And, Wallis said, people are hungry for an alternative that is for something rather than simply against things, affirming what we've been trying to do for some time. In light of this, he offered an analysis of three major shifts he sees happening: religious, political, and economic.
"The Religious Right was a Christian mistake," Wallis said bluntly. "Alignment with a specific segment of any political party is always a problem....Left and right are political categories, not religious ones."
Christianity, he said, has always been and always will be a minority faith with a counter-cultural stance tempered by what's right for the common good. President Barack Obama reflects this in his use of "Jesus" more than George W. Bush. Calling Obama the "most Christian president in a long time," Wallis said that while he invokes the name of Jesus unapologetically, he also leaves room for others.
We can learn here to be open enough to make the space for new conversations on issues important to all people rather than narrow segments of the population. One of the major shifts Wallis sees is that for people under 30, multiculturalism is assumed and faith cannot be separated from social justice.
"They understand that Jesus cares more about 30,000 kids dying from preventable diseases each day than gay marriage being on the ballot," said Wallis. "Don't go left, don't go right, go deeper."
"We haven't had a budget that prioritizes the poor like this in our lifetimes," Wallis said Marian Wright Edelman told him as they walked into the President's faith council together recently.
He said that while most elections are simply rearrangements of power, this one seems different. Obama seems to understand that the only way to turn swords into plowshares is for people to have their own vines and the assurance of safety -- words straight from the Hebrew prophets (to whom he also compared favorably Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert of "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report"; he also compared them to Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple).
In general, our nation's capital has been "all about access, not results," he said, "and access becomes it's own reward." Now Obama has opened the doors to many more people, recognizing that, Wallis said, "disagreement is finally a way to offer deeper support."
In other words, just because someone is in office whose values are closer to ours, we can't stop working. We need to continue to challenge the status quo and offer our words of disagreement rather than simply being happy that this is better than the alternative.
"We need a powerful movement now more than ever," Wallis said. "Social change happens when we push on open doors."
"A crisis is a terrible opportunity to waste," Wallis said, quoting others. "We must ask, 'How will this crisis change us? and not just 'When will this crisis end?'"
"The invisible hand has let go of the common good," said Wallis, "and we can't go back to business as usual. What are the values in this crisis we have lost? And how do we have that conversation?"
Wallis went on to site the Seven Deadly Social Sins as listed by Mahatma Gandhi in 1925:
- Politics without principles
- Wealth without work
- Pleasure without conscience
- Knowledge without character
- Commerce without morality
- Science without humanity
- Worship without sacrifice
He encouraged churches to reclaim the idea of a parish - a geographic area or neighborhood that we are responsible for and then to engage in different economic practices, such as sharing and bartering.
Wallis brought tears to my eyes at the end as he retold the story three times of progressively younger children coming up to his book signing table after a talk and saying they had been inspired by him. The last one was eight years old and said, "I think I'm the youngest!" Wallis had talked about the lives of children being lost. When he asked about her response to his talk, this young girl responded, "You said there's a silent tsunami that's killing us. I better change it!"
"We bring the faith than any change is possible," Wallis said. "Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change."
The two most recent books by Jim Wallis are the best-selling God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It and The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America. Also see more at the web site Sojourners: Faith, Politics, and Culture (http://www.sojo.net/).