The Common Good
April 2005

Riding the Whirlwind

by Jim Wallis | April 2005

As the tour continues, a new movement for justice in America is being spread. I can feel it.

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I’m now on a whirlwind book tour with my new book, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, and the events convince me that it has become a "movement" tour. The book has helped to open the door for that. We are reaching beyond the usual audience to ordinary people in America - people who want to apply their faith or values to politics and are eager to talk about how to do that.

In Memphis, Tennessee, I walked out of the Marriott to look for a cab that could take me to a local studio for an interview. A young porter rushed over to assist me. When she saw the copy of God’s Politics I was carrying, she exclaimed, "Oh, that’s the book all my friends are talking about! Is it good?" Two older porters I had met earlier were also standing there and poked the young woman playfully in the ribs. "He wrote the book!" they told her. The men were from local churches and had asked me earlier in the day what text I was preaching on for the Lenten series at the downtown Calvary Episcopal Church. The younger porter got even more excited. "Could you sign my book if I bought one and brought it in tomorrow?" she asked eagerly. I had to leave before she got in the next day, but I left a signed copy for her at the front desk.

The following day, in New York City, I got a long personal note from somebody who worked at the concierge desk and heard I was coming to his hotel. He is also a storefront pastor, had read God’s Politics, and wanted to connect to Sojourners. Other hotel desk clerks greet me warmly, say they saw me on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and tell me how much they liked what I said. Makeup artists and sound technicians who powder my nose and wire me with microphones for TV interviews say, "We saw you on (this or that show). We don’t usually listen to the people we wire up, but we want you to know that we’re all listening tonight."

Hundreds of people are coming to bookstores. At churches, universities, and conferences the crowds are even larger, from 1,000 to 2,500. These events have become town meetings, involving Christians of every kind, Jews, Muslims, those who don’t call themselves "religious" but rather "spiritual," and those who are agnostic about faith but believe that "moral values" should shape our public life. At every stop, I say that America needs a new moral conversation about politics and needs us all to be a part of it.

PEOPLE PROUDLY tell me that they are "with Sojourners." They say with a real sense of loyalty that they are long-time readers of the magazine and are thrilled that "our message" is finally getting through. They see the breakthrough of God’s Politics as the success of their message, their hopes, and their work. They feel a deep ownership of the mission and are excited to see it becoming a movement. They see that it is not just them who are coming to the events, but their friends and neighbors, fellow congregation members, co-workers, and even family members who haven’t considered these issues before. They see the discussion of the book and its topic of faith and politics in their newspapers and in the media they watch. They are finding new openings for discussions at church, at work, at school, and over the backyard fence. Pastors tell me that the discussion around the book has opened up new opportunities in their communities. Many of our supporters are starting study groups around God’s Politics with the desire to draw even more people into the conversation. This is an exciting time for all of us as the discussion we’ve been having together for many years becomes a national conversation.

Not only are the crowds large and diverse, they are also full of young people, which is one of the most exciting things. I’ve spoken in chapel at Baylor University in Texas, Wheaton College in Illinois, and Bethel College in Kansas. At all of them, students are full of questions about how to get involved. I did an "e-mail altar call," and many eagerly wrote down their e-mail addresses to sign up.

Something else very moving is happening at many stops. Parents tell me how their son or daughter had lost their faith and left the church. "But my son saw you on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and got the book. He just wrote his mother and me to tell us that he is finding his way back to faith." There was a tear in that dad’s eye when he told me this. I’ve heard many stories like that now, about sons and daughters, husbands and wives, and even parents who hadn’t been to a church in many years now taking a fresh look at faith and how it applies to the social issues they care about. Reading the book seems to be bringing some families back together around the issues of faith and social justice.

As I write this, I’m on the West Coast, with events in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and then up to Portland and Seattle. As the tour continues, a new movement for justice in America is being spread. I can feel it.

Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners.

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