Jim Wallis is a New York Times bestselling author, public theologian, speaker, and international commentator on ethics and public life. He served on President Obama's White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and was former vice chair of and currently serves on the Global Agenda Council on Values of the World Economic Forum.
Jim is the author of 12 books. His most recent book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, was released in January 2016. His other books include: On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery; The Great Awakening:Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America; and God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.
He is president and founder of Sojourners, where he is also editor-in-chief of Sojourners, which has a combined print and online readership of more than 5 million people. Jim frequently speaks in the United States and abroad. His columns appear in major newspapers, including The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Boston Globe. He frequently appears on radio and television as a commentator on CNN, MSNBC, Fox—on shows such as Meet the Press and Hardball—and on National Public Radio. He has taught at Harvard University, Georgetown University, and a variety of other academic institutions.
Jim was raised in a Midwest evangelical family. As a teenager, his questioning of the racial segregation in his church and community led him to the black churches and neighborhoods of inner-city Detroit. He spent his student years involved in the civil rights and antiwar movements. Jim founded Sojourners while a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois. Jim and several other students started a small magazine and community with a Christian commitment to social justice. More than 40 years later, Sojourners has grown into a national faith-based organization. In 1979, Time magazine named Wallis one of the "50 Faces for America's Future."
Jim lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife Joy Carroll, one of the first women ordained in the Church of England and author of Beneath the Cassock: The Real-Life Vicar of Dibley, and their young sons, Luke and Jack. He was a Little League baseball coach for 11 years — 22 seasons.
Authors Jim Wallis and Eddie Glaude Jr. join Morning Joe to discuss the water crisis in Flint and how racial geography impacts the country.
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How does faith inform public debates on social justice in U.S. politics? How should religious leaders and politicians engage the political process while maintaining their moral witness? Since the fall of 2011, Jim Wallis has been addressing these questions in a course he teaches at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. He leads the class through a series of topics that intersect religion, society, and politics. Sojourners and the Berkley Center have now made this course available online through video recordings and course packets.
The (Un)common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided
Jim Wallis thinks our life together can be better. In this timely and provocative book, he shows us how to reclaim Jesus' ancient and compelling vision of the common good — a vision that impacts and inspires not only our politics but also our personal lives, families, churches, neighborhoods, and world. The (Un)Common Good is the revised and updated paperback edition of On God's Side and includes a new preface.
On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned About Serving the Common Good
On God's Side examines the deepest problems this world faces. What we need is a commitment to an ancient idea whose time has urgently come: the common good. How do we work together, even with people we don’t agree with? How do we treat each other, especially the poorest and most vulnerable? How do we take care of not just ourselves, but also one another? Wallis tackles these questions and more in this challenging, yet hopeful book.
The Great Awakening: Seven Ways to Change the World
What would it take to change the world? What would it take to end extreme poverty, to address climate change, to create peace? For too long, a narrow religious agenda has been used like a wedge to divide people. But a wider and deeper vision of faith and values is emerging. It's a renewal of faith – a great awakening – that combines personal faith with social justice. A new social movement is on the rise. The Great Awakening is upon us.
God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It
God's Politics offers a clarion call to make both our religious communities and our government more accountable to key values of the prophetic religious tradition. Our biblical faith and religious traditions simply do not allow us as a nation to continue to ignore the poor and marginalized, deny racial justice, tolerate the ravages of war, or turn away from the human rights of those made in the image of God. These are the values of love and justice, reconciliation, and community that Jesus taught and that are at the core of what many of us believe, Christian or not.
Faith Works: How Faith-based Organizations are Changing Lives, Neighborhoods, and America
"In Faith Works, Jim Wallis has woven together a detailed road map for those interested in loosening the chains of social injustice. This book is a powerful resource for change!" Millard Fuller, Founder and President, Habitat for Humanity International
The Soul of Politics: Beyond 'Religious Right' and 'Secular Left'
Jim Wallis responds to signs of cultural breakdown and political impasse with a resounding and highly moving call to reintegrate politics and spirituality - a call for a new political morality combining social justice with personal responsibility.
The Call to Conversion: Recovering the Gospel for These Times
Jim Wallis explores Jesus' call to God's community and away from worldly standards, the churches' betrayal of the call, and the possibilities for a new response.
