New York Times bestseller God's Politics struck a chord with Americans disenchanted with how the Right had co-opted all talk about integrating religious values into our politics, and with the Left, who were mute on the subject. Jim Wallis argues that America's separation of church and state does not require banishing moral and religious values from the public square. God's Politics offers a vision for how to convert spiritual values into real social change and has started a grassroots movement to hold our political leaders accountable by incorporating our deepest convictions about war, poverty, racism, abortion, capital punishment, and other moral issues into our nation's public life. Who can change the political wind? Only we can.
About the Author
Jim Wallis is the author of the New York Times bestseller God's Politics, which electrified Americans disenchanted with how the Right had co-opted all talk about integrating religious values into our politics by offering an alternative voice. Wallis is a leading figure at the crossroads of religion and politics in America today, the author of eight books, and the founder of Sojourners, a global faith and justice network. He is a public theologian, an internationally renowned speaker and preacher, a faith-based activist, husband, and father to two young boys, and a Little League baseball coach.
Read an Excerpt
God's PoliticsWhy the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It
By Jim Wallis
Chapter OneTake Back the Faith
Co-opted by the Right, Dismissed by the Left
Many of us feel that our faith has been stolen, and it's time to take it back. In particular, an enormous public misrepresentation of Christianity has taken place. And because of an almost uniform media misperception, many people around the world now think Christian faith stands for political commitments that are almost the opposite of its true meaning. How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and only pro-American? What has happened here? And how do we get back to a historic, biblical, and genuinely evangelical faith rescued from its contemporary distortions? That rescue operation is even more crucial today, in the face of a deepening social crisis that cries out for more prophetic religion.
Of course, nobody can steal your personal faith; that's between you and God. The problem is in the political arena, where strident voices claim to represent Christians when they clearly don't speak for most of us. It's time to take back our faith in the public square, especially in a time when a more authentic social witness is desperately needed.
The religious and political Right gets the public meaning of religion mostly wrong - preferring to focus only on sexual and cultural issues while ignoring the weightier matters ofjustice. And the secular Left doesn't seem to get the meaning and promise of faith for politics at all-mistakenly dismissing spirituality as irrelevant to social change. I actually happen to be conservative on issues of personal responsibility, the sacredness of human life, the reality of evil in our world, and the critical importance of individual character, parenting, and strong "family values." But the popular presentations of religion in our time (especially in the media) almost completely ignore the biblical vision of social justice and, even worse, dismiss such concerns as merely "left wing."
It is indeed time to take back our faith.
Take back our faith from whom? To be honest, the confusion comes from many sources. From religious right-wingers who claim to know God's political views on every issue, then ignore the subjects that God seems to care the most about. From pedophile priests and cover-up bishops who destroy lives and shame the church. From television preachers whose extravagant lifestyles and crass fund-raising tactics embarrass more Christians than they know. From liberal secularists who want to banish faith from public life and deny spiritual values to the soul of politics. And even from liberal theologians whose cultural conformity and creedal modernity serve to erode the foundations of historic biblical faith. From New Age philosophers who want to make Jesus into a non-threatening spiritual guru. And from politicians who love to say how religious they are but utterly fail to apply the values of faith to their public leadership and political policies.
It's time to reassert and reclaim the gospel faith - especially in our public life. When we do, we discover that faith challenges the powers that be to do justice for the poor, instead of preaching a "prosperity gospel" and supporting politicians who further enrich the wealthy We remember that faith hates violence and tries to reduce it and exerts a fundamental presumption against war, instead of justifying it in God's name. We see that faith creates community from racial, class, and gender divisions and prefers international community over nationalist religion, and we see that "God bless America" is found nowhere in the Bible. And we are reminded that faith regards matters such as the sacredness of life and family bonds as so important that they should never be used as ideological symbols or mere political pawns in partisan warfare.
The media like to say, "Oh, then you must be the religious Left?" No, not at all, and the very question is the problem. Just because a religious Right has fashioned itself for political power in one utterly predictable ideological guise does not mean that those who question this political seduction must be their opposite political counterpart. The best public contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideologically predictable or a loyal partisan. To always raise the moral issues of human rights, for example, will challenge both left and right-wing governments that put power above principles. Religious action is rooted in a much deeper place than "rights" - that place being the image of God in every human being.
Similarly, when the poor are defended on moral or religious grounds, it is certainly not "class warfare," as the rich often charge, but rather a direct response to the overwhelming focus on the poor in the Scriptures, which claim they are regularly neglected, exploited, and oppressed by wealthy elites, political rulers, and indifferent affluent populations. Those Scriptures don't simply endorse the social programs of the liberals or the conservatives, but they make it clear that poverty is indeed a religious issue, and the failure of political leaders to help uplift the poor will be judged a moral failing.
It is precisely because religion takes the problem of evil so seriously that it must always be suspicious of too much concentrated power - politically and economically - either in totalitarian regimes or in huge multinational corporations that now have more wealth and power than many governments. It is indeed our theology of evil that makes us strong proponents of both political and economic democracy - not because people are so good, but because they often are not and need clear safeguards and strong systems of checks and balances to avoid the dangerous accumulations of power and wealth.
