's wealth and services. We recognize that as a nation we play a crucial role in the imbalance and injustice of international trade and development. Before God and a billion hungry neighbors, we must rethink our values regarding our present standard of living and promote a more just acquisition and distribution of the world's resources.

We acknowledge our Christian responsibilities of citizenship. Therefore, we must challenge the misplaced trust of the nation in economic and military might - a proud trust that promotes a national pathology of war and violence which victimizes our neighbors at home and abroad. We must resist the temptation to make the nation and its institutions objects of near-religious loyalty.

We acknowledge that we have encouraged men to prideful domination and women to irresponsible passivity. So we call both men and women to mutual submission and active discipleship.

We proclaim no new gospel, but the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, frees people from sin so that they might praise God through works of righteousness.

By this declaration, we endorse no political ideology or party, but call our nation's leaders and people to that righteousness which exalts a nation.

We make this declaration in the biblical hope that Christ is coming to consummate the Kingdom and we accept his claim on our total discipleship until he comes.

November 25, 1973, Chicago, Illinois"

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