Posts By This Author
White Evangelicals and the Election
AFTER A LONG and extraordinarily toxic election, white people elected Donald Trump president of the United States. They weren’t the only ones voting, but the white vote—coupled with efforts to suppress minority voters along with diminished enthusiasm and turnout among all voters—was enough to make the difference. After beginning his political career with a racist birther campaign against the first black president, then starting his presidential campaign with a speech that viciously denigrated Mexicans and immigrants, Donald Trump won the election not in spite of but because of his bigotry.
One of the important moral discussions that will take place over the coming months is around the questions “Who did evangelicals vote for in 2016, and why?” White evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Trump, but evangelicals of color did not. In light of these results, we need to step back and ask much-more-basic questions, such as “What is an evangelical?” “What do evangelicals look like?” and “What issues motivate evangelical voters?” The answers are more complicated and more encouraging than what the media and pollsters have traditionally described and what the votes of white evangelicals in this election painfully showed.
In 2016, the conversation about who evangelicals are and what issues motivate them began to change. An influential declaration signed by 80 racially diverse evangelical leaders focused on their rejection of the racial and gender bigotry of Trump. It clarified the fundamental differences between older white evangelicals and a new generation of multiethnic evangelical leaders and what they care about.
One sign of progress is that when the media discuss religious voting preferences, they are now more likely to use the phrase “white evangelicals” as a category rather than assuming that the term “evangelicals” applies only to white people.
Robin Hood in Reverse
THE RICHEST EIGHT people in the world, according to an Oxfam report this January, own more wealth between them than the poorest 50 percent of humanity—3.6 billion people.
Let’s make that clear: Eight people own more wealth than 3.6 billion people. That is simply grotesque. And it is the type of fact that needs to break through the complacency and routine of our daily lives, and the latest outrages of the U.S. president, and spur us to demand effective collective action to change course.
Many people don’t spend much time thinking about the difference between income inequality and wealth inequality, but it’s important to understand that wealth inequality is both harder to fix and harder to justify, and it has enormous consequences that resonate over multiple generations. The reality that the Oxfam report makes plain is that even while global extreme poverty has seen dramatic reductions over the last couple of decades, global wealth continues to be concentrated at the very top, into fewer and fewer hands.
The recovery of global financial markets since the crash of 2008 has been very good for the already wealthy, but for those who didn’t have many assets to begin with, the recovery of the stock market has benefited them far less. To put it bluntly, the class of the people who had the most to do with causing the crisis ended up benefiting the most from it.
Truth and Consequences
ELECTIONS HAVE consequences. It’s a phrase we hear all the time, generally from whichever party won a recent election and is claiming a mandate to fulfill campaign promises.
Sometimes, for those observing Washington from the outside, the truth of this statement can get lost. People see partisan gridlock and say to themselves, “Nothing ever gets done in Washington. Both parties have all sorts of problems. Why should I even bother to vote?” Yet the truth is that all elections—local, state, national—matter. They all have consequences. And in 2017, we are seeing this play out in particularly dramatic and alarming ways.
There are countless examples, but I want to focus on the Department of Justice. While most employees there are career civil servants who stay in their positions regardless of who is president, new presidents get to fill many of the top positions with political appointees. Presidents can pick whoever they want to fill these posts (some must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate), and they can be fired by the president at any time, for any reason. FBI directors serve 10-year terms to insulate them from political pressure, but as we saw in May with James Comey, they can also be fired by the president at any time.
Resistance and Healing
WHERE MUST we start as Christians and faithful churches after such a devastating election that brings the most dangerous man to the White House that we have seen in our lifetimes?
First, many people are terribly afraid, because they are from groups who were attacked and targeted in the campaign by the new president-elect. We must take those attacks seriously by reaching out in solidarity and protection to those who are now most vulnerable—undocumented immigrants, black and brown Americans, Muslims, women of all races, and LGBTQ folks. Members of these groups have already experienced ugly incidents of hate and violence, including increased harassment, vandalism, and even assaults on children and others in the wake of the election results. If I read my scriptures right, those are the people that Christians and other people of good conscience should now turn to in solidarity and support. That is what Christians are supposed to do: Support the poor, the vulnerable, and those under attack.
