February 23, 2005

Wallis is Mobilizing a Movement

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 12:18 pm

I had the pleasure of hearing Jim Wallis speak at an event on his book tour for God’s Politics. The event was held at a church next door to an evangelical seminary, so much of the audience were seminary students and faculty. However, judging by the attendees who introduced themselves during the Q&A, there were also mainline Christians like me, and even a few agnostic social activists.

I was expecting a typical book tour speech. Instead, I sat enthralled through a one-hour sermon, and not a polite mainline protestant sermon, but a rousing revival-meeting sermon. The audience interrupted Wallis repeatedly with enthusiastic applause, cheers and amens as he spoke about a Christianity that is “personal but never private”, with moral values that address far more than just abortion and gay marriage, and that is called by Christ to fulfill the commission of Matthew 25 to feed the hungry, care for the sick and comfort the oppressed. While much of what he said is contained in God’s Politics, Wallis is not about selling books, but about mobilizing a movement to combat poverty, hunger and war.

Here are some of my reflections on what Wallis had to say.

God is not a Republican, nor a Democrat
In his sermon this past Sunday, Pastor Auer reminded us that God is not a Republican, nor a Democrat, so I had already been repenting of my somewhat partisan pokes at Republicans on this blog and elsewhere. Wallis left me no room to backslide. He pointed out that no matter who had won this past election, half of the nation would be embittered. Both the political parties and the media gain from this divisiveness. Wallis related how the political talk shows pit the hard right against the hard left to create entertaining controversy that generates ratings. Nuance and compromise can’t compete on the cable channels with screaming and name-calling.

Wallis also spoke about meeting with Focus on the Family to discuss gay rights, and reaching agreement with them on common ground, only to have them confess that their fund-raising department would never go along. Even the Democratic party, after a successful eight-year run with Clinton’s “third way”, abandoned this search for common ground in favor of a more partisan politics during the 2000 and 2004 campaigns. These are the special interests that gain from political polarization. The rest of us lose.

As part of the embittered 50% after the fall election, I am angry at how Senator Kerry was portrayed and how Americans were misled by the Republicans. But when I put my anger aside, I realize that I would have no problem working with Republicans for a common goal. My loyalty has never been to the Democratic party per se, but to a set of Christian moral values, progressive perhaps, but neither Democrat nor Republican.

A movement, not a book tour
Wallis spoke about the response he is getting as he speaks about ending poverty, hunger, war. There is a current of activism that is lying just below the surface in America. Many Americans are looking for a faith that is connected with “the big things”, as Wallis says. Just as the civil rights movement was gestating long before it broke through into the country’s consciousness in the 1960s, so too we can hope that this anti-poverty movement will soon reach its tipping point and crash into the public consciousness.

It occurs to me that the election of President Bush could truly have been God’s will, but for the opposite reason than that believed by the religious right. Progressive Christians, as well as progressive Jews, Muslims and agnostics, would not be so mobilized if Kerry had won. We have seen where partisan politics and inaction has led, and we are energized to create change.

I have become radicalized since the November election in a way I have never been before, but my radicalization is grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not in any political ideology. My radicalization represents an awakening to the gulf between the call of Christ and the world as we find it today. My response to this awakening is not a desire to throw bombs or burn buildings, but to feed the poor, care for the sick, and comfort the oppressed. I am realizing how many others share my sense. This is the embryonic movement that Wallis is speaking to.

Hope or cynicism?
As a middle-aged blogger, hope is not easy for me. I left my idealism behind long ago. It is much easier to sit at my keyboard and blog satirical barbs at the world than it is to hope. Even now I would feel more comfortable shining an analytical light on Wallis, looking for the logical inconsistencies, pointing out the impossibility of the tasks he sets before us, rather than join in this quixotic quest.

But hope has succeeded in the past, with the abolitionists, the civil rights movement, and the social reformers. As Wallis pointed out, it is no accident that these movements were led by people of faith, for with faith comes hope.

Wallis closed with a plea to his audience to hope. He said that “hope creates the will, will creates action, and action creates change.” This is where he puts the contract in front of us and asks us to sign on the dotted line. He wants us to hope.

I find that I have given in to hope.


  1. […] not be anything very meaningful. But the post- prefix is starting to grow on me. I have posted before about the importance of leaving the red state/blue state divisiveness behind, with Repub […]

    Pingback by I am a Christian Too » Emerging into Post-Modern, -Protestant, -Liberal, -Conservative Christianity — March 9, 2005 @ 8:31 am

  2. Great stuff! Thanks for this Bob

    Comment by Keith — February 23, 2005 @ 3:39 pm

  3. I pity Wallace for what Karl Rove is going to do to him.
    Example: USANext’s ugly smear against the AARP.
    Wallace is clearly a threat to the neoconservative movement.

    Comment by Osama_Been_Forgotten — February 24, 2005 @ 9:36 am

  4. Keep hope alive!

    -Faithful Progressive c/o Rev JJ

    Comment by Faithful Progressive — February 24, 2005 @ 1:16 pm

  5. I’m reading “God’s Politics” and would recommend the book to anyone, of any political ideology or religions.

    Comment by LutheranChik — February 25, 2005 @ 5:57 am

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