Sierra's September/October 2005 Let's Talk book selection: God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It A book by Jim Wallis
Review by Elisa Freeling
What it's about
"Our public life is a bankrupt battlefield of competing special interests," writes evangelical leader Jim Wallis, and religious and moral people must come to the rescue. Accusing the right of trying to co-opt the faithful and the left of dismissing them, he argues that there is another way, a biblically based philosophy that's traditional on personal responsibility and family values yet progressive "or even radical on issues like poverty and racial justice." This, says Wallis, is God's politics. While the bulk of the book focuses on war and poverty, Wallis touches on stewardship of creation throughout. In a chapter subtitled "What scandalizes God?" he blames "the Bush administration's close relationship with the corporate world" for loosening clean-air and -water rules and later praises the campaign that challenged SUV owners to ask "What would Jesus drive?" Wallis predicts that moderate and progressive people of faith will ultimately shape politics far more than the religious right will, including on our most daunting environmental problems: "It may well be that only theology--good theology--can save the Earth now."
Where to get it God's Politics, a New York Times best seller, is widely available at libraries and bookstores.
About the author
Jim Wallis is an evangelical Christian leader, preacher, activist, and commentator on ethics and public life. A former Institute of Politics Fellow at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Wallis has taught both there and at Harvard Divinity School. He is a founder of Sojourners, an organization of Christians for social justice, and edits Sojourners magazine, covering faith, politics, and culture. Wallis's previous books include Faith Works: How Faith-Based Organizations Are Changing Lives, Neighborhoods, and America (2000), Who Speaks for God? A New Politics of Compassion, Community, and Civility(1996), and The Soul of Politics: A Practical and Prophetic Vision for Change (1994).
Wallis asserts that "religion is a primary source of values for many Americans." What is the source of your values?
According to Wallis, "Whether you are religious or not (that isn't the point, really), you'll be drawn to the prophets if you think that values should be the center of politics." Does his description of the teachings of Amos and other prophets speak to you?
Wallis calls neglect of the environment a religious issue. If you are religious, do your beliefs affect the way you view nature and environmental problems?
Citing the great progressive movements that were led by religious communities--abolition, child-labor reform, women's suffrage, civil rights--Wallis claims that today's Democrats and other people on the left don't appreciate the contributions of religion to public life and would even "deprive the public square of needed moral and spiritual values often shaped by faith." Do you think that's true? If so, what should progressive politicians and activists be doing differently?
Wallis writes that "we must insist on the deep connections between spirituality and politics while defending the proper boundaries between church and state that protect religious and nonreligious minorities and keep us all safe from state-controlled religion." How can such a balance be achieved?
Materialism and consumerism exacerbate many environmental problems. Meanwhile, Wallis laments, more and more Americans are "succumbing to a diminished religiosity that is characterized by privatized belief systems, devoid of the prophetic and social witness of Jesus and the prophets--ultimately, nothing more than 'small-s' spirituality that is really only ad hoc wish fulfillment or a collection of little self-help techniques we use to take the edge off our materialistic rat-race lives." Could the spiritual revival that Wallis writes about, one that "ignites deep social conscience," really transform American society? How could this affect our treatment of the environment and our relationship to the natural world?
Check out Sojourners, a Christian ministry of evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, and others whose mission is "to proclaim and practice the biblical call to integrate spiritual renewal and social justice."
Recent issues of Sojourners magazine have included such articles as "Values for Life: Less Is More," "Free Trade: Exceptions for the Rulers," and "Caring for Creation With Hearts and Heads." Read the current issue.
Wallis is also a convener of Call to Renewal, a national network of churches, faith-based organizations, and individuals working to overcome poverty in the United States.
Read an interview with Wallis from "The Jesus Factor," a PBS Frontline documentary that examines President Bush, his faith, and the growing influence of evangelicals in America.