It's why we doubt the goodness of all superpowers and the righteousness of empires in any era, especially when their claims of inspiration and success invoke theology and the name of God. Given the human tendencies of military and political power for self-delusion and deception, is it any wonder that hardly a religious body in the world regards the ethics of unilateral and preemptive war as "just"?
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What People are Saying About This
Wallis at his usual passionate and brilliant self: he will move you to examine your conscience and search your soul.
Jim Wallis is an inspiration to mefor his witness of faith and his engagement with politics.
Jim Wallis is compelling, provocative, and inspirational, with faith that can move mountains and can certainly move people and communities.
Jim Wallis is the major prophetic evangelical Christian voice in the country.
How far should we go to understand each other’s points of view? Maybe the distance grace covered on the cross.
Reading Group Guide
God's Politics, by Jim Wallis (HarperSanFrancisco, ©2005) contains a thoughtful and inspirational discussion of faith and politics. Wallis urges the Left, the Right, the government, and the religious community to work for real social change in American and the world, through emphasizing a new "prophetic politics." With a focus on spiritual values, Wallis shares valuable insights to the problems confronting us and offers ideas and goals for implementing needed changes. His evangelical Christian voice offers faith, hope, and direction to a nation in need of a renewed spiritual and political vision.
Introduction: Why Can't We Talk About Religion and Politics?
God's Politics challenges everything about our politics. It reminds us of the people who are always neglected -- the poor, vulnerable, and left behind. And it challenges Left and Right by offering a new vision for faith and politics in America.
-- Polling results after the 2004 election emphasized "moral values" as a deciding factor, but differed on what that meant. What is your definition of moral values? Did that influence your choice of who to vote for? What do you think are the most important moral values in politics?
Chapter 1: Take Back the Faith -- Co-opted by the Right, Dismissed by the Left
Many people feel that their faith has been "stolen" by one political side and ignored by the other. We need to return to a genuine evangelical faith rescued from the distortions of both Right and Left.
-- Do you agree that the Right focuses faith narrowly on sexual and cultural issues, while the Left doesn't understand the meaning of faith for politics at all? If so, how was this demonstrated in the 2004 election?
-- How does the "politics of Jesus" offer an alternative to the political and economic agenda of the religious Right?
Chapter 2: A Lack of Vision -- Too Narrow or None at All
America today faces two related vision problems. One is the lack of vision in public life; the other is that political leaders have a clear vision, but the wrong one. The Hebrew prophets and Jesus offer a new vision of our common life and public commitments.
-- What is your vision of politics in America? What are the public implications of your spiritual values?
-- What does it mean to change society by "changing the wind?" How can people of faith become "wind changers?"
Chapter 3: Is There a Politics of God? -- God Is Personal but Never Private
God is personal -- if not, there is little meaning to faith. But that personal God is never private, relevant only to individual morality while oblivious to public issues.
-- What is the difference between "God's politics" and using God to justify our politics? How are God's politics different from ours?
Chapter 4: Protest is Good; Alternatives Are Better
Political protest should not be simply a politics of complaint; it should show the way to personal and social transformation through offering alternatives. Being for an alternative brings more energy and possibilities to the political debate than only being against.
-- In the polarized agenda of today's partisan politics, what solutions could go beyond the debates to show a way forward on the most important challenges facing us? How do we move from complaining about the way things are to creating viable alternatives?
Chapter 5: How Should Your Religious Faith Influence Your Politics?
Religious fundamentalism at its worst seeks political power to impose a theocracy, while secular fundamentalism attempts to restrict religious faith only to houses of worship. The real question is not whether religious faith should influence a society and its politics, but how.
-- What are your observations about the role of religious faith in the 2004 election campaign? Why does it seem as if people who regularly attend worship services vote Republican, while those who don't vote Democratic?
-- Discuss the differences between the religious Right and the Civil Rights movement.
Chapter 6: Prophetic Politics -- A New Option
There are three dominant political options in America. One is conservative on everything -- from cultural and family concerns to economic and foreign policy issues. A second is liberal on everything. The third is libertarian -- liberal on cultural/moral issues and conservative on fiscal/economic and foreign policy. There is a fourth option -- traditional or "conservative" on issues of family values and sexual integrity while progressive or populist on issues of economic justice and peacemaking.
-- How would you react to a candidate who took a traditional moral stance on social and cultural issues -- being decidedly pro-family, pro-life (meaning really waning to lower the abortion rate), strong on personal responsibility and moral values, outspoken against the moral pollution throughout popular culture; AND was also an economic populist, pro-poor in social policy, tough on corporate corruption and power, clear in supporting middle-class families in health-care and education, an environmentalist, and committed to a foreign policy that emphasized international law and multi-lateral cooperation over pre-emptive and unilateral war?
