Call to Renewal

The Political Legacy of Progressive Evangelicals

For all the media attention paid to the Religious Right, much less energy has been spent looking into its counterpart, the Religious Left. And yet, when Barack Obama first ran for president in 2008, he appealed directly to religious voters, pairing his Christian faith with his progressive politics—something his Democratic predecessors Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton did as well.

TRANSCRIPT: Obama's 2006 Sojourners/Call to Renewal Address on Faith and Politics

By Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock.
Barack Obama speaks at Sojourners/Call to Renewal's 2006 conference in DC on 6/26/06. By Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock.

Editor's Note: Following here below is the text of Barack Obama's keynote address at the Sojourners/Call to Renewal "Building a Covenant for a New America" conference in Washington, D.C., as he delivered it on June 26, 2006.

What Must Be Done

Having a 3-and-a-half-year-old son has made the horrific revelations about the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests even more abhorrent. His innocence and vulnerability have been my daily context as I listen to one awful story after another. It makes a person very angry.

Concern for the victims of the widespread sexual abuse has to be our first and overriding concern. Where the Catholic Church and its leaders have begun to fully repent of these terrible sins and make those who have been irreparably damaged its principle priority, it becomes the beginning of healing. But where concerns for the perpetrators, or the priesthood, or the institution, or the financial consequences have dominated the response, the original sin has been seriously compounded. Clearly, the path that must be followed now is to put the welfare of the victims over the protection of the system. Indeed, that is the only way to save and heal the system in the long run.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2002
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Loaves and Fishes

Call to Renewal is seeking 1 million people to sign our Covenant to Overcome Poverty in order to put poverty on the national agenda. It might seem ambitious or even foolish for a group as small as ours to try to multiply a few endorsements into a million. However, we're encouraged by the fact that we're not the first to attempt such a daunting feat. From the beginning, people of faith have been able to summon miraculous results from just a few raw materials and a lot of divine intervention! (See Luke 9:12-17 for details.) So we're pressing forward with enthusiasm and determination.

The signature campaign is crucial to our efforts to persuade both the media and the politicians that the issue of poverty deserves their quality time. In fact, we think that it will induce candidates from both parties not just to read our invitation to the Call's Fifth Annual National Roundtable this October, but also to attend. There we will invite them into dialogue with Christian leaders concerning how to overcome poverty.

Thousands of people have already signed the Covenant or become Call to Renewal members, committing their hearts, minds, and pocketbooks to this movement, but we need many more. Please add your "loaves and fishes" to those we've already collected. Your voice is critical to the movement. If you have not already done so, please sign the Covenant and consider joining Call to Renewal. Do it by visiting our Web site at www.calltorenewal. com or calling 1-800-523-2773. We can send you blank signature forms for all your friends and family. We're confident that with your help, including your prayers for God's blessing, we'll collect more than enough signatures - perhaps even 12 extra baskets full.

The Call to Renewal welcomes...

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2000
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Not Your Average Book Tour

The last city on my recent Faith Works book tour was Milwaukee. There I visited an "overflow shelter" run by the Red Cross and the Milwaukee Interfaith Conference, the sponsor of the "Faith Works Forum" here. At about 1:30 p.m., the makeshift gymnasium was still empty and quiet.

By 7 p.m. it would become a very noisy place, as 50 bunk beds would be filled with homeless women and their children.

On many of those beds I saw little stuffed animals and toys marking the places of the homeless kids who sleep there every night. They looked like my son Luke's animals and toys. By this time I should be used to poverty, but now I'm a dad and I felt like crying.

The Red Cross often runs shelters such as this after natural disasters like floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes. What was the natural disaster in Milwaukee and the other 16 cities we visited in the last six weeks? Virtually every city had overflowing shelters and food banks and soup kitchens stretched beyond capacity. This disaster is called prosperity. It's a prosperity that has left far too many people behind, then made things worse for them - such as housing costs that have risen so steeply that even poor working families can't find a place to live. To put it in the plainest moral terms, this just isn't right. In a record-breaking economy, one out of five children in America are still poor. Something is terribly wrong with this picture.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2000
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If Not Me, Who?

Seattle now has nine billionaires and 10,000 millionaires, according to a National Public Radio report a few weeks ago. A recent U.S. News cover story proclaimed, "The Rich Are Getting Richer." Housing prices in economic boom towns like San Francisco leave us in stunned disbelief, as do amazing news reports of investors who gain or lose $6 billion in one week’s stock market trading. Even the overused phrase "record breaking economy" seems old hat now when there are new milestones reached and records broken almost every day.

Clearly the "permanent boom" has done a lot of individual good for many people. But what will it mean for the common good? The same NPR report told of the ever-widening gap between rich and poor and the crumbling of public institutions such as schools. The rates of evictions and homelessness in San Francisco are also skyrocketing, and a very troubling moral picture is emerging. In the same news program, we hear that NASDAQ has reached an all-time high, then learn that new studies show alarming child-poverty rates. We learn that the number of U.S. millionaires has quadrupled from 2 million to 8 million in the last 10 years, but that 1.3 million people will become homeless sometime this year and 30 million people will experience "food scarcity," otherwise known as hunger. A recent New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story speaks of "The Invisible Poor," while a front page piece the same week in the Times explores the consequences of a new syndrome called "affluenza" on the children of the rich.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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Unleashing a New Moral Energy

You’d have to go back a long way to find this much church unity—maybe not to the first Pentecost, but a long way, to be sure. Churches in this country, it seems, have been known more for what has divided them than for what brings them together.

