"Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words" is a quote widely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It also seems to be the motto of Pope Francis. Instead of just talking about abstract doctrines, he consistently lives out his beliefs in public ways that have grabbed the world's attention. His example of humility, compassion, and authenticity resonate powerfully in Washington, where cynicism is rampant, pride remains even after the proverbial falls, and an ideology of extreme individualism has overtaken a significant faction within our politics.
The Pope's words and deeds fascinate us because they are genuine and selfless. How could a leader of global significance spend time cold calling pregnant women in distress, kissing the feet of young Muslim inmates, or embracing a disfigured man? What sorts of values motivate such behavior? These stories touched our hearts, but they appeared irrelevant to our politics.
Then the Pope started talking about our wallets, which, according to a several commentators on the far right, instantly transformed him into a threat to capitalism itself.
This past year taught me so much about the gospel and caused me to go deeper into my faith. As this new year begins, here are five spiritual resolutions I learned from last year:
1. Return to the gospel. Gordon Cosby, the founder and pastor of The Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. passed away in early 2013. He was a mentor, elder, and spiritual director to me. I miss Gordon greatly and often have things I would like to talk with him about. But I usually know what he would say to me and it would always be about returning to the gospel. In his last sermon, spoken from his death bed, he spoke of Jesus’ “clear and frightening statement that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”
Listen as Sojourners CEO Rob Wilson-Black asks Jim Wallis about his recent fast for immigration reform.
Today I had the great honor of saying a prayer at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, the most important political leader of the 20th century. This was an honor, not only because of Mandela’s stature on the world’s stage, but because he was someone I admired very deeply and personally. His fight for justice and reconciliation is one that has inspired me in the work that we do at Sojourners.
There were several highlights of the service today. There were several choirs, two of which brought each mourner to their feet, clapping along to their versions of Shosholoza and Siyahamba. There were many beautiful speeches and recitations, including a reading of Maya Angelou’s poem for Mandela called “His Day is Done.”
But what stood out to me the most was the homily by Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak, Director of the Desmond Tutu Center at Christian Theological Seminary, Butler University. As he paid tribute to Mandela’s life and described his “long walk to freedom,” he punctuated his remarks with “it ain’t over, until God says it’s done,” a quote from Maurette Brown-Clark’s song of the same name.
Editor's Note: New Vision Renewable Energy connects Christians with opportunities to provide renewable solar lights to people in the developing world. Their Christmas Lights Advent Devotional features daily readings and questions from prominent Christian thinkers, including Sojourners president Jim Wallis. This Day 10 of Advent devotional from Jim Wallis is reprinted and adapted with permission of New Vision Renewable Energy. You can find the full Christmas Lights Advent Devotional guide and solar light kits here: http://nvre.org/devotional-order.html
Proclaiming Jesus as light of the world is an audacious statement. It directly challenges all those idols that persistently attempt to replace God as the center of our lives and our world. In our culture, a selfishness that denies any obligation to anyone or anything beyond our own self-interest may be the greatest idol of all. It denies that demanding more and more energy at great cost to our environment and the people who live close to the land has problematic consequences. We have lost sight of the common good and the consequences have been devastating.
In many places, hope has turned into despair. Darkness seems to be crowding out light. From where will our help come from?
(Editors Note: This post contains updates from Jim Wallis as he experiences the "Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship," taking place on the National Mall.)
Dec. 10: This is the eighth day of the water fast for me and the 30th day of the Fast for Families with many people coming to participate in the tent — almost 200 so far.
This has become a very spiritual place, even a holy place. And when people come here, including members of Congress, senators, faith leaders, celebrities, heads of organizations, and so many “ordinary” people, and undocumented immigrants themselves, the stories being told are changing people’s minds and hearts.
In response to the passing of Nelson Mandela, Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners, issued the following statement:
"Nelson Mandela was the most important political leader of the 20th century. While Roosevelt and Churchill helped protect the West and the world from Hitler’s Nazism, Mandela heroically exemplified the historic movement against colonialism and racism that oppressed the global south, depicted so dramatically in South Africa’s apartheid. And from a Christian point of view, Nelson Mandela combined justice and reconciliation like no other political leader of his time, shaped by the spiritual formation of 27 years in prison. Mandela’s life has blessed the world with courage and hope. For me, Nelson Mandela has been an ideal of what leaders can be. Being with him after his release from prison, and being present at his presidential inauguration, gave me a sense of a moral authority that I have never experienced with any other political leader."
The debate about immigration reform has been very productive in America over these past several years. And that debate has been won — by those who favor a common sense agenda for reform.
