Illustration by: Matt Mahurin
I heard Jim Wallis, the social activist and star of the religious left, talk last night in Washington about his new book, The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America.
Wallis had a best-seller a few years ago with God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. Now he is ready to declare at least partial victory and move on: "The dominance of the religious right over our politics and our country is finally finished," Wallis told 150 nodding heads at Politics & Prose. "Now the issue is, having taken our faith back, what are we going to do with it?"
Wallis is just getting started on a book tour that will take him to churches and bookstores in 20 cities over the next six weeks. (It meant he had to skip Davos this year.) As he travels, he wants to gather support—and email addresses—for a movement he is trying to build. The time is right, he thinks, to harness a broad-based spiritual renewal that has been taking place and convert it into real social change. The agenda is broad (poverty, human rights, climate change, ending the war) and the movement is necessary because, he said, "Politics is failing to resolve the biggest issues of our time."
Wallis likens the project to old-fashioned spiritual revivals. "Imagine something called Justice Revivals, in the powerful tradition of revivals past but focusing on the great moral issues of our time," he writes. "Imagine social movements rising out of spiritual revival and actually changing the wind of both our culture and our politics."
But don’t worry. You don’t have to be religious to sign up. In his near-Garrison Keillor tone, Wallis said a "new denomination" is sweeping the nation, one that is spiritual, but not religious, and we’re invited too. Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry’s fame, counts himself in this church, and Wallis told him: "Offer them ice cream and you could be the bishop of this denomination."
Wallis sounds much more like a Democrat than a Republican and the only presidential candidate he mentioned by name was "my friend Barack," whose belief in the importance of hope Wallis shares. But he doesn’t want any party to take his vote for granted. "We ought to be the ultimate swing vote, holding both sides accountable," he said.
That seems like what’s happening with many evangelical voters this year, as their concern about the environment, poor people and an aggressive foreign policy takes them away from the traditional leadership of the religious right, which often seems bogged down in fighting against gay marriage and abortion. "A new generation wants a broader and deeper agenda,"
Wallis said. He’s hoping to help them craft it.