God's Politics Means Hope
Last night Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourner's Magazine and community as well as author of "God's Politics", spoke here in Omaha and announced that the "monologue about religion and politics" has ended. By that, Wallis confidently announced that the Right wing fundamentalist agenda to narrowly define the values and meaning of Jesus and Christian faith has been engaged by an alternative vision. This is good news!
Wallis addressed two audiences in Omaha this Wednesday, the first was a college group at Creigton University in the afternoon and then an audience of over 600 people of all ages at Countryside Community Church in the evening. I know that's true because my 16 year old son Daniel sat beside me. In his opening remarks, Jim Wallis observed that there is great "confusion and disillusionment" about religion in the United States at this time. In a humorous aside, he commented that
"I'm spiritual, but not religious is the fastest growing denomination in America today!" Some conclude that abandoning the church and religion is maybe the best choice one can make. Wallis disagrees.
Good religion pulls out our best stuff, in the American religious tradition. Bad religion pulls out our worst stuff. Reviewing some of the best stuff in our American religious history, Wallis asked, "Where would we be as a nation without the religious vision of abolitionists who worked to bring about the end of slavery?
Where would we be without the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. and others who worked to end segregation and injustice for blacks? Where would we be without a long list of Americans who had a profound vision for God's concern for the poor, the weak, and the oppressed?" Wallis contends that every major social reform movement in American life has been fueled by faith.
"I believe in the separation of church and state," said Wallis, "but not segregation of faith values from public life."
Religion is about the big issues of life. "The big stuff is so big, only religion is big enough to face the challenges." In his book "The Call to Conversion", Wallis sums this up well in his statement that "faith is always personal but never private."
The biblical faith includes the prophets who advocated for the widow, the orphans, the homeless, the hungry and destitute. The prophets spoke truth to power and challenged the kings and rulers to fulfill their call to compassion for the weak.
In our day, it sometimes feels like the powerful feel a deeper compassion for the rich than for the weak. As Wallis puts it in his book, "God's Politics", since when did Jesus become pro-rich? pro-war? and only pro-American?
Yet, Wallis realistically argues that "America isn't hungry for a religious left, but for a moral center" to our problems and divisions." Americans increasingly aren't just red or blue state in their loyalties and values. There's more purple than we've been led to believe. Sitting beside a good Christian friend last night who is more conservative than I am on many issues, I agreed with Wallis' contention that "religion has been used as a wedge to divide us, rather than a bridge to connect us." My friend and I disagree on some issues, but we mutually acknowledge the sincerity of each other's faith. And we often agree on what end results should look like in society, while disagreeing some times on the proper means to achieve them. Even more importantly, we see in each other the presence of Christ who is transforming us both.
Wallis spoke to the issue of values in religion and American life last night.
Speaking about the fundamentalist right, he said they often seem to believe there are only two moral values that are critical: abortion and gay marriage.
That's too narrow an agenda from a biblical perspective argued Wallis. It's reductionist. Biblical faith and values includes a concern for the poor, a sense of our responsibilty for stewardship of the creation, an urgent concern for the war in Iraq, and a commitment to healthy families.
A pro-family agenda means more than being anti-gay marriage, argues Wallis. Family break-down is a crisis in our nation he acknowledges. In his urban Washington, D.C. neighborhood, Wallis reported that 80% of families are single-parent families. Kids fall through the cracks. There is a challenge to raising children in our society, and parenting and marriage do not receive much social support or public policy assistance.
"Parenting is a counter-cultural practice in society," today argues Wallis. And neither political party has a pro-family agenda.
In one of his lecture tours across the country, Wallis recounted the conversation he had with a young student who had her grasp of key moral issues challenged and deepened during the "God's Politics" lecture. She told Wallis that he had alerted her to the "silent Tsunami" that kills 30,000 children daily around the world from hungry, disease, and warfare.
The latter part of Wallis comments last night addressed the moral development of children and youth, and the role they will play in leading our nation and churches in the future. Following a lecture in the Northwest, Wallis mentioned a conversation with an 11 year old girl. "What did you get out of this talk tonight?" he asked her. Imagine that 11 year old girl speaking to Wallis, a man who has been on the front lines of religious leadership and social change for over 30 years. Confidently, she responded to Wallis, "We're just going to have to change the world." Do we adults have enough idealism and faith to measure up to that young girls idealistic vision?
The big choice today is between cynicism and hope Wallis shared with us in the concluding remarks of last night's address. Cynics are against the bad stuff in our world, but don't believe or hope that things can be different. Cynicism is a buffer against commitment said Wallis. The only real alternative is Hope. Hope isn't a feeling; it's a choice because of our faith. Hope means believing in spite of the evidence and waiting to see the evidence change.
At the conclusion of the evening, I stood in line for a book signing with Wallis for his book "God's Politics". My son Daniel was with me. He said to me, "Dad I want to read this book." Jim Wallis signed my son's book and asked him what his plans were for college and life. Daniel was a little shy at first, but then shared his interest in writing. With genuine interest, Wallis encouraged Daniel's ambition and challenged him to write a little each day. I could tell Wallis cares about young people. We owe it to them, as adults, to be people of Hope.