Why Faith at the Conventions Matters

By Jim Wallis 08-26-2008

I am now in Denver for the Democratic National Convention, and I will be in the Twin Cities next week for the Republican National Convention. I am speaking at both about the moral issues the faith community believes are important -- among them poverty, the environment and climate change, a consistent ethic of life, strong families, pandemic diseases, human trafficking, war, and peace. The Democrats are, for the first time, having "faith forums" to discuss those issues, and I will be moderating two of those forums -- one on the meaning of "the common good," a central religious concept. There will also be issues forums at the Republican Convention on the connections between faith and politics, which I am looking forward to participating in next week. At both conventions, the media is showing great interest in the connection between religion and the election, and that's the other reason I will be at both places.

The proper relationship between faith and politics is a critical issue. In recent decades, religion has often been used, and even abused, by politics and politicians. There is now a legitimate backlash to the exploitation and "politicizing" of religion among many in the churches -- especially a new generation. But the backlash could also lead to a new form of the old private piety or a new communal piety -- that the only important relationship is the one between "me and God" or in the churches' "service" to their own communities (an improvement over mere personal piety, but far short of the biblical call to justice). See Brian McLaren's post yesterday on the dangers of the new piety.

Politics is important. Wilberforce could not have ended the slave trade in England without politics. And it would not have been enough for Christians to just not have slaves. Martin Luther King could not have achieved the victories of civil rights without politics. It would not have been enough for the churches to just disavow segregation. (In fact, as King reminded us, the most segregated hour in America was and still is 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings). Gandhi could not have freed India from colonialism, nor could Nelson Mandela have ended apartheid in South Africa without politics. Politics is supposed to be about the common good, about the moral values we want to guide our civic life, even though the practice of politics often makes many people cynical.

But politics is broken in America, as I have often said. And it will take social movements, with clear spiritual values, to change politics in America. That is what genuine revivals have always done -- changed hearts and changed society. And that is still my best hope.

There are many people of faith here at this convention in Denver, as there will also be in the Twin Cities. The important thing for us as people of faith at both conventions is to make sure that our "politics" are more "prophetic" than "partisan." As I have continually repeated, God is not a Republican or a Democrat, and people of faith belong in no party's political pocket. The danger at both conventions is that religion will be exploited -- again -- this time by both sides. So I will be reporting to you on how that goes, whether the people of faith who are here are able to offer that prophetic role that faithfulness requires, that would hold politics accountable to real moral values, and would offer the best hope of social change. Stay tuned.

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