Chapter 7: Be Not Afraid -- A Moral Response to Terrorism September 11, 2001, changed our lives, and since then we have been a nation living in fear.
That fear has led us to accept policies that promised to end our vulnerability, yet we must still go to the roots of terrorism for an effective response.
-- What are the "two paths" that emerged in response to the terrorist attacks? What opportunities were missed to combat terrorism and what opportunities remain for responding to it?
-- What role can the religious community play in developing a moral response to terrorism?
Chapter 8: Not a Just War -- The Mistake of Iraq
While Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, and removing him from power a legitimate goal, there were ways other than war to accomplish that end. The war and continuing occupation of Iraq have weakened the system of international law and the cooperation needed to truly combat the threat of terrorism.
-- What are the ways other than war that could have dealt with Saddam Hussein? Do you agree or disagree that they could have succeeded?
-- What has been sacrificed and by whom in the war and ongoing occupation?
Chapter 9: Dangerous Religion -- The Theology of Empire
The word "empire" is increasingly used to describe American power in the world, and is defended by the president with religious language. This nationalist religion is a challenge to people of faith, who must now decide to whom to be loyal.
-- What is the difference between a Christian theology and an American theology? When and how is it appropriate or inappropriate to invoke the name of God in the public life of a nation?
Chapter 10: Blessed are the Peacemakers -- Winning without War
The questions today are how to resolve conflicts in the world, how to reduce violence, and how to heal the causes of war. Real peacemaking can develop initiatives and instutitions that could become alternatives to war.
-- Describe and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the traditional Christian doctrines of pacifism and just war. Can nonviolence answer the questions that violence purports to answer, but in a better way?
-- Can the role of law and policing in protecting our neighborhoods be effectively applied to the international situation?
Chapter 11: Against Impossible Odds -- Peace in the Middle East
Resolving the ongoing crisis in the Middle East is an essential step toward addressing a major cause of violence in that region.
-- What is the relationship between Palestinian violence against Israel and the Israeli occupation of Palestine? Is a two-state solution with a secure Israel and a viable Palestine likely to resolve the issues involved?
-- How are nongovernmental peacemaking organizations making a difference?
Chapter 12: Micah's Vision for National and Global Security
Micah's vision is of swords being beaten into plowshares, nation not making war against nation, and every person having their own vine and fig tree where no one shall make them afraid.
- What do you think is the relationship between poverty and terrorism? How can we go deeper to deal with the root causes of war?
- Can you think of any modern-day Micahs in your community who are effectively addressing issues of violence and poverty?
Chapter 13: The Poor You Will Always Have With You? What Does the Bible Say About Poverty?
Several thousand verses in the Bible speak to poverty and God's response to injustice, yet too many affluent Christians have no relationship with people in poverty.
- What is your response to the text from Matthew 25? How can we restore the integrity of the Word of God to our lives, our congregations, and our communities?
Chapter 14: Poor People Are TrappedIn the Debate over Poverty
Republicans look after their wealthy constituencies, and Democrats want to be the champions of the middle class. Neither makes the needs of the poor a priority, and poor people are trapped in the debate.
- What would a solution-based approach to overcoming poverty look like? What can each sector of society contribute?
- What is the relationship between personal and social responsibility?
Chapter 15: Isaiah's PlatformBudgets Are Moral Documents
The budget of a family, church, city, or nation reveals its true prioritieswhat it cares about and values. Current U.S. federal budgets are sacrificing the poor for war and tax cuts.
- What is your reaction to the story of the 2003 child tax-credit debate in Washington and the exclusion of poor working families from that credit?
- Is it "class warfare" to talk about growing economic disparities and those in poverty who are being left out of America's economy?
Chapter 16: Amos and EnronWhat Scandalizes God?
America's corporate scandals are raising new questions about the relationship between the bottom line and the common good.
- Should our behavior in the economic spheres of our lives become the substance of adult Sunday School curricula and Bible study groups?
- Could a religious populism raise hard questions about corporate responsibility, tax policy, campaign financing, and budget priorities that political leaders couldn't afford to ignore?
Chapter 17: The Tipping PointFaith and Global Poverty
For the first time in history we have the information, knowledge, technology, and resources to bring the worst of global poverty to an end. What we don't have is the moral and political will to do so. And it is becoming clear that it will take a new moral energy to create that political will.
- What is the relationship between debt, aid, and trade? How would debt cancellation, wise aid programs, and trade justice lead to reducing global poverty?
- How are the churches addressing the moral challenge of the AIDS crisis?
Chapter 18: A Consistent Ethic of LifeAbortion and Capital Punishment
Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago coined the phrase "a seamless garment of life," linking the "life issues" of abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, nuclear weapons, poverty, and racism all as critical components of a consistent ethic of life.
- What is your view of how both Republicans and Democrats speak to the issue of abortion? What has either done to seriously reduce the number of abortions?
- How could our affirmation of "a culture of life," serve to bring us together across ideological and political battle lines? And even more importantly, how can the precious gift of life be protected and preserved?
