The Common Good

Evangelical Christian leader Jim Wallis preaches principle over party

Date: May 1, 2012

Just as this year's political wars started getting loud, Jim Wallis went silent.

Wallis, one of the most prominent voices in the progressive wing of the evangelical movement, took a sabbatical in January from his duties at Sojourners, the Washington-based Christian ministry he helped start in 1971. Wallis says he needed time away from the capital's toxicity to work on a new book -- his 11th -- and, more important, to reset his body and mind. First stop: a monastery in northern California overlooking the Pacific.

Prayer and contemplation helped Wallis recharge. So did rediscovering C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia" in the monastery's library. With thoughts of Lewis' remarkable Aslan -- the Christ-like lion who defends Narnia -- fresh in his mind, Wallis began to tune back into the campaign. What he heard dismayed and alarmed him.
Newly back to work and speaking at the City Club of Cleveland last week, Wallis lamented a political dialogue from both sides that strikes him as all about "middle-class voters and wealthy donors."

He wants to hear more about how both President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney intend to lift up the weakest in American society. He believes that people of faith should demand nothing less, regardless of how their political and moral compasses might align.

But Wallis fears that won't happen because too many Americans have become "political consumers," yoked to a team -- a favorite product that they somehow believe will solve every problem. They've stopped being true citizens who, in Wallis' view, are motivated by issues, not personalities or partisanship, who criticize and prod even those politicians they like -- maybe especially those they like.

Wallis has been an occasional spiritual adviser to Obama and a professional adviser to the White House on faith-based initiatives. Yet he complains that liberal commentators who once might have prodded the president from the left have morphed into campaign shills. He expects conservative voices to sing with one voice for their team now that Romney has locked down the GOP nomination.