The Common Good
December 1994-January 1995

The Elections: Danger and Opportunity

by Jim Wallis | December 1994-January 1995


This fall's elections were indeed a political turning point. The
Democrats who say their debacle was only a rejection of politics
in general and whoever was in power ...

This fall's elections were indeed a political turning point. The Democrats who say their debacle was only a rejection of politics in general and whoever was in power are just wrong. It was a rejection of them, their president, and the old solutions with which they are identified.

It was also a rebellion against politics-as-usual and the system's inability to find real solutions to our problems-problems that seem to be growing out of control. The election results offer both a new opportunity and a real danger.

I traveled to 16 cities during the 30 days leading up to the election. I was on tour for The Soul of Politics, speaking to the need for a new political approach and a vision of spiritual and social transformation that goes beyond the old categories of Left and Right, liberal and conservative.

Never have I felt a deeper cynicism about politics. Images, symbols, sound-bites, spin doctors, money, and attack dominate the political landscape. People in every region of the country are sick of it. But what I also found was a palpable hunger for alternative political vision, values, and leadership. In local town-meetings and on call-in radio talk shows, I especially discovered a widespread longing for a politics with spiritual values that transcends our failed and now dysfunctional political options and presents a fundamental alternative to the Religious Right.

The response from widely diverse public audiences and media forums was deeply heartening. Religious and non-religious people alike expressed the need for a real vision of moral transformation. Pastors and lay leaders, teachers and community organizers, former gang leaders and mayors, young people, mothers, and fathers all came together seeking a new political morality.

WITH THE END OF the Cold War, and now the collapse of confidence in domestic governmental structures that have failed to address our social crisis, it is time for new directions. It is not the time for progressive Christians simply to bemoan the liberal defeat. Do we believe that the large and distant bureaucracies that became the liberal solution are resolving the pressing questions of justice? Hardly. The rejection of those old solutions may clear the way for better answers, especially for those now being crushed by poverty and violence.

On the other hand, we saw a dangerous and mean-spirited Republican agenda in many election campaigns that would scapegoat and abandon the poor. Texas Senator and Republican presidential hopeful Phil Gramm is now calling for welfare reform that will "make the 40 million people who are in the wagon get out and help the rest of us pull it."

Whether just stupid or callous, such talk can only come from those who don't know or care about the reality of poverty. Such hatred toward the poor must be opposed on emphatically religious grounds. The Republican agenda of social abandonment is no alternative to the failures of liberal government policies.

The country will get little help from Christian Coalitions who can see no moral issues beyond abortion, homosexuality, and white middle-class self-interest, and who have sold their political souls to the Far Right. It is time for progressive Christians to mount a visible and sustained spiritual and political alternative to the Religious Right.

That alternative will be found in community-based political and economic solutions that bring together new partnerships for change. A politics of community could bring us together across the chasms of race, class, gender, ideology, and religion that now divide us. It is time for the religious community to help lead a dialogue about how a new political approach can be found and implemented. The resources of prophetic biblical faith can make an enormous contribution to this task.

Sojourners is ready to take up this challenge in an even more focused way. Our political priority will be to offer a clear alternative to the Religious Right and help create the dialogue for a fresh new approach.

Neither liberal nor conservative agendas are empowering the poor, creating community, and building bridges between our society's warring factions. Religious communities must now help to do just that. Neither big government nor big corporations can be relied upon to serve the common good. Neither endless public subsidies nor alleged trickle-down economics will generate real and lasting solutions to systemic social injustice and cultural breakdown.

Recovering our best personal and social values, rebuilding the fabric of our family and community life, restoring the connections between shattered urban neighborhoods and isolated suburbs, and renewing our political will for racial, social, and economic justice are tasks to which the religious community must now offer its leadership. Religious divisiveness and polarization must be replaced with a new spiritual sensibility that infuses the public debate with a deeper clarity of the moral values at stake in our impoverished political discourse.

A BIMONTHLY SOJOURNERS

Starting in 1995, Sojourners will go bimonthly. There are many reasons for this. An increased number of pages in each of six issues per year (instead of 10) will allow us to do more comprehensive coverage in each magazine. A bimonthly journal will also provide more time for our readers to read and digest all the material (a desire we've often heard).

This new publication schedule will allow editorial staff members to work on longer-term editorial and investigative projects and produce more resources, such as our racism and economics study guides. It will also help us get our message into wider arenas through increased communications and organizing activities. You will see more national and regional events sponsored by Sojourners to help bring people together and offer a stronger public profile for the alternative visions we seek. This change also will save us almost $45,000 per year, which is important at a time of financial pressure.

We like the "new Sojourners magazine" we are now creating. We think you will too. Publications such as Utne Reader and Tikkun have pioneered the bimonthly mode and done very well with it.

This combined December-January issue will finish out the year and begin the next. Instead of producing a February issue, we will take that month to finish "renovations" on the new Sojourners. The March-April issue will officially introduce the new format. We're very eager to hear what you think.

Sojourners relies on the support of readers like you to sustain our message and ministry.

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