A Baptist church rooted deep in the heart of Red-State, Bible-Belt America might not be the place you’d expect to see people of faith rallying behind a Christian social justice agenda.
Last week I spoke at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, just miles from President Bush’s home congregation, Highland Park Methodist Church. More than 1,000 faith-inspired activists filled the pews.
I spoke to the group at the invitation of the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), an organization offering an alternative voice to the Religious Right since 1995 in a state where conservative religious operatives have dominated the public square for decades. In 12 short years, TFN’s membership has grown to include 26,000 religious and community leaders.
Often my most encouraging moments on the road take place at the book-signing table immediately following my speaking engagements. That’s when I get to meet people who most deeply resonate with the message. Among them:
• A young hipster in beat-up jeans and a white V-neck T-shirt approached me after the event. He explained how he abandoned his faith while coming to grips with his fundamentalist Southern Baptist upbringing. “Something just didn’t ring true about all that,” he said, “but your book helped bring me back to faith.”
• A beaming middle-aged man with a cadenced Texan twang thanked me for “getting him off of his retired butt” to embrace involvement in the movement.
• A 15-passenger van of 20-something Baylor University students – who drove more than 100 miles for the event – included two impressive Latino women who really inspired me with their passion and vision to transform their communities from the ground up.
Events like these continue to show how much has changed in just a few years. It’s no longer presumed that when Christians speak publicly about moral values, they’re mainly trumpeting two hot-button issues that once defined evangelical involvement in politics. Instead, overcoming poverty, challenging the logic of endless war for purposes of national security, and responsibly stewarding God’s creation are becoming foundational moral commitments to a whole new generation.
Something is happening in the heartland. The spirit is moving. A movement is growing. People are increasingly pursuing social justice as an authentic expression of their faith. I believe that a new “Great Awakening” is close at hand. Even deep in the heart of Texas.