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Jim Wallis, Evangelical Christian Who Needles Both Democrats & Republicans

God is Not a Republican or Democrat

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Jim Wallis, Evangelical Christian Who Needles Both Democrats & Republicans

Jim Wallis of Sojourners

Updated December 09, 2006
Jim Wallis is an evangelical Christian who confuses the religious right, who often stereotype Christians as staunch Republicans.

And despite being described by Republican pundits as leader of the faith-based left, Wallis irritates some Democratic Party loyalists.

To make matters more perplexing for those who prefer neat political categories, Wallis asserts “Religion does not have a monopoly on morality.”

Jim Wallis matters, though. He matters greatly to both political parties. His book, “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It” sits at #5 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list and is #17 at Amazon.

After the divisive campaign of 2004, after the angst of divided loyalties and reluctant voters, Wallis’ message resonates with the American public on both sides of the aisle.

Jim Wallis is barnstorming the country, preaching his message of connecting public policies with biblical teachings. It has transformed into a movement tour, not book tour, says Wallis.

Crowds are turning out in record numbers to hear him speak at churches and cathedrals, top seminaries, leading hospitals and Christian colleges.

Among his tour stops are Johns Hopkins Institute for Spirituality and Medicine, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Fort Street Presbyterian Church in Detroit, and a Minneapolis law school. He’s been on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, MSNBC, CNN and NPR.

He spoke at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, considered one of the finest evangelical seminaries. This week, I saw him speak at Fuller Theological Seminary, the fastest-growing evangelical seminary. ABC was also there, filming for Peter Jennings’ World News Tonight.

He’s a captivating speaker who loves the stage and feeds off congregant enthusiasm. He has an infectious smile, loads of energy and plenty of polish. At Fuller, he spoke while pacing, laughing, walking, gesturing, even jumping. Preacher’s sweat sparkled on his face as he then took questions for an hour, answering pastors, agnostics, seminary students, disillusioned Christians, libertarians, everyone who walked up to the mike.

To Republicans he asks “When did God become pro-war, pro-rich and only pro-American?”

To Democrats he needles “ And the Democrats…they say ‘I have faith, but don’t worry…it won’t affect anything.’ “

He recently told Christianity Today, “ The right is very comfortable with the language of faith and values…In fact, they think they own it sometimes….And then they narrow everything to one or two hot-button social issues, as if abortion and gay marriage are the only two moral values questions….

But did anybody really...imagine that there are the only two moral values issues? ….I find 3,000 verses in the Bible on the poor, so fighting poverty is a moral value too. Protecting the environment—protecting God’s creation is a moral value. The ethics of war…are fundamental moral and religious questions.”

For the record, this 30-year preacher and activist has grave reservations about abortion. “It’s important for Democrats…to talk first about how they are going to be committed to really dramatically reducing unwanted pregnancies, not just retaining the legal option of abortion.” And while compassion compels Wallis to champion basic rights for gay couples, he does not voice support for gay marriage.

A few leading political figures in both political parties are chafed by Jim Wallis. Jerry Falwell recently behaved badly toward Wallis on a Fox News program.

Former Nixon cohort, now Christian leader Chuck Colson mischaracterized him when he wrote that Wallis thinks “the religious left is more in tune with the Bible than are conservatives.” Not so, replied Wallis in an open letter this week to Colson “I challenge Democrats on abortion, and I challenge Republicans on war and poverty.”

Wallis has labeled Howard Dean, chair of the Democratic National Committee, as leader of the “secular fundamentalist wing of the Democratic Party.” Referring to the disastrous statement by Howard Dean that Job was his favorite New Testament book, Wallis exhorted “…the worst thing anyone can be is inauthentic when they talk about religion or faith.”

Jim Wallis threatens political party entrenchment by challenging Americans to rethink the connection between morality, biblical teachings and government policies.

As he said in his reply to Chuck Colson, “My message to both liberals and conservatives is that protecting life is indeed a seamless garment. Protecting unborn life is important. Opposing unjust wars that take human life is important. And supporting anti-poverty programs…is important.

Neither party gets it right; each has perhaps half of the answer. My message and my challenge are to bring the together.”

The challenge ahead for liberals is to get secular Democrats to understand the importance of Jim Wallis’ words. And to get far right voters to accept that God is not just a Republican.

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