Chapter 19: Truth-Telling About RaceAmerica's Original Sin
Wallis names racism as America's "original sin." That original sin has affected most everything about our nation's life ever since. Slavery and subsequent discrimination against black people in America are injustices of such magnitude that one would think national repentance and reparations would be called for. But neither has ever come.
- What do you think of proposals for an apology for slavery? Would it lead to greater healing and racial reconciliation?
- What are the economic roots of racism? Who benefits and who loses because of racism?
Chapter 20: The Ties That BondFamily and Community Values
The strength and health of the bonds between family and community are essential to the common good. Reestablishing a spiritual sense of community in our churches, neighborhoods, and our national politics is an urgent need.
What are the challenges facing parents and families today? Is there a relationship between "family values" and economic realities? How would strengthening parenting and families help contribute to a healthier society?
-- Do you believe that the long-standing and deeply rooted concept of marriage as being between a man and a woman should not be changed, but that same-sex couples should be granted full legal rights in civil unions, or that only same-sex gay marriage fulfills the requirements of equal protection under the law? Discuss the religious and public policy basis of your answer.
Chapter 21: The Critical ChoiceHope or Cynicism
Prophetic faith does not see the primary battle as the struggle between belief and secularism. It understands that the real struggle of our times is the fundamental choice between cynicism and hope. And the decision for hope is based upon what you believe at the deepest levelswhat your most basic convictions are about the world and what the future holdsall based upon your faith.
-- What are some things that give you hope? What does it mean to be a "prisoner of hope?"
Epilogue: We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For
-- Why are "we" the ones we have been waiting for? Do you have the faith and hope that the world can be changed into a more just and peaceful place?
An Interview with Jim Wallis
Barnes & Noble.com: God's Politics is subtitled "Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It." Were you surprised at how great a role religion played in the 2004 election?
Jim Wallis: No, I said more than a year ago that religion would be one of the big issues in this campaign. Religion was indeed a big factor in this election, with moral values talk in the air the entire campaign. On the Republican side, George W. Bush talked comfortably and frequently about his personal faith and ran on what his conservative religious base called the "moral issues." On the Democratic side, Senator John Kerry invoked the New Testament story of the Good Samaritan, talked about the importance of loving our neighbors, and said that faith without works is dead -- but only began talking that way at the very end of his campaign. Critics of the Kerry campaign say he got religion too little and too late, while critics of the Bush campaign say he used religion in one of the most partisan ways ever seen. But the results of the election point to how incredibly important the cultural and political definitions of religion and moral values really are.
B&N.com: Was the issue of "moral values" really as pivotal as the post-mortems are claiming?
JW: I think "security" and "leadership" were also very important issues in this election. But the "moral values" issue was key for many voters. A flawed exit poll confused "moral values" with "issues," when values are, of course, embedded in issues. But moral values are important to most Americans. The question is, what values, whose values, and how broadly or narrowly values will be defined. The issue of faith and values should not be used as wedges and weapons to divide and destroy us but as potential bridges to bring us together and find common ground. That's one of the reasons I wrote this book.
B&N.com: Simply put, what are "God's politics?"
JW: As I often say, God is not a Republican or a Democrat, and religion doesn't easily fit into political categories. True religion, prophetic religion, should be critical of both Left and Right when needed.
"God's Politics" are therefore never partisan or ideological. But they challenge everything about our politics. God's politics remind us of the people our politics always neglect -- the poor, the vulnerable, the left behind. God's politics challenge narrow national, ethnic, economic, or cultural self-interest; reminding us of a much wider world and the creative human diversity of all those made in the image of the creator. God's politics remind us of the creation itself, a rich environment in which we are to be good stewards; not mere users, consumers, and exploiters. And God's politics plead with us to resolve the inevitable conflicts among us, as much as is possible, without the terrible cost and consequences of war. God's politics always remind us of the ancient prophetic prescription to "Choose life, so that you and your children may live," and challenges all the selective moralities that would choose one set of lives and issues over another.
B&N.com: How have the parties misused religion, in your view?
JW: The differences were very stark. Karl Rove made no secret of his intent to aggressively reach out to conservative religious voters. But in doing so, the Bush team seriously overstepped the proper boundaries of church and state by suggesting religious "duties" that included turning over congregational membership lists to local Republican parties. That offended even members of Bush's own religious base like Richard Land of the Southern Baptists, who said such partisan activities were "inappropriate" and that he was "appalled" -- an honest and honorable criticism. In mailings to churches in some states, the RNC suggested that "liberals" would "ban the Bible" and "accept gay marriage" if they were to win. I have never seen such outrageous behavior by a political party in trying to manipulate religion for its own agenda while so disrespecting the faith of millions of other believers who disagree with the Republican political agenda.
If the Republicans overstepped in their religious outreach, the Democrats under-stepped in their effort to be more "religion friendly" than they have in the recent past. Listening better to religious voices, both inside and outside the Kerry camp, would have provided more strategic help and public capacity in speaking directly to the important issues of religion in politics and seeking to broaden their definition in this election campaign.
