Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners and author of God’s Politics and several other books, has made an important contribution to the conversation about the role that evangelicals should play in politics in his newest book: The Great Awakening:Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America.
Wallis believes that it is “revival time” because young Americans are connecting faith with a desire to work for social justice. In The Great Awakening, Wallis seeks to carve out a niche that is evangelical at the same time that it is strongly progressive. In many ways, Wallis seems to be trying to fill the gap that is left by increasing dissatisfaction with the religious right and their myopic focus on the issues of abortion and homosexuality.
The Great Awakening begins by discussing what Wallis sees going on currently in American society and culture. He discusses the climate that has made revival possible. He then provides guidelines for “How to Change the World, and Why” and argues for an approach to politics that operates not from the far left or the far right, but from the “moral center.” In chapter 4, he lays the groundwork for an argument for “politics for the common good.” Wallis argues, “What we need most are people rooted in ‘conservative’ values and commitments but willing to be ‘radical’ enough to apply those very values in the real world” (101).
After discussing the context and trying to establish some ground rules, the remainder of The Great Awakening deals with seven specific areas that a politics for the common good will address. These areas are revealed in each of the chapter titles that deals with them; Inclusion and Opportunity: The Welcome Table, Stewardship and Renewal: The Earth Is the Lord’s, Equality and Diversity: The Race to Unity, Life and Dignity: Critical Choices, Family and Community: The False Choice, Nonviolent Realism: Resolving Our Conflicts, Integrity and Accountability: Doing the Right Thing and the Question of Leadership.
The chapter of these that hit me the hardest was the chapter dealing with equality and diversity. My eyes have been opened, maybe they are continuing to be opened, to the realities of racial discrimination in the United States. In the past year I have had two friends from different racial backgrounds rattle off a list of ways that they had been discriminated against (things like having a friend who was jumped on the beach and urinated on, having someone drive by and yell a racial slur at you as they drive by, and the ultimate injustice was when someone was arrested, charged, and prosecuted for more than six months for a crime that he did not commit). I also recently read Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy Tyson, which describes the murder of a black man in broad daylight by white men who were not convicted. This happened in the early 1970s! So, having this in the back of my mind, I really resonated with Wallis comment that “the idea that our racial sins are mostly behind us and that we have no systematic racism anymore is simply a denial of the truth that betrays a lack of serious relationship to communities of color… most people of color in the United States can still tell person stories of racial discrimination. The question still for white Americans is, Are we listening? (187)
In the next chapter, “Life and Dignity” Wallis endorses the consistent ethic of life argument, revealing much of the inconsistency in the right and left’s approach to life. “If I were an unborn child and wanted the support of the far right, it would be better for me to stay unborn as long as possible, because once I was born, I would be off its radar screen – no child care, no health care, nothing. Nor should I expect support from the far left, which speaks so much about human rights, because I won’t have any until after my birth” (214).
Wallis brings The Great Awakening to a close by encouraging his readers, especially his younger readers, to “No longer accept the unacceptable. Change what is believed to be possible. And always make the choice for hope” (297).
This book is definitely worth the read. While I didn’t agree with everything Wallis said, I felt like he was asking the right questions. I also felt like he was on the right track as far as discerning where the next generation of Christians seem to be headed. Perhaps due to my own ignorance, I was surprised to hear of Wallis’ identification with Red-letter Christians. And I was even more surprised to hear that the term came from a conversation he had with someone. I have been very interested in the alliance that seems to be strengthening between folks like Wallis, Tony Campolo, and Ron Sider. I will be hopefully praying for an awakening that links faith in Jesus Christ to good works done in his name. If this book helps wake up to the reality of who God is and the difference God is calling them to make, it will make a contribution that is far more important than simply writing an insightful book about Christians and politics. Here’s hoping.