The Common Good

Jim Wallis: Sam Brownback Says 'The Poor Will Save Our Souls'

Sen. Sam Brownback and I don't see eye-to-eye on every issue or policy, but he's been a faithful ally in our efforts to forge a grand alliance of conservatives and liberals to fight poverty - something he and I agree this country needs. He was also part of our Pentecost conference last year. He just did an interview with Beliefnet's David Kuo, in which he made some of his clearest statements ever on the issue. You can watch the video or read the transcript here, but here are a few good quotes:

I would agree wholeheartedly that we're not doing everything that we can or should for the poor, and that hurts us. The poor will save our souls. It's the story of Lazarus and the rich man. I mean, and that story haunts me because it's a story about us today. You know, Lazarus is a poor man laid at the rich man's doorstep and even has sores that dogs lick. ... Lazarus goes to the bosom of Abraham, and the rich man goes to hell. And he says, "Lazarus, help me out." Well, I can't. And I just look at that, and I just go, if we just engage the poor, they'll save our souls. And that's what I look at when I see - and go into Africa or poverty situations here, or even in prisons, and you actually talk with people.

On the relationship between faith and politics:

I do believe in the separation of church and state. But I don't think separation of church and state means you have to be free from your faith. My faith informs everything I think and do. It's part of my value system. And to suggest that I can somehow separate and divorce that from the rest of me is not possible. I would not, under any circumstances, try to impose my personal faith and belief on the rest of the country. I don't think that's right. I don't think that's appropriate. But freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom from religion. And I think that anything we can do to promote the idea that people should express their faith is a good thing.

It's also interesting that he's talking about the need for revival. I'm believing more and more that politics alone cannot overcome poverty and our other great social problems. I don't think it's a choice between a political and spiritual solution, and it looks like Brownback and I share some similar hopes for revival. Even if we don't agree on every detail about exactly how such a movement of the spirit will inform our policies, we do agree on the historical imperative:

You've got the lowest level of family formation ever, in terms of marriages. You still have seriously high divorce rates. There are more people in prison per capita than in any other country in the world. Is there a historical precedent for turning this around with anything other than mass revival - in other words, through a religious conversion as opposed to something political?

I've asked that very question of historians, and they haven't been able to cite one to me. I think those two move together. When you look at - I think one of the more recent examples that is somewhat close to it would be pre-Victorian England in the late 1700's, early 1800's, and you had the Wesley brothers that came forward with Methodism. And then, you had the political movement that moved on top of it ... and the end of the slave trade took place. But, you had a culture then that was starting to deteriorate, and then was revived. And then, that revived culture then took on big topics like the slave trade.

Perhaps most refreshing in a politician is this level of humility:

I still have a lot of judgmentalism in me, where I'd see somebody and I just would, you know, I disagree with this person, and you kind of automatically cast them away. And even though you don't do anything physically, you don't say anything, but people get a real sense of your heart. And I think that's probably the place that [God would] be most displeased.

I recommend reading or watching the entire interview as an important part of the ongoing discussion of faith and politics that we're always glad is taking place.

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