The Common Good
February 2005

Stumping for Values

by Jim Wallis | February 2005

The book tour will be a national conversation faith,

The day after the election,

The day after the election, the Sojourners and Call to Renewal staffs had our regular monthly chapel service. There was a lot of discouragement about the outcome of the election and fears about what a second Bush term would mean for many vulnerable people, even though there had never been great enthusiasm in our building for the rather visionless campaign of Democrat John Kerry.

In my sermon that day, I focused on Psalm 46, which says, "The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts" and ends with these words, "Be still, and know that I am God!" After the sermon we had a period of shared reflection and then prayer together. We aren’t political partisans, and are often critical of both Left and Right, but most of us did not want to see this election outcome. But as I said that day, "As Christians, we never know what God is up to."

I had no idea how true those words would come to be. The election results and a flawed exit poll question quickly sparked a national discussion on faith and "moral values." We have been in the middle of it ever since. I expected some post-election rest and quiet after the long, hard work done by our staff members during the campaign period. But since the election, the activity in our office has skyrocketed. Almost every day we receive invitations to do media interviews; the Democrats are calling for help in serious reassessment after a sobering defeat; the progressive religious community is mobilizing even more than before the election; churches, Christian colleges, and seminaries are calling to ask for help in understanding "faith and politics"; and our magazine and online readers are contacting us to offer even more support for a mission they say is "now more important than ever!"

I have been especially warmed by the flood of grateful and encouraging e-mails we’ve received after appearances on Meet the Press and many other network and cable news shows, many from people who hadn’t known of us. Through the myriad television appearances and radio and newspaper interviews, we are getting the word to even more people than before the election. In 30 years, we have never had such opportunities to get our message out to so many; it is striking a very responsive chord.

In the midst of all that, HarperCollins, the publisher of my forthcoming book, decided to move up the book’s launch from April 1 to Jan. 18 - Inauguration week - at the National Press Club. The book’s title, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, and its content are perfectly timed to this moment in American politics. We’ve already gotten media interest in the book, and I have been invited to join ABC’s Peter Jennings as a commentator for the network’s Inauguration coverage on Jan. 20. In early January there are also significant opportunities scheduled to address Senate and House members on these critical issues.

A national book tour will follow, a "stump circuit" focused on faith, moral values, and politics just as the nation has been awakened to that conversation. None of this, I suspect, would be happening if the election had turned out differently.

AT AN UNPRECEDENTED gathering of more than 50 progressive faith leaders and organizations in early December, we sensed the possibilities and promise of this moment. There are great political dangers ahead, but also prospects for a real spiritual awakening of faith with a social conscience. We rejected the identification of "Religious Left" as opposed to the "Religious Right" and spoke of a "prophetic politics" that goes deeper than Left and Right, with the ability to challenge both.

We called for unity without uniformity and named all those who could come together in a faith that does justice and seeks peace, from mainline Protestants to moderate evangelicals, from progressive Catholics to black, Latino, and Asian churches, joining those from the Jewish and Islamic communities and others who seek to make the connection between spirituality and social justice.

The board of Sojourners recently met and felt a very keen sense of the possibilities of our mission and the important role we might play at this critical time in our nation’s history amidst the world’s pressing problems. While we are very grateful for the amazing opportunities we are now having in the media, we decided that the expansion of the "alternative media" that Sojourners provides is more important than ever in providing a consistent public message, both when the national media microphones are offered to us and when they are not.

We want to expand the circulation of both SojoMail, our free weekly e-zine, and the magazine, widely syndicate our op-ed columns in newspapers across the country, start regular syndicated radio commentaries, and greatly expand our online constituency, capacities, and activities for education, organizing, and advocacy. We especially want to focus on a new generation of Christians at evangelical colleges and Catholic universities and to identify local churches across this country that are ready for real action.

The book tour for God’s Politics will be our next step; it will help lay a foundation for offering a more visible and prophetic message in American public life. With the help of a great publisher like HarperCollins, the media opportunities the book is already generating, and - perhaps most important - the strategic involvement of our own loyal constituency of Sojourners and Call to Renewal people around the country, we hope to make a real difference.

We want to make a book tour into a movement-building tour, a media opportunity into an outreach opportunity, and a new political openness into a new political direction. And for all that we need your help to promote the tour and the book’s message (see page 14 for an excerpt). We need your help in opening up opportunities in your churches, colleges, and communities and, perhaps most important, in talking with your family members, church members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers about how they can get involved in this. Along the way, we’ll try to provide you with some concrete activities and directions to pursue through the magazine and, especially, through our weekly SojoMail (visit www.sojo.net for a free subscription).

We’ll use the Web site to keep you posted on the upcoming media discussions and the book tour schedule. We need your involvement to turn these wonderful opportunities into something that makes a real difference. I’ll see you on the road.

Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners. For a schedule of Wallis’ speaking events, including the God’s Politics book tour, visit www.sojo.net.

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