But there’s evidence that’s changing. Christian leaders representing 60 Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant, and African-American churches—along with major church-based organizations—gathered on the East steps of the U.S. Capitol in February around a commitment and promise: ending poverty in America.

With the launch of Call to Renewal’s Covenant and Campaign to Overcome Poverty, American church leaders are saying that poverty is no longer a bipartisan political tool but a top-priority nonpartisan issue. "The story today is very simple," observed Sojourners editor Jim Wallis, convener of Call to Renewal. "In a time of record prosperity, the poor are being left behind, but the churches are being drawn together. Today we are launching a Covenant that can change our lives and a Campaign that can change this country."

The Covenant begins with a confession: "The persistence of widespread poverty in our midst is morally unacceptable. Just as some of our religious forebears decided to no longer accept slavery or segregation, we decide to no longer accept poverty and its disproportionate impact on people of color."

Joining Wallis on the Capitol steps were John Carr, representing the U.S. Catholic Conference; Rich Cizik, of the National Association of Evangelicals; syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington; Rev. Wallace Charles Smith, representing the Progressive National Baptist Convention; Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches; Sharon Daly, representing Catholic Charities USA; Mark Publow, of World Vision; and David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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Poor No More

To his disciples, Jesus simply said, "follow me." That was an invitation, not a requirement, because an invitation respects the freedom of the invitee to accept or decline. An invitation was extended to the country to come to "Poor No More," the fourth annual National Summit on the Churches and Poverty.

In response to the invitation, more than 550 pastors, lay people, service-providing ministries, community development organizations, and representatives of human services departments gathered at National City Christian Church and the historic Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, D.C., for three days of worship, prayer, reflection, learning, and sharing.

Conference participants heard powerful messages of hope and determination, from the first evening's opening service led by Harvard University's William Julius Wilson and Rev. James Forbes, Senior Pastor at Riverside Church in New York, to the closing sermons on the conference's last day by Rev. Wallace Charles Smith of Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., Noel Castellanos of the La Villita Community Church in Chicago, and Mary Nelson of Chicago's Bethel New Life. Rev. Skip Long, national director of Jobs Partnership, blessed our souls with a creative spin on the Good Samaritan story titled "The Measure of Your Mercy."

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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Call to Renewal's Fourth National Roundtable

Fifty people gathered in Washington on December 7 for Call to Renewal’s Fourth National Roundtable of Christian leaders, and it resulted in an exciting consensus about Call to Renewal’s future. Just by gracing a common table, they embodied the Call’s vision: Diverse Christians putting aside their differences to focus on overcoming poverty in this richest of lands.

The group included representatives of the U.S. Catholic Conference, Progressive National Baptist Convention, National Association of Evangelicals, National Council of Churches, United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Habitat for Humanity, World Vision, Christian Reformed Church, Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints, and the Assemblies of God. Also represented were Bread for the World, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Evangelicals for Social Action, Christian Community Development Association, and Public/Private Ventures, among others.

They had before them a draft document to review and discuss. Titled "A Covenant with America’s Poor," it came out of work done by the Call’s Policy Team, a group of researchers and academics chaired by the University of Pennsylvania’s John DiIulio and Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, and contained policy ideas to inject into the 2000 political campaign year.

Roundtable participants lost no time jumping into a spirited debate about the meaning of "covenant," the content of the document, its purpose, and the tone it should take. By the end of the day, a consensus had emerged that energized participants and staff alike. As later ratified by the Call’s board, there will now be a shorter covenant, substantially the same as the one being used to recruit individuals to become Call members. All national partners and local affiliates will be asked to sign it. (The covenant can be found on the Call’s Web site.)

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2000
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Making Poverty a Campaign Issue

A New Policy Team. This fall Call to Renewal gathered a group of experts on poverty and economics to help us formulate policy proposals to successfully combat poverty. Those who gathered in October—John DiIulio, Ron Thiemann, Ron Sider, and Wendell Primus—are part of a larger group who will regularly advise the Call on policy issues. The Call’s policy advisory group also includes such notable experts as Mary Jo Bane, Richard Parker, Brent Coffin, William Julius Wilson, Rebecca Blank, Marshall Ganz, J. Bryan Hehir, Donald Miller, and Paul Simon.

Roundtable on poverty. We convened in December the Call’s Christian Roundtable on Poverty, where we presented the recommendations from our policy advisory team to leaders of a diverse group of national denominations and church-related organizations. Representatives from World Vision, the U.S. Catholic Conference, the National Association of Evangelicals, the historic black churches, mainline denominations, and many others were there. They focused on the agenda created by the policy team and reached a historic agreement to support a "Covenant to Overcome Poverty." This covenant is now the focus of our effort to get poverty in the national election-year debate.

annual summit, feb.13-16. The Call’s annual Summit, "Poor No More: A National Summit on the Churches and Poverty," will take place February 13-16. We plan to use this Summit to bring new vision, organization, and inspiration to our campaign to overcome poverty. At the Summit, we’ll present the "Covenant to Overcome Poverty" to the presidential candidates, whom we’ve invited.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2000
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