Right hijacked faith, left dodged it

On the eve of the Presidential election, Jim Wallis’s six-year-old son looked up at him and said, “Daddy, this election is more important than Halloween, isn’t it?” And it was, Wallis told a standing-room only crowd at the Penn Bookstore Jan. 26.

Almost as important, he said, was what happened after, when exit polls indicated that many people who had opted for Bush had voted on “moral values.”

But the Christian leader and social activist, in town to promote his new book—“God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It” (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005)—thinks the exit poll question itself was flawed. Though the term “moral values” in this election defined positions on abortion and gay marriage, he said, other issues have values buried in them. “There are 3,000 verses in the bible on poverty,” he said. “Protecting the environment is a moral value. Whether to go to war is a moral value.” Most people, he continued, want their politics to have a moral compass, regardless of their political or religious affiliation.

While Wallis says the Republicans have claimed religion and its language as their own, the Democrats have lost their “heart and soul” because their level of discomfort with the topic makes them avoid it entirely. “Spirituality disconnected from social justice becomes narcissistic,”he said, “while a struggle for justice without a spiritual foundation is politics without soul.”

You can have faith and be progressive, said Wallis, who heads the Sojourners ministry as well as Call to Renewal, a federation of faith-based organizations working to overcome poverty. With poverty such a pressing issue, those with a spiritual hunger and a passion for social justice, he said, must work together to make it a moral value of the highest order. In the end, we can’t look to politicians to lead the charge, he said. “You change the nation by changing the wind. Martin Luther King changed the wind, and when that happens political change happens.”


Originally published on February 10, 2005