Two out of every three Americans now favor fixing our broken immigration system — two out of three! According to a recent report by the Public Religion Research Institute, 65 percent of Americans say that the U.S. immigration system is either completely or mostly broken. That same report found that 63 percent of Americans favor immigration reform that creates a pathway to citizenship, crossing party and religious lines. 60 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents, and 73 percent of Democrats favor a pathway to citizenship.
However, a minority of lawmakers — almost all white legislators in artificially gerrymandered white Congressional districts — is blocking a democratic vote on immigration reform. The Senate has already passed a bipartisan bill to reform the immigration system; written and forged by an impressive coalition of Republican and Democratic Senate leaders. And if a similar bill was put to a vote in the House of Representatives, it would also pass.
A recent post by Sojourners’ Jim Wallis and Lisa Sharon Harper, Only 19 Percent Are Women, brought to light how most major evangelical conferences are still reluctant to feature qualified women as plenary speakers. In a quick survey of 34 such conferences, women gave only 19 percent of the main addresses. To Harper and Wallis, the paucity of females on these influential platforms is a serious problem.=
But I also know that some organizers actually do embrace that God originally charged women and men to lead together. And they believe that Christ’s work on the cross has destroyed the curse that’s led to systemic patriarchy — however benevolent — that has kept far too many women from being restored to their rightful place as coheirs of God’s kingdom. In their local settings, they gratefully serve together with female leaders. However, when it comes to pulling together a platform for their group’s conference, they choose not to include females for fear of backlash or boycott from the more conservative speakers and invitees.
As an icy wind whipped the sides of a packed tent, five activists committed themselves Tuesday to fast from food and drink and to camp in front of the U.S. Capitol until Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform.
“I know that there are going to be difficult days ahead of me,” said Eliseo Medina from the Service Employees International Union. “I know that going without food will not be easy and I know that I will suffer physical hunger."
“But there is a deeper hunger within me, a hunger for an end to a system that creates such misery among those who come here to escape poverty and violence in search of the American dream.”
Religious and labor leaders joined immigration activists at the launch of the “Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship.” Many will participate as “solidarity fasters,” fasting for a shorter time.
(Editors Note: On Nov. 12, faith, immigrant rights, and labor leaders launched the “Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship,” taking place on the National Mall. The following remarks are from Jim's speech given at the event.)
Despite the overwhelming public support — among all political stripes — to fix our broken immigration system, Washington's utter political dysfunction is blocking change.
It is time to pray and fast for a change that now feels like a "miracle." And that's what we now pray for. Pray against the racial fears and messages that are being used against immigration reform. Pray for courage and character on all sides — for Republicans who believe in an inclusive party and nation to stand up to Republicans who want an exclusive party and nation and for Democrats not to use this as a political issue for their self-interest. Pray for political leaders to do what few of them do well — to put other people's needs, especially poor and vulnerable people's needs, ahead of their own political agendas.
(Editors Note: Faith, immigrant rights, and labor leaders launched the "Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship," Nov. 12, taking place on the National Mall. Leaders and immigrant members of the community are fasting every day and night, abstaining from all food — except water — to move the hearts of members of Congress to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship. This post is composed of updates from Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for Sojourners, as she experiences the fast.)
Eleven national leaders marked this as the first day of a 30-day rolling fast for families — a call for immigration reform and a path to citizenship. The fasters and other leaders of the civil rights movement, including Julian Bond (civil rights veteran), Rev. Jim Wallis (Sojourners) and Wade Henderson (Leadership Conference on Civil Rights), walked into that tent and behind the podium.
One after another, the fasters stood before the podium — Sister Simone Campbell, Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Eliseo Medina, Dae Joong Yoon—and offered testimony. This is why we are fasting. We are fasting because we cannot wait any longer. We are fasting because we stand with the 11 million people and their families who cannot wait for congress to get itself together for the pain and suffering in their families to end. We are fasting because whether we are immigrants who came here voluntarily in the last century or our ancestors were brought here in chains 200 years ago, we are fasting America a better place for all.
On Oct. 13, Asian Americans United published an open letter asking the church to reevaluate its behavior toward its Asian brothers and sisters. The letter demands that the evangelical community listen and respect a community that has generally been overlooked or disregarded. Central to this issue is identity.
When we begin to divide or alienate communities through our behavior based on race, we are additionally dividing the identity of Christ. However, if we return to the core of what being Christian entails, we are reminded that we are not our own and find a new calling to community.
