Jim Wallis, God's Politics; Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It; A New Vision for Faith and Politics in America (San Francisco: Harper, 2005), 384pp.
"How did the faith of Jesus," asks Jim Wallis, "come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American?" For that matter, why do others ignore the concerns of religion and the religious people of our country? Why do conservative Christians lament 4,000 abortions a day but ignore 30,000 infant deaths a day due to preventable disease (p. 301)? Does not the left contradict itself by supporting abortions but protesting capital punishment in the name of "life?" Or why does Fox Network peddle family values and conservative politics and, at the same time, sleazy entertainment (p. 321)? Such is Wallis's agenda in his newest book, to challenge both the Religious Right who would co-opt Christianity in the cause of a Pax Americana, and the Secular Left who would dismiss religion as irrelevant. He wants to move his readers beyond the strident politics of complaint. Christians, he suggests, should never be ideologically predictable or loyally partisan, believing as they do that the Gospel transcends and even judges all politics and ideologies.
I think of Wallis as a liberal evangelical or evangelical liberal. Evangelicals have it right that genuine faith is deeply personal, but they often forget that faith is also necessarily social, prophetic, and communal, and never private. Wallis was raised in a very conservative Christian home and he writes as an insider. "I learned in my little home church that people can really love the Bible, believe they are basing their lives upon it, and yet completely miss some of its most central themes. We don't see what would most challenge us and perhaps change our lives" (p. 214). Those "central themes," in his view, include a "seamless garment" of issues that embrace life. Significant portions of this book offer harsh criticisms of the Iraq war, but beyond that he also considers the global poverty in which more than half the world lives off less than [jumi/essayer.php] a day ("Nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor!", p. 16), corporate America, abortion, capital punishment, racism, and family.
For the last three decades Wallis has been a whirlwind of fervent vision and tireless energy. He has authored eight books, founded the magazine Sojourners, lived on the front lines of social activism (and been arrested twenty times in thirty years for it), spoken about 200 times a year, taught at Harvard as an adjunct, and spoken to the likes of Tony Blair even as he lived among the urban poor of Washington, DC. This book wanders a little, and repeats itself (a good editor could have corrected this), but I find it very hard not to admire Wallis's passionate faith to work out the implications of a deeply held personal faith in Jesus in the broader, concrete realities of our global world. I have enthusiastically encouraged my friends to read this important book. As I write, God's Politics sits at #8 on the NY Times best seller list of non-fiction hardbacks.