One of the most important moments in the development of my political conscience was reading several articles in 1982 on the covert war in Nicaragua in Sojourners magazine. Sojourners, a progressive evangelical Christian magazine edited by Jim Wallis, castigated the Reagan administration for fighting the development of democracy in Nicaragua. However, it was no less forthright in its criticism of Democratic President Jimmy Carter for starting the covert war against Nicaraguans who had deposed the brutal Somoza regime.
Last night over at Vanderbilt, I joined a standing room only crowd to hear Jim Wallis once again criticizing both the political right and left in this country for getting both democracy and faith all wrong. Wallis told the group that Christians--along with other people of faith and like-minded people of no faith--should not simply work together on changing the election of government officials who merely stick their fingers up to see which way political wind is blowing. Instead, he said, "You have to change the wind." Wallis called upon the group to focus more on building a social movement--already begun in the wake of the 2004 election, the Iraq War, and Katrina's aftermath--in which faith has a place for political expression, but in which faith also disciplines itself with democracy and inclusion.
He contrasted that more chastened role of faith in politics to the political rightwing, which he claims created and mobilized the religious rightwing to gain control of our government. Wallis told his audience that religious rightwingers have it wrong as they attempt to portray Jesus as "pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-America." He also contrasted a chastened faith to the political leftwing, which he claims does not create any place for people of faith, not even progressive people of faith. He told a story of how a young gay man told him at one book-signing that it was easier for him to come out of the closet as a homosexual in America than it was for him to come out as a person of faith in the Democratic Party.
Wallis told his audience that he is unapologetically evangelical and unapologetically progressive, and that people in this new growing social movement need to be as unpredictable to both the press and the partisan politicians. There is much more common ground, for instance, on the seemingly divisive issues of abortion and gay marriage among evangelicals and progressives than partisan groups allow, according to Wallis.
Almost a quarter of a century after I first read Wallis's Sojourners magazine, I can see that he is still standing up to both sides of the political spectrum from a uniquely Christian perspective that remains attractive to many Christians and non-Christians alike.