With whom do you identify? In a nation, with over 75 percent of its population nominally claiming the label Christian, asking whom we identify with is an important question. It is a challenge but a daily necessity to reflect on our character and ask if we are truly representing Christ.
The most controversial sentence I ever wrote, considering the response to it, was not about abortion, marriage equality, the wars in Vietnam or Iraq, elections, or anything to do with national or church politics. It was a statement about the founding of the United States of America. Here’s the sentence:
"The United States of America was established as a white society, founded upon the near genocide of another race and then the enslavement of yet another."
The comments were overwhelming, with many calling the statement outrageous and some calling it courageous. But it was neither. The sentence was simply a historical statement of the facts. It was the first sentence of a Sojourners magazine cover article, published 26 years ago titled “America’s Original Sin: The Legacy of White Racism.”
An extraordinary new film called 12 Years a Slave has just come out, and Sojourners hosted the premiere for the faith community on Oct. 9 in Washington, D.C. Rev. Otis Moss III was on the panel afterward that reflected on the film. Dr. Moss is not only a dynamic pastor and preacher in Chicago, but he is also a teacher of cinematography who put this compelling story about Solomon Northup — a freeman from New York, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery — into the historical context of all the American films ever done on slavery. 12 Years is the most accurate and best produced drama of slavery ever done, says Moss.
In her New York Times review, “ The Blood and Tears, Not the Magnolias,” Manohla Dargis says, 12 Years a Slave “isn’t the first movie about slavery in the United States — but it may be the one that finally makes it impossible for American cinema to continue to sell the ugly lies it’s been hawking for more than a century.” Instead of the Hollywood portrayal of beautiful plantations, benevolent masters, and simple happy slaves, it shows the utterly brutal violence of a systematic attempt to dehumanize an entire race of people — for economic greed. It reveals how morally outrageous the slave system was, and it is very hard to watch.
Under a cloudy and drizzly sky, across the street from the U.S. Capitol, David Beckmann read passages from the prophet Isaiah.
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God,” read Beckmann, president of Bread for the World and one of several Protestant and Catholic leaders who gathered Wednesday to launch “Faithful Filibuster.”
The effort is intended to remind members of Congress that the government shutdown is hurting poor and vulnerable people.
Last night, Jim Wallis appeared on "The Ed Show" to discuss why it's imperative to avoid cutting social programs like food stamps that feed millions of poor and hungry in our country. Those pastors who disagree, he says, usually don't know the faces of those directly affected by such cuts. You can watch the segment Jim appeared on here:
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of a day that changed America, changed the world, and changed my life forever. I was fourteen years old on Aug. 28, 1963, in my very white neighborhood, school, church, and world. But I was watching. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., became a founding father of this nation on that day, so clearly articulating how this union could become more perfect.
He didn’t say, “I have a complaint.” Instead, he proclaimed (and a proclamation it was in the prophetic biblical tradition), “I have a dream.” There was much to complain about for black Americans, and there is much to complain about today for many in this nation. But King taught us that day our complaints or critiques, or even our dissent will never be the foundation of social movements that change the world — but dreams always will. Just saying what is wrong will never be enough the change the world. You have to lift up a vision of what is right.
The dream was more than the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which both followed in the years after the history-changing 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It finally was about King’s vision for “the beloved community,” drawn right from the heart of his Christian faith and a spiritual foundation for the ancient idea of the common good, which we today need so deeply to restore.
Sojourners president Jim Wallis was recently a guest on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher." In the course of the show Maher confronted Wallis on the Bible, asking him some very pointed questions about some of its more troubling texts. You can watch the exchange HERE.
Maher asks, "How do you reconcile this idea that it all comes from the Bible, but the Bible is so flawed... I mean, it's just so full of either nonsense or viciousness." In response, Wallis steered the conversation back to the topic of social justice and compassion, often overlooked Biblical mandates. Maher objected several times, accusing Wallis of "cherry-picking the good parts" of the Bible while ignoring the bad parts.
I'm a big fan of Jim Wallis (heck, I blog for Sojourners!), and I appreciate that he moved the conversation away from Maher's attempted divisiveness and back to caring for the poor and immigration reform in this country. He's totally right that caring for the marginalized should be the priority of us Christians, and I understand that he wanted to stay focused on that.
At the same time, I think the question Bill Maher was raising is an important one, too, because it ultimately has to do with caring for the marginalized as well. That is, when the Bible is read in a hurtful way, it can and has been used throughout history to justify horrendous violence and mistreatment. That matters, and consequently it matters how we read the Bible. So as someone who has focused on confronting those "bad parts" in Scripture, I wanted to take a stab at addressing Maher's questions.