Second, we must make it very clear that honest and prophetic truth-telling about race in America will be needed as never before in our time, especially from white Christians. The fact that a majority of white Americans, at every level of class and gender, voted for a candidate who ran on racial and gender bigotry is even more distressing when we see that a majority of white Christians voted just like other white voters. And it is revealing that those who say this election was not about race are white, while Christians of color see race at the center of it. Repentance by white Christians in America will require the replacement of the white identity politics that dominated this election with faith identity politics.
One of the saddest aspects of the election for me is the fact that most white evangelicals voted for a man whose life has embodied the most sinful and shameful worship of money, sex, and power and who represents the very worst of what American culture has become.
In Such a Time as This
MANY PEOPLE IN our nation, and indeed around the world, are frightened by the things happening in Washington, D.C. Those most affected by the actions of this administration are especially afraid—and so far the fears of those who were directly targeted by President Trump during the campaign have proven all too justified.
Immigrant families are faced with an administration crackdown on undocumented people. Children are afraid to go to school, families avoid medical facilities, and some people have even expressed their fear of going to church, where they might be targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents—whose numbers Trump and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly have promised to increase by at least 10,000 as part of a deportation force.
In just one of many disturbing examples, in February ICE officials surrounded, questioned, and detained six Latino men who had just left the hypothermia shelter run by Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church in Alexandria, Va. It is difficult to overstate the outrage and betrayal felt by so many that a church shelter for the homeless was targeted by the government to locate and detain undocumented immigrants. Amid these threats, people of faith are pledging to protect and defend undocumented immigrants under attack.
Many others are afraid too. Every black parent I know is afraid for their children, and that is a fact that white Christians, many of whom voted for Trump, must understand. Black pastors are concerned about the young people in their communities and their interactions with police. Racial policing is obviously not a new problem in America, and Trump didn’t start it, but the racial rhetoric of his campaign and the appointments he has made have struck fear into the hearts of many. The president promotes “law and order” and “stop and frisk” in familiar coded language that racial minorities understand. If there is no accountability from the administration or the Justice Department for those who would use excessive force against citizens of color—and especially young people—churches and clergy are pledging to hold their police departments accountable.
How to Preserve White Supremacy
EARLIER THIS YEAR I heard Rev. William Barber of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina use the phrase “Mr. James Crow, Esq.”
Since hearing the phrase, I have been reflecting on the revised and updated name for Jim Crow, the comprehensive and brutal system of racial segregation, discrimination, and terrorist violence against black lives and bodies—explicit in the U.S. South, and often implicit in the North, throughout the 20th century.
I have been thinking about this new and more-sophisticated Mr. James Crow, wearing a white shirt and a tie instead of a white sheet and a hood and inhabiting the back rooms in state legislatures and corporate offices instead of rural backwoods lynching sites.
I’ve also been thinking about Mr. Crow’s strategy for the 2016 election and the years ahead.
Mr. James Crow’s biggest concern now is the transformational demographic shifts occurring in the United States, which by 2040 or so will see a significant milestone: For the first time, the U.S. will no longer be a white-majority nation and, instead, will be made up of a majority of minorities. That’s one of the most important facts in American political life today. This fundamental demographic shift in racial and cultural identity is underneath almost everything in U.S. politics—including the presidential election.
So with a suit instead of a sheet, how does Mr. James Crow, Esq., enact his strategy? And what are the servants of Mr. Crow saying to one another?
THIS NEW VERSION of Jim Crow has a clear, systematic strategy to protect white supremacy and promote racial segregation, discrimination, and even violence. He knows that even he, with all his power, can’t prevent the racial demographics of America from evolving. But he thinks he can obstruct and delay the changes that new racial demographics will bring to American life and politics. In apartheid South Africa, we saw that even when a racial group is in the minority, it can wield the power to oppress other races and protect its own supremacy.
Mr. James Crow’s five-part strategy includes:
A Blueprint for Resistance
THOSE BEARING witness at Standing Rock have become some of the most important, and most prophetic, leaders protecting God’s earth in America today—especially given the threat to our environment that Donald Trump represents.
