Rescuing Religion From the Right

The Rev. Jim Wallis says gay marriage and abortion aren't the only values-related issues religious people care about.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, when the role of religion in politics became a hot topic, one voice in particular represented the religious liberal point of view. The Rev. Jim Wallis, editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine and a founder of the faith-based antipoverty organization Call to Renewal, appeared on countless TV and radio shows to debate religion and politics with leaders of the religious right. His new best-selling book, "God's Politics," further considers the topics he debated during the campaign. Wallis recently spoke with Beliefnet about ways to incorporate liberal religious positions into politics, the values-based issues religious people should care most about, and his outlook on the role of faith in politics during the next four years.

There was a lot of discussion after the election about the moral values vote. What values did people vote on?

It's funny-a flawed exit poll has shaped a national conversation. I call it flawed because one choice was moral values. The others were about issues like Iraq and terrorism and then the economy, health care, jobs. But if I was a religious voter who cared about the war, I would have checked Iraq, and it would have been a moral value. If I were a Catholic coordinator of a food pantry, I would have checked the closest thing I could find to poverty, which would have been jobs or health care or the economy.

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So if you take the issues like war and terrorism and group them as values, that was about 33% as opposed to 22% for moral values. If the economy, health care, and jobs are all values, it was about the same. A Zogby poll about a week later confirmed that intuition. It asked, What was the biggest moral issue in your voting? Forty-two percent said the war in Iraq. Then they said, what's the greatest moral crisis in America today? Something like 33% said greed and materialism. And 31% said poverty and economic jobs. So that's 64% saying that poverty, greed, materialism, and justice are the greatest moral crises in America today. I found that very encouraging. And abortion was less than 20%-16% in fact-and gay marriage about 12%. It showed there's a broader, deeper, richer conversation to be had here. It's not just one value or two values; there are a lot more fundamental moral values that need to shape our political direction.

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Interview by Rebecca Phillips
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