B&N.com: What could the Kerry camp have done better?
JW: The Democrats, both at their convention and in their campaign, did try to offer a new open door to the religious community in important ways, and Kerry began to talk about how his own faith influenced his values. But Kerry could have done much more to speak to religious audiences, talk to the religious press, and redefine the "religious issues" at stake in this campaign -- away from just abortion and the Eucharist, to include poverty and war. The Democrats should be much more willing to use moral and religious language in defense of economic fairness and justice. But they shouldn't make the same mistake the Republicans have made in trying to co-opt religious leaders and communities for their political agenda.
B&N.com: Is there a "Religious Left?" How can it best be used to create significant social change in America?
JW: When I critique the Religious Right, the media likes to say, "Oh, then you must be the Religious Left." No, not at all, and the very question is the problem. Just because a Religious Right has fashioned itself for political power in one utterly predictable ideological guise does not mean that those who question this political seduction must be their opposite political counterpart. The best public contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideological predictable nor a loyal partisan. To always raise the moral issues of human rights, for example, will challenge both left- and right-wing governments who put power above principles. Religious action is rooted in a much deeper place than "rights" -- that being the image of God in every human being.
B&N.com: You claim that the Religious Right is declining as a force. How does that opinion square with the election results?
JW: It is a mistake to be always fighting against the Religious Right, as many frightened liberals continue to do. The organizational strength of the Moral Majority/Christian Coalition was always exaggerated by both themselves and the media. But their ability to "deliver" decisive blocs of votes is greatly diminished. The Republican Party is now careful at party conventions to hide its religious fundamentalists, as mainstream voters have soured on both their message and style. The good news for religion and public life in America is that the word "religious" will no longer be always followed by the word "right." This book is a manifesto for progressive religion as a fundamental alternative.
B&N.com: God's Politics makes the argument that Democrats are consistently uncomfortable discussing religion. Why do you think that is?
JW: Just a few decades ago the Democratic Party was vitally linked to a civil rights movement led by black churches. Given that history, how have the Democrats now become effectively portrayed by Republicans as being secularists who are hostile to religion? That perception is not really true, but Democrats too often have lost the ability to connect moral values and the language of faith to their agenda. They need to rediscover a moral vocabulary for their policy commitments by recovering their very heart and soul.
B&N.com: You had a well-documented encounter with the president shortly after 9/11, where you discussed how best to deal with the threat of terrorism. How do you feel Bush has performed in this area?
JW: Despite White House self-confidence, the United States has yet to recognize how the real threats of terrorism are very different from what we have known as "war," to which we simply respond with our habitual military solutions. Instead of seeing the events of September 11th as a new call for international cooperation and collaboration in addressing a host of global problems, the Bush administration quickly retrenched into Pax Americana, "going it alone" as the world's only superpower. Our choices included the rule of law or the habit of war, collective action or unilateral decisions, effective containment or unpredictable escalation. And the Bush administration made the wrong choices.
B&N.com: You and your evangelical organization, Sojourners, made a last-ditch attempt to prevent the Iraq invasion by suggesting a "third way" to deal with Saddam Hussein other than starting a war or doing nothing. What did it entail?
JW: The plan we offered took the threat of Saddam Hussein seriously. It called for his removal from power through an international criminal indictment, the elimination through coercive inspections of any weapons of mass destruction he might have, and the democratic reconstruction of Iraq under international leadership (not U.S. occupation) -- all without war. We said there was a better way than war to solve the problem of Iraq and detailed how it might be accomplished.
B&N.com: How close did you come to having it considered?
JW: In less than two weeks, the plan spread around the country and the world. Those of us offering the plan had just met with Tony Blair in London, and discussions with his cabinet leadership continued. In the final weeks before the war, what they called "the American church plan" was being actively discussed at the highest levels of the British government. Top religious leaders in the U.K., the U.S., and around the world were pushing the plan to their government leaders. People at the UN, including Kofi Annan, were studying it. Officials at the State Department requested a presentation and discussion of the plan, and even some non-administration "hawks" on Iraq said it should be tried. Democrats in the House and Senate were calling us to ask for meetings -- they hoped that an alternative plan to war from the religious community might help them regain their voice. When The Washington Post prominently published the plan on their opinion page under the title "A Third Way Is Possible," a contact at the White House told me that "everybody" over there had seen it. Former British cabinet minister Clare Short has since said she believed the plan would have worked -- but had come too late; and if given a few more weeks could have gained real momentum.
But those making decisions in the Bush Administration were determined to go war with Iraq.
B&N.com: Kerry voters are, of course, feeling very despondent over his narrow loss -- as a progressive Christian, is there any hopeful message you can impart on them at this difficult time?
JW: My vision -- a progressive and prophetic vision of faith and politics -- was not running in this election. George Bush and John Kerry were, and John Kerry lost -- not progressive religion. Neither candidate championed the poor as a "moral value" or made the war in Iraq a clearly religious matter. And neither advocated a "consistent ethic of human life" beyond single issue voting, or a serious "pro-family" agenda without being anti-gay. The ways in which both parties' visions are morally and politically incomplete must now be taken up by people of faith. That can best be done by reaching both into the conservative Christian communities who voted for George Bush and more liberal Christian communities who voted for John Kerry.