There is no better example of what the struggle to protect God’s creation looks like now, and may look like in the future, than the “water protectors” at Standing Rock, who have put their bodies on the line for months to stop the Dakota Access pipeline from being built on sacred tribal lands and endangering the water supply of Indigenous people. Native Americans have been joined by people of every color and creed, including clergy (see “A Chorus of Resistance” in this issue) and military veterans, to prevent the construction from moving forward, despite brutal attacks from private security forces and state law enforcement.
The decision by the Army Corp of Engineers in early December to deny an easement for the pipeline route across Lake Oahe on the Missouri River, adjacent to the Standing Rock reservation, will temporarily halt the construction. But the head of the company building the pipeline has been a major contributor to Trump’s campaign, and with perhaps the most anti-environment president in memory about to enter office, the struggle is far from over.
“It is a temporary victory,” Denise McKay, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux told the Washington Post. “We’ve got to stay put and stay united.” Her daughter, Chelsea Summers, added, “everybody is still here for the long haul.”
The Politics of 'Against'
“WE CAN'T LET our status as nonprofits turn us into non-prophets.” My old friend Rev. Timothy McDonald III, senior pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church, said that at a town hall meeting on racism that we had in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church last spring, on the anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.
In McDonald’s “prophetic” way, he was pointing to a real dilemma that many of us as church leaders are having with this election. Namely, how do we speak to the clear Christian issues involved in this election without violating our status as a nonprofit organization? (Under IRS regulations, so-called 501(c)(3) organizations such as ours are prohibited from participating in political campaigns.) How do we raise up a morally independent stance, as opposed to a politically partisan position?
Sojourners has always sought to change the conversation of election debates by lifting up the voices and interests of those outside of traditional political discourse: the most vulnerable, who are often of least interest to those looking for votes or campaign contributions. We have never endorsed a candidate for president but have always raised the moral issues of poverty, peace, justice, and the dignity of every life during election campaigns and asked Christians to vote according to those values.
I spent three days in early September with three different groups of faith leaders who were trying to bring their faith to bear in this election. These meetings, which featured leaders from many faith traditions, ethnicities, and theological backgrounds, focused on how to respond to the divisive and dangerous racial rhetoric in this presidential election campaign. We sought to discern how to remain independent of partisan political causes, faithful to the transcendent Christian values that are clearly at stake in this election, respectful of Christians who are led to different voting preferences in every election (which is a healthy thing), and civil in our own public discourse in an election environment that seems to have lost all civility.
FOR MANY OF US, how people treat the Earth goes far deeper than “politics.” Our relationship with God’s creation is, at heart, a theological matter.
The Paris climate accord is not perfect—it does not go far enough and it is not binding. Nevertheless, it was a giant step forward to have 195 countries commit to curbing the carbon emissions that are endangering the planet and the people who live on it, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. That step was very important, the result of decades of hard work and diligent diplomacy.
Therefore, Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the agreement is a theological failure and an abdication of American leadership on perhaps the most important crisis facing the world today. Politically, it was enormously shallow, arrogant, and truth-less: three words that sadly characterize many of the bombastic statements and decisions the administration has made.
Lies and Damn Lies
LIVING IN THE United States in the first months of Donald Trump’s presidency often feels surreal, disorienting, and overwhelming, including to some people in positions of considerable responsibility and influence.
There are, of course, many reasons for this, and those who regularly read my columns can no doubt list many of the things that most perturb and anger me about this administration. Many of us are focused on our solidarity and support for those who are most vulnerable in the face of the new political realities. We have lifted up the Matthew 25 Pledge movement aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants threatened with deportation, African Americans and other people of color threatened with racialized policing, and Muslims threatened with xenophobic hatred and discrimination.
But a unifying theme of all of Trump’s outrages and threats is his brazen assault on the very concept of truth and objective, knowable facts. Amid everything that’s going on, consuming and interpreting the news each day is considerably more exhausting than it should be because it has never been more difficult to sort fact from fiction. While this isn’t entirely Trump’s doing, his almost daily falsehoods have the large platform and weight of the presidency to prop them up and pound the American people with persistent and pervasive lying.
This spring, the news cycle was thrown into turmoil for more than a month by Trump’s evidence-free allegations that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had illegally wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. The president lied, accusing his predecessor of a serious crime with no justification or evidence. Rather than retracting it and apologizing, Trump has tasked his administration and the intelligence community with finding any shred of evidence to retroactively justify his lie.