The Common Good
July 2009

A Paradigm Shift

by Jim Wallis | July 2009

Our Mobilization to End Poverty this spring brought together nearly 1,200 Christian leaders and grassroots activists from around the country committed to overcoming poverty.

Our Mobilization to End Poverty this spring brought together nearly 1,200 Christian leaders and grassroots activists from around the country committed to overcoming poverty. The various presentations—both the inspirational plenary sessions and the in-depth training workshops—were widely praised as excellent.

Morning Bible studies and three nights of uplifting worship with soul-deepening music and powerful preaching by Rep. John Lewis, Rev. Frederick Haynes, and Bishop Vashti McKenzie helped us remember why we were there. Awards were given to exemplary grassroots activists Rachel Anderson, Lisa Sharon Harper, and Alexie Torres-Fleming and national media figure Tavis Smiley, all of whom embody the crucial pursuit of economic and racial justice.

President Obama sent a personal video thanking the activists for coming to Washington and for what they do back home. The video was followed by a panel discussion with top White House staff working on the anti-poverty agenda, including the director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Joshua DuBois; the administration’s point person on poverty, Martha Coven; and Special Adviser for Green Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation Van Jones.

The next day we went to Capitol Hill. Faith leaders got appointments in the offices of 84 senators and 213 representatives! Our advocacy teams urged Congress to commit to reducing poverty by half in the next 10 years, fully funding the foreign assistance budget, and supporting health care reform. At a rousing afternoon rally, five members of Congress came to speak to us, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

The diversity of the participants was also encouraging. Twenty-four denominations and dozens of faith-based organizations were represented—progressives, moderates, and conservatives—further demonstrating Sojourners’ commitment to reaching across the theological and political spectrum and uniting the church in the fight against poverty. It was also delightful to see more young people than at many of our previous conferences, as well as greater racial and ethnic diversity.

I told participants that we need to make a paradigm shift in our thinking. We now have a president and some members of Congress who want to make a change and seriously confront poverty, but they will be pressured by powerful special interests with a stake in keeping things as they are. So we need to be serious about our movement, and we need to understand the opportunities of this moment. There are two mistakes we could make. First, to act like nothing changed—it has. Second, to think that because we now have friends in high places, we can relax—we can’t. We now need to push harder than ever, but against an open door, which is always the formula for social change.

We need to move from purely an outside posture—being defined by what we’re not and what we’re against—to strategically bring together inside and outside forces for change, being defined by who we are and what we’re for.

Participants left the Mobilization committed to watching what will now happen in Congress on issues impacting low-income families and vulnerable people, praying for policy makers to do the right thing, standing with those in poverty, educating their churches and communities, and building relationships and advocating to hold their members of Congress accountable to a bold anti-poverty agenda. We are committed to a series of follow-up steps that will make it clear that the Mobilization was not just an event but a step in a campaign to overcome poverty.

My favorite story from the week was a young woman who had been sexually trafficked in a major East Coast city. When civic crusaders closed the brothel where she lived, she became homeless. But she connected with one of our partner groups, and they brought her to the Mobilization. There she heard about a Jesus she had never heard about before—one who wanted to liberate people like her. So on their delegation’s way to the Capitol, this young woman gave her life to Jesus at the corner of 10th and D. That’s the vision I have—of believers doing the work of the kingdom of God in the world, for justice and peace, and people coming to faith because of their witness. Thanks be to God!

YOU ARE HOLDING the first issue of our newly redesigned Sojourners magazine. It’s been eight years since our last redesign, and like most things a magazine needs a periodic facelift to remain fresh. We’ve been working on this for nearly a year, and I’m very pleased with the results. To launch the new Sojourners, the issue contains an interview I did with Comedy Central Daily Show host Jon Stewart. I’ve been on Jon’s show twice, and I have come to appreciate his knowledge, wit, and prophetic satire. We had an engaging conversation, and I hope you’ll enjoy it. I will be doing more of these conversations with significant public figures in future issues of Sojourners.

Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners.

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