We've now begun a real debate in this country over what the most important "religious issues" are in politics, and that discussion will continue well past the 2004 elections. It's time to spark a public conversation in this country over what the "moral values" in politics should be -- and how broadly and deeply they should be defined. Religion doesn't fall neatly into Right and Left categories. If there were ever candidates running with a strong set of personal moral values and a commitment social justice and peace, it could build many bridges to the other side. Personal and social responsibility are both at the heart of religion, and the two together could make a very powerful and compelling political vision for the future of our bitterly divided nation.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
God's Politics, by Jim Wallis, is a book about applying Christian ethics and morals into government and politics.The book is structured by informing readers of the political problems and what needs to be done politically and religiously in order to fix these problems. I enjoyed the book because I learned so much from reading it. As a Christian, reading this book helped inform me on the religious issues out there today that need to be confronted. I would recommend this book to any Christian who has any interest in knowing what is going on in the political world. I would also recommend it to some politicians; I think it would be a good reminder for them about why they are in office.
This is the first book I've read by Mr. Wallace. I heard him speak in chapel as an undergrad but have since lost track of him. Until I saw this book reviewed in the NYT. And to tell the truth, it's a much needed one, especially in today's political climate where the Right Wing has hijacked Christianity (as the November elections show). This can be off-putting, especially to people who are Christian but who have more progressive insights it can also be off-putting to those who, while professing no religious belief, are longing for transcendence. The fact is, God isn't a Republican, God isn't even a Democrat: God is bigger than all that. This is Wallace's point. God's Politics shows how both the right and left need to put themselves under the microscope: the right because of its emphasis on 'family values' and tax cuts to the neglect of social justice, the environment, and the poor the left because it thinks that religion is irrelevant and not worth thinking about. What's needed is a return to the religion of Jesus and the prophets. This is where compassion, justice, and mercy rule one's life and thus will drive one to transform the world. Again, there's a huge emphasis on the poor, racial reconcilliation, the environment, and social justice for war-ravaged countries. The final chapter deals with hope and cynicism, which is ultimately the two issues we must choose between. If any transformation, healing, renewal, etc is going to happen in America, its citizens must opt for hope. Whatever one's religous stance is, people can struggle (it won't be easy) to build a better world and, hopefully, make it the world G-d wants it to be.
I would question if you have even read the Bible because it does not sound like you have any background in the area. Read Acts 2:42-47: 'They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.' Now, I don't know about you, but what more clearly could be said other than there was income sharing in that? Moreover, I think communism has been given a connotation that not many people understand. Communism in essense is not necessarily a bad thing, but humans who are corrupt take a hold of that and extort it to become bad. Now, I am not saying that I agree with communism nor am I not thankful to live in America, I am very thankful for that. I suppose my point to be made is that Jesus loved everyone and as believers we are called to have things in COMMON 'notice how close that word is to something else?' and give to the poor. While I think that Jesus does call some people to make more money than others, He has called them to use that money for good and to give it away because ultimately, that money isn't theres. It states in the Bible that everything belongs to God anyways, it's not ours. God is love and loves all, and what has gone wrong so much in this country is how religion and politics get so distorted that it's hard to tell the two apart. THe only thing that matters is a relationship with Jesus. Period. It doesn't matter if you are right winged or liberl or like bill o'reilly or have had an abortion or are gay. A relationship with Jesus is all that matters and those in power who claim to be right because the Bible says so need to get off their soap box and start telling people about Jesus.
Wallis, although he attempts to excoriate both Republicans and Democrats, is clearly more of the liberal sort. This being said, I enjoyed the way he chastised those who would use the Bible for political purposes despite the fact they misquoted much of the Bible. He does a great job of presenting his case until he gets to gays. He made a statement well into the book that indicates he's not as tolerant as he pretends to be. He favors 'civil unions' but he seemed to steer clear of the concept of marriage for gays. I think if he's going to be accepting of everyone, he cannot exclude a group because HE doesn't agree with who they are. As Jimmy Carter stated recently, Jesus never talked or criticized gays, that has been a more modern invention. Mr. Wallis needs to rethink his whole approach if he wants us to believe he's truly accepting of all people.
Jim Wallis is truly a gift to America, this book is a blessing to all those who hunger for political leadership grounded in authentic Christian faith. Share this book with your pastor, Sunday School teacher, youth group and congressperson. May this book be a bestseller, while it challenges the secular left and the religious right.
