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Lions Roar : September 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2006 54 says, “but at this juncture, when things are very unstable, you’re going to have a lot of confusion and ambiguity.” This confusion can be healthy, she suggests, because it is indicative of a learn- ing process and the possibility of transformation. “After having been the largest political island on the globe, America is coming lately to be more conscious of its place in the universe, and it may finally be losing its messianic image. Now we know there are people in the world who hate us. President Bush says they hate us for our freedom, but maybe what they hate is that so much of the wealth and power is centered here, and has often come at their expense. In our entire history, Americans have not been truly confronted with the rest of this planet, and now we are. It’s part of a broadening of our worldview that began in 1962 when John Glenn took his snapshot of the earth. We saw that we are not the universe. We are a dot out in space.” REVEREND JIM WALLIS is a superstar of the spiritual progres- sive movement—except that he would never call himself a “spiri- tual progressive.” He also bristles at the label “religious Left.” The only label he is proud to wear is “evangelical Christian.” He is a superstar nonetheless. His latest book, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, spent fifteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. He teaches a course on faith, politics, and society at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and his columns have appeared in all the major newspapers. He’s done the Sunday morning talk show circuit and even braved seven minutes toe-to-toe with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, alien territory for most evangelicals. That’s not surprising for Wallis. He is affable and folksy, and it’s quite evi- dent that he loves people more than he judges them. Evangelicals are named for the Greek word for “good news,” or “gospel” in English, so they like to quote scripture. But when Wallis quotes scripture, you feel he is trying to teach rather than frighten. Wallis is the poster boy for redefining what it means to be an evangelical. As such, he is fond of the work of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which recently showed that as evange- lism has grown and evolved from its roots in the Billy Graham days, it has become much more diverse. Pew estimates that about a quarter of all Americans are white evangelical Protestants. Of those, it labels a little under half as traditionalists (holding or- thodox beliefs and showing little interest in adapting them) and a little over half as centrists and modernists (many still pretty conservative but all more diverse in their interests). Broadly speaking, while traditionalists, represented by clergy such as Jerry Falwell or Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, maintain a narrow focus on personal morality, evangelism’s other half embraces public morality as well. So they include poverty, envi- ronment, peace, and other concerns in their theology. From an electoral perspective, Wallis says, they are “up for grabs.” Fresh from putting out his provocative book last year, Wallis made more waves when he started his “Budgets Are Moral Docu- ments” campaign to oppose the Bush budget and promulgate what he called “compassionate priorities.” Rep. Tammy Bald- win vividly remembered Wallis’ address to the Democratic caucus on that subject and how it helped spur her to write her statement of values. It was about that time that Wallis appeared on The Daily Show and told Jon Stewart, “It’s hard for me to be- lieve that Jesus’ first priority would have been a capital gains tax cut and an invasion of Iraq. You wonder how Jesus has become pro-rich, pro-war, and only pro-American.” Wallis wants “a better conversation in America” about moral values. For the Right, he says, there seem to be only two moral values, abortion and gay marriage, but there are “three thou- sand verses in the Bible about fighting poverty.” That’s a major “It’s hard for me to believe that Jesus’ first priority would have been a capital gains tax cut and an invasion of Iraq. You wonder how Jesus has become pro-rich, pro-war, and only pro-American.” REV. JIM WALLIS SOJOURNERS