God's Politics

NOTE: On Wednesday morning, just after writing his initial reaction to the election, Jim Wallis received word that his father had suddenly passed away. He is now in Detroit with his family, and funeral services will be held Sunday. Please keep him and his family in your thoughts and prayers. After reading all of the comments to his piece, we thought we should answer in Jim’s absence.

At Sojourners/Call to Renewal’s national conference in June, Sen. Barack Obama delivered a major speech on faith and politics. He spoke eloquently about his personal faith and how it influences his political views and activities, drawing accolades from many quarters. But some liberal bloggers (who sounded like secular fundamentalists) immediately decried the speech, repeating the argument that religion should not be brought into politics.

By saying, “In this election, both the Religious Right and the secular Left were defeated,” Jim’s point was this: contrary to those who say faith has no place in politics, and that Democrats in particular should keep their faith to themselves, this election saw many Democrats win who speak openly about their faith, and how it informs their political views. This articulation was one of the reasons they were successful. Some are political liberals, (Governor-elect Ted Strickland (OH) is a liberal former Methodist minister) and some are conservative, (Representative-elect Heath Shuler (NC) is a conservative Southern Baptist) but both spoke of their faith in their campaigns, and both were elected.

And, as Amy Sullivan pointed out in The New Republic, in a number of states, “candidates and party leaders sat down with evangelicals and Catholics who had never been contacted by a Democrat before.” Rather than writing off all religious people as conservative, Democrats made a point of outreach to the religious community, listened to their concerns, and answered their questions. “It turns out,” she concluded, “that moderate evangelical and Catholic voters are willing to push the button for Democratic candidates. But sometimes it helps to talk to them first.”

Amid the questions, one comment got it right. “Capitalized letters matter, folks. Jim means Secular Fundamentalists, not all secular people. … Jim has continuously expressed his gratitude for the connections he’s formed with the secular Left.” That is indeed what Jim meant. In God’s Politics, Jim contrasts the Religious Right, who “would impose the doctrines of a political theocracy on their fellow citizens,” and secular fundamentalists, who “would deprive the public square of needed moral and spiritual values often shaped by faith.” Secular fundamentalists, he wrote, “tell us that religion should be restricted to one’s church or family. No talk of faith, they say, ought to be allowed to seep into the public square for fear of violating the First Amendment or alienating the non-religious.” Yet, “We can demonstrate our commitment to pluralistic democracy and support the rightful separation of church and state without segregating moral and spiritual values from our political life.”

Certainly, many of our friends and allies are “secular but spiritual moral citizens,” who “strive to maintain high moral values,” “with moral compasses,” who live “a moral and ethical life.” Jim often says that “religion has no monopoly on morality.” After saying this, many secular people who believe moral values should shape our public life come up and thank him for making them feel welcome. It is indeed in the “interest of all progressive people of conscience to work together to promote our shared values.”

Jeff Carr is chief of staff and Duane Shank is senior policy advisor at Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

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