In a Nutshell: Many in America yearn for a fuller, deeper, and richer conversation about religion in public life and especially about the role of faith in politics. The major political parties, however, as evidenced by the Presidential election of 2004, have failed to articulate "the prophetic voice of religion." According to Jim Wallis, the Right has focused its energies mainly on sexual and cultural issues while ignoring the substantive matter of justice. Meanwhile, the secular Left has ignored the spiritual dimensions of social change and doesn’t seem to make the connection between faith and politics at all. The author laments "the public misrepresentation of Christianity" as pro-rich, pro-war, and decidedly pro-American. He proposes a "rescue operation" that emphasizes the values of love, justice, reconciliation, and community that Jesus and many formidable ancient and modern prophets have espoused.
About the Author: Jim Wallis, an evangelical Christian, is one of leading figures at the crossroads of religion and politics in America today. He is a public theologian, nationally renowned preacher, faith-based activist, and author of seven books. He is the founder of Sojourners, a nationwide network of progressive Christians working for justice and peace, and continues to serve as the editor of Sojourners magazine, covering faith, politics and culture. He is also the Convener of Call to Renewal, a national federation of churches and faith-based organizations working together to overcome poverty by changing the direction of public policy. For more biographical information, see our profile of Wallis in the Living Spiritual Teachers Project of this website.
Sum and Substance: During the 2004 Presidential campaign, Sojourners led a petition and ad campaign titled "God is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat." It's not that Wallis wants to take God out of politics; he is just convinced that the way faith is usually used in politics is not the way to go. He believes that, in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the religious community could help heal the wounds that have divided America and find a common vision by moving to higher ground.
In successive chapters, Wallis challenges both the Right and the Left with a new vision of faith and politics with substantive material on moving beyond the politics of complaint, spiritual values and international relations (a moral response to terrorism, the mistake of Iraq, the theology of empire, winning without war, peace in the Middle East, Micah's vision for national and global security), spiritual values and economic justice (what does the Bible say about poverty, breaking the Left/Right impasse, budgets are moral documents, what scandalizes God, faith and global poverty), spiritual values and social issues (abortion and capital punishment, telling the truth about race, family and community values), and spiritual values and social change (hope versus cynicism).
Drawing upon his long years as a social justice activist, Wallis sets a good example of what being faithful and being political really means. This book is highly recommended for church and community discussion groups.
Quotes to Go:
• "God's politics is never partisan or ideological. But it challenges everything about our politics. God's politics reminds us of the people our politics always neglects the poor, the vulnerable, the left behind. God's politics challenges narrow national, ethnic, economic, or cultural self-interest, reminding us of a much wider world and the creative human diversity of all those made in the image of the creator. God's politics reminds us of the creation itself, a rich environment in which we are to be good stewards, not mere users, consumers, and exploiters. And God's politics pleads with us to resolve the inevitable conflicts among us, as much as is possible, without the terrible cost and consequences of war. God's politics always reminds us of the ancient prophetic prescription to 'choose life, so that you and your children may live,' and challenges all the selective moralities that would choose one set of lives and issues over another."
• "It's time to reassert and reclaim the gospel faith especially in our public life. When we do, we discover that faith challenges the powers that be to do justice for the poor, instead of preaching a 'prosperity gospel' and supporting politicians who further enrich the wealthy. We remember that faith hates violence and tries to reduce it and exerts a fundamental presumption against war, instead of justifying it in God's name. We see that faith creates community from racial, class, and gender divisions and prefers international community over nationalist religion, and we see that 'God bless America' is found nowhere in the Bible. And we are reminded that faith regards matters such as the sacredness of life and family bonds as so important that they never should be used as ideological symbols or mere political pawns in partisan warfare."
• "The truth is that most of the important movements for social change in America have been fueled by religion progressive religion. The stark moral challenges of our time have once again begun to awaken this prophetic tradition. As the religious Right loses influence, nothing could be better for the health of both church and society than a return of the moral center that anchors our nation in a common humanity. If you listen, these voices can be heard rising again."
• "The best response to bad religion is better religion, not secularism."
• "George Bush's personal faith has prompted a profound self-confidence in his 'mission' to fight the 'axis of evil,' his 'call' to be commander and chief in the war against terrorism, and his definition of America's 'responsibility' to defend 'the hopes of all mankind.' This is a dangerous mix of bad foreign policy and bad theology."
• "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is a nation approaching spiritual death." (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)