If the 2004 election taught us anything, it was how important religion has become in American politics. The question is, how well do our politicians understand religious issues? In his latest book, evangelical preacher Jim Wallis examines this question and offers “a new vision for faith and politics in America.”
Wallis, who has become a leading voice among religious commentators, is founder of the DC-based Christian ministry Sojourners and editor of the magazine of the same name. Part sermon and part political rallying cry, his book makes policy connections to the Bible and includes letters Wallis has sent to politicians such as British prime minister Tony Blair (urging him to find an alternative to war in the winter of 2003) and former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura (countering his claim that religion is irrelevant to public life).
God’s Politics begins with a critique of how America’s two major political parties use religion. Wallis lambastes the right for focusing its religious attention on sexual issues like gay marriage rather than speaking about matters of justice related to poverty and race. At the same time, he excoriates “liberal secularists” and asks, “Where would America be if the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had kept his faith to himself?”
Wallis criticizes the war in Iraq and warns against succumbing to a post-9/11 politics of fear. “I want to stop potential terrorist threats against my family and other innocents with all my being,” he writes, “but not in ways that risk and kill other people’s four-year-olds.” He notes that Jesus’s teaching to “be not afraid” effectively undermines current US foreign policy.
Wallis labels budgets “moral documents” that reflect what we most care about. He asks Congress—when cutting taxes for the wealthy and increasing military spending in lieu of domestic programs like health insurance and affordable housing—to remember the prophet Isaiah’s belief that people shouldn’t have to “labor in vain, or bear their children for calamity.” Wallis also relates the prophet Micah’s teachings to national security: “Micah is saying, you simply cannot and will not beat ‘swords into plowshares’ (remove the threats of war) until people can ‘sit under their own vines and fig trees’ (have some share in global security).
Wallis is at his best when connecting his arguments to the Bible rather than simply voicing his political opinions as a man of faith. Unfortunately, that happens less often than it should; when it does, his arguments become all the more intriguing and poignant.
For Democrats seeking better ways to apply religion to their platform, God’s Politics is a worthwhile read. It offers lessons for the religious right as well—so long as they can be less devoted to their politics than to their faith.