I find Wallis to be a Leftish version of what he criticizes on the Right -- someone who wants to impose his interpretation of Scripture on everyone else in America. Wallis criticizes the evangelical church for forgetting Jesus' words about providing for the poor and making peace. But rather than focus on changing the American church, Wallis devotes his attention to changing American government. He attacks the Pat Robertsons and G.W. Bushes of the Right for confusing the American Church with America the nation, but doesn't see that he does the exact same thing by calling for government policies to essentially replace and emulate the church's traditional role of supporting family, peace, and helping the poor.Wallis argues that faith-based non-profits can't do their jobs unless better funded by taxpayers. The shortcoming of Bush's Faith-Based Initiative was its lack of taxpayer funding. Rather than focus on increasing the voluntary giving of American Christians, Wallis wants to increase the forced redistribution from all Americans to non-profits through taxes.Wallis doesn't argue from a historical theological or philosophical perspective. Abraham Lincoln is about the oldest source as he draws from. Martin Luther King is held up as an ideal at least a dozen times because "He held his Constitution in one hand and his Bible in the other," we are told at least three times. Wallis rather annoyingly repeats his talking points over and again, making many pages superfluous.Wallis argues that the government should keep policies in line with what the majority of Christian denominations put out official stances on. The Iraq war was immoral because every denomination (except Southern Baptists) spoke out against it. Budgets are "moral documents," and all legislation should follow the prescription of the ecumenical Church-- increased taxes on the wealthy, increased transfers to the poor, higher minimum wage laws, "fair trade" instead of "free trade," funding "real education," debt forgiveness to poor countries, more environmental regulations, and a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, etc. Not as much ink is given to why those causes are correct scripturally or what the historical stances of the Church has been. Jim Wallis agrees with it, therefore it's right.He accuses the Religious Right of "prooftexting," twisting Scripture out of context to support their ideals. But Wallis engages in his own prooftexting. For example, he uses quotes from prophets like Micah to argue for debt relief for poor countries. But in the very next chapter in dealing with capital punishment, which Wallis opposes as immoral, he ignores that the same prophets both advocated and carried out capital punishment as God's will. (I'm not saying we should interpret OT Israel as prescriptive for today, just pointing out that Wallis wants to use some prescriptions for today while ignoring others-- prooftexting.)In a chapter dealing with the global economy, Wallis decries "free trade" practices of the West/North as putting undue restrictions on the South. Any trade agreement that includes restrictions shouldn't be called or understood as "free trade." The best thing America could do for trade with the poor countries Wallis wants to help would be to immediately unilaterally eliminate all tariffs and quotas to give them unfettered access to U.S. markets. But Wallis doesn't point this out. Probably because it would be heavily opposed by the trade unions Wallis ironically supports as many American workers in those formerly protected industries would eventually lose their jobs. While painful for those workers who must find new occupations, the truly poor people-- those earning $2 a day or less-- would greatly benefit. Wallis wants to have it both ways.There are some really vague prescriptions, like promoting "real education." What is "real" education? Wallis never says, just decries the American government for not supporting it better. On trade and labor economics, Wallis se
A firm statement of what the Left needs to hear and a vindication for frustrated folks of faith who are appalled at the way the Religious Right has appropriated godliness.The book is a compelling and easy read, if a bit repetitive. Wallis has a tendency to quote at length from open letters and newspaper ads he or his organization have written. These things should have been relegated to an appendix. I finally started skipping them.
Wallis discusses how he thinks Christians should approach certain political issues (mainly poverty, but also abortion, war, etc.). He comes back again and again to the idea that teh Bible mandates kindness and generosity to the poor. I liked Wallis's message, but I would have liked to see more ties to specific scriptures instead of one (or occasionally two) Biblical passages for each chapter followed by lots of opinion. This is nonetheless a thought-provoking book.
I wish I would have read this book back in 2006 when it was first published. Reading it has made me want to pick up Wallis' most recent book immediately, as I'm sure his examples would be even fresher than my timing on reading this one. The principles he describes in the book are timeless, however, and I'm grateful for Wallis' leadership in the Christian faith.In some ways, it seems like Wallis tried to pack so much into this one book that some of the writing was jumbled. Claiborne is much more of a gifted storyteller than Wallis and tends to create more effective transitions in his writing (check out An Irresistible Revolution for an amazing book by Claiborne). However, I believe Wallis is certainly contributing to the challenge to believers to think critically about their political beliefs and how they align (or or misaligned) with their faith.
I have to read this for my CHRISTIANITY IN CULTURE class, and overall it's pretty decent.
I want to make everyone read this book, Christians, non-Christians, Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals. I love how Wallis wants to make the world better, how he shows common ground between diverse groups, and how he nevertheless comes across as a deeply spiritual yet humble man.I plan to subscribe to Sojourners. I will take action. I will speak up. Thank you, Jim Wallis, for writing this book.
This book covers the moral necessity of adressing poverty, war, life (abortion and death penalty), realistic family values, and HIV/AIDS. The author does a very good job at analysing these issues from a moral and Biblical perspectives. He uses Biblical perspectives because that's what the majority is familiar with, but he does it in such a way that is inclusive to all people with ethical and moral beliefs, not just Christians of any denomination.My only quibbles with his book are the facts that, while he does an excellent job at looking at some of the issues, he does not consider the full range of how to adress these issues. For instance, in his discussion of abortion issues as being part of the Culture of Life, he does not adress some of the key issues of abuse to women-rape and incest, lack of access to birth control, or the issues of men's roles in abortion-not using condoms, disrespect of women that leads to rape, and lack of financial support for mothers. By ignoring some of these important issues, he shows that he sometimes forgets to look at a full spectrum of an issue. But these ommissions are very rare. Overall, this is a wonderful book that encourages hopefullness and action. It is a call to moral action-not just Christian (I bring this up because I'm not Christian), but especially to once-a-week Christians.
A somewhat disappointing book that I'm using in an adult ed class that I'm teaching at church. Wallis has lots of valuable things to say & draws on rich experience to back it up, but I find this book cobbled together, repetitive, oversimplified (which, as some have told me, means very accessible), & too polemical for my taste. It claims to be balanced, but isn't.
God¿s Politics offers a clarion call to make both our religious communities and our government more accountable to key values of the prophetic religious tradition - that is, make them pro-justice, pro-peace, pro-environment, pro-equality, pro-consistent ethic of life (beyond single issue voting), and pro-family (without making scapegoats of single mothers or gays and lesbians). These are the values of love and justice, reconciliation, and community that Jesus taught and that are at the core of what many of us believe, Christian or not.In many ways, Wallis agrees with the Religious Right about methods and disagrees about aim. Our governments (and our leaders) should be held accountable to the teachings of Jesus. Unlike the leaders of the Religious Right, Wallis takes a wider view of Christianity. They have focused almost entirely on changing laws on abortion and maintaining laws that forbid gay marriage. Wallis wants a broad agenda that more closely mirrors Christ¿s documented life, which is the above mentioned pro-this and that. Since Wallis has widely talked about this on his own, I will not attempt to speak for him. I will note that he too is mainly talking about passing laws. Following Christ means working for the laws that will best mirror what Jesus would want.
As much as I love the sentiments and agree with much of what he had to say, I could not enjoy this book. He failed to say much more than has been said in many of the Sojourners advertisements and that is an absolute travesty. I feel as if I have heard much of this just by reading articles on the website, but I believe this might be helpful for those who might be looking for a new political response by a Christian. I would not say I am incredibly informed even, so I can not recommend this to any who even know a bit about Jim Wallis and Sojourners.
Highly recommended. A great book about the role that religion (and Christianity in particular) should and should not play in public discourse.
Gods Politics gives an interesting opinion on what happens in Washington DC and then it's relativity to religion. The author did not shy away from difficult and touchy topics like birth control and abortion. He balances his own religious and political views well in order to keep the authenticity of the book However, at times his writing style annoyed me. He was constantly repeating himself to the point it was aggravating. At times it felt like he was stuffing ideas down your throat. That being said, the book did make me open my eyes that politics aren't all that anti-Christian like you're often lead to believe.The book was also very fair in critiquing both political parties equally, showing that there is religious bias in both parties. Overall, I would give it 3 stars because it has good ideas, but the writing quality is poor.
After the 20+ years of implications of everything from killing God to treason for what I believe this voice of sanity in the fray was like arriving at Grand Ma¿s on Christmas Day. A must read for all liberals & moderates to know they're OK and for all the neo-cons who wannabe.
I devour books, and this one I will read over and over again, mining for ideas. A longtime social and peace activist who is also an evangelical (but not 'Right-wing') Christian, Jim Wallis has written a book that every citizen should buy, get from a Public Library and READ...over and over again. It is not only filled with a lucid diagnosis of our social, cultural and political ills, it is crammed with ideas for building a habitable world for all people, and locating his rationale squarely within the tradition of the great social prophets, including Jesus of Nazareth. This book is a must read and re-read!
This is a perfect book for any moral mom who only wants to raise moral kids. This book is more in the middle of the road for each and every one of us. Finally, someone with a right on target message that we all need. Buy it and offer others your opinion on it and share it as often as possible. God's Politics is a total MUST HAVE in every home.
This is one of the best political books on the analysis of contemporary US politics. Jim Wallis successfully opened our eyes. In God's Politics, the author dissected the problems of the gross misinterpretation of Christian Ethic by the Religious Right and the Republican party, as well as the little attachment to religious discourse by the Democratic Party. Through his fair and balanced analysis of the two parties, Wallis made a strong conclusion and came up with suggestions on several things that should be done if we want to see a new dawn in political discussions. This is a must read for Americans and the rest of the world.
Jim Wallis has written an extremely readable, important and thought provoking book that all people with a moral grounding should read, whether they are people of faith, searchers or nonbelievers. Every page prompts readers to think deeply about American Politics in relation to their own values and choices and those put forth by the Republican and Democratic Parties. Even though you may not agree with everything the author writes, 'God's Politics' will make you think constructively and critically about the direction U.S. Politics has taken in recent years and the resulting current and future consequences for our nation and the global community. Once you finish this book, please pass it on to someone you care about. It is that important!