The Common Good

When Prayer Is More Powerful Than Politics

Watching the dysfunction in Washington over the past two weeks has been painful. Our leaders have grown too comfortable with pushing the limits, and we let a few dozen of our own representatives — the people elected to promote the common good, or “general welfare,” as the Constitution calls for— hold the nation's economy hostage for the sake of their political self-interest.

Photo by Brandon Hook/Sojourners
Jim Wallis holds the waterlogged Poverty & Justice Bible Wednesday morning outside the Capitol. Photo by Brandon Hook/Sojourners

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But after the storm comes the promise — the hope of lessons learned and new ways forward together. A few key groups of people have renewed my faith that this is possible.

First, I want to thank the women of the Senate, both Republican and Democrat, who helped lead us to choose the common good over ideological agendas.

Second, I want to acknowledge the mysterious influence and power of prayer that spread across the nation to help reopen our broken political process and protect the nation from more catastrophe. Yesterday morning, your prayers connected with those very same senators who spearheaded the deal — Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) — as they joined us to pray over Congress on the Capitol lawn before walking in to work on ending the shutdown.

And finally, I am grateful for the spiritual discipline we engaged in this past week of reading all 2,000 verses in the Bible about poverty and justice every day the Congress was in session over the shutdown during our #FaithfulFilibuster. We now stand prepared for the upcoming budget battles that will again threaten the lives of poor and vulnerable people.

Ultimately, disaster was averted — for now. Last night, Congress agreed to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling despite lingering opposition from the ideological fringe. Thankfully people will be put back to work, critical services will restart, and our country's credit rating remains intact (though certainly blemished by all this mess). 

But moments of crisis are also times of opportunity, as multiple experiences over the past two weeks have revealed to me.

On a stormy Thursday morning, a young woman who had been furloughed by the shutdown approached me on the second day of our Faithful Filibuster. Angela had come to observe, but then joined us to read. I was so encouraged by her willingness to join us, but didn’t realize that God used us to encourage her:

“I thought I was walking over to observe something wonderfully holy, but I had no idea that God was going to use to this to encourage me. Being asked to step to a podium and read the word of God a day after I was told it wasn’t my place brought me to tears. We serve a God who has put passion in the hearts of all of his children. If we silence even one of those voices we are missing out on a precious piece of God’s redemptive plan for this side of Eden.”

A couple of days later, our Filibuster was joined by a young pastor who brought a carload of parishioners with her from Ohio just to read with us. Rev. Kate Shaner encouraged me with her joy in declaring God’s word:

“As I stepped onto the grass and began to read, the long hours of the trip began to fade away as the words of the Gospel began to cross my lips. I remember feeling that I would have driven a thousand miles to be able to proclaim the good news of the message of Christ and to speak the Word out loud in a way that comforted God’s people. I would have kept on reading until I couldn’t do it anymore, true filibuster style, all the while looking at the Capitol building with all her power. Our Christian story is one of liberation, new life, abundance, and mercy. It is a story that brings good news to the poor, and I will tell it until I no longer have breath.

Yesterday, on our last day of the Filibuster, a group of pastors in Iowa shared that they went to their congressman’s office and held a vigil of their own. Here is an excerpt of their prayer:

… We pray that our elected representatives will remember that their neighbor is not just their party member, but the person across the aisle, as well as the furloughed national monument groundskeeper, the devastated cattle ranchers in South Dakota, the Head Start student’s parents, the toddler receiving WIC nutrition aid, the struggling small business owner, the cancer patients praying for the NIH to open, the countless others who worry and wonder, and these Christian pastors praying for you in your Des Moines Office today.”

And finally, one of Sojourners’ own interns, who participated in the Filibuster almost daily, reminded me today why it is that we do this:

“God used pastors, students, old and young, whites and blacks, D.C. natives and out-of-towners, people in scruffy clothes and well-dressed businessmen giving me the thumbs-up, to give me a greater hope and enthusiasm for what we accomplished. Many thanks to all who planned or spontaneously lent their time to stand with us in solidarity for the poor. May you be blessed, as I have been.”

Those who have been blessed by God are here to be a blessing. Thank you to each of these women for their faithfulness and for helping us weather this recent storm. You’ve reminded me that despite the dire forecasts, the common good remains.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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