The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America
In the dramatic lead-up to the 2008 presidential election, author Jim Wallis believes that Americans are poised on the edge of a spiritual revival --- what he calls “The Great Awakening” --- that could bring about justice in critical areas such as poverty, the environment and the affirmation of the dignity and sacredness of life.
God, Wallis contends, is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Rather, religion calls us to moral accountability, and we must work together to achieve justice. There is a leveling of the “praying field,” he (and The New York Times) says, between both parties on religion and moral values. The left is beginning to “get it” --- remembering its own religious history and recovering the language of faith. Although “politics is still broken,” people of faith can work within the political system to effect change to seemingly unsolvable issues.
Wallis, a self-proclaimed “progressive evangelical,” says that the evangelical social agenda is now much broader and deeper, and includes issues such as poverty and the ethics of war. He is careful to say that the shift from the Religious Right among evangelicals is not necessarily a shift to the left: “In fact, it is the typical right-left divide on almost every political issue that makes them weary.” Evangelicals are looking for a new agenda that is more consistent with their deeply-held values. And younger voters are replacing the Religious Right with Jesus.
Catchy, isn’t it? Wallis delivers page after page of rhetoric, exhorting the faithful to get on board with social justice. He is extremely persuasive, and his passion and conviction is contagious. He likes to drive his points home, and if that means telling the reader three or five or seven times the same thing, then so be it.
It’s an intriguing book. Who could resist a chapter called “How to Change the World, and Why”? Readers will find a dizzying array of Wallis’s views on a myriad of topics: creation care, racial equality, poverty, illegal immigration, the particular challenges of being a woman (and the need for leadership by females in religious communities) and modern slavery and sex-trafficking. Take a deep breath --- Wallis is just getting started. There is an urgent and much-needed call for louder public outcry on the genocide in Darfur, and what it means to be pro-life in the broadest sense of the phrase. And how did America get to the point where “torture” is debatable? “All life is sacred, and all threats to human life and dignity are important and worthy of our attention,” and it is this ideal that provides the “seamless garment” (as Joseph Cardinal Bernardin would have said) that weaves these different topics together.
Solutions come on three levels, Wallis believes: the personal/individual response, the congregational/communal response and the national/international political response. And, “The best movements usually have spiritual foundations.” He then offers a theological foundation for how and why faith is supposed to change the world and the “rules of engagement” for people of faith (including seeking the common good and keeping a global perspective).
Wallis, the founder of Sojourners (a global faith and justice network), is perhaps at his most persuasive when he writes about poverty --- it is the new slavery, he insists, imprisoning bodies, minds and hearts. “It is time to lift up practical policies and practices that help the poor escape their poverty and clearly challenge the increasing wealth gap between rich and poor.” Several times throughout the book, he reminds us that 30,000 children die each day because of poverty and three billion people on our planet live on two dollars a day. Staggering statistics, sure to trouble even the most stoic reader.
Christian readers active in charity may find some soul-searching in Wallis’s writing on inclusion. Those who have hammered nails for a Habitat for Humanity house or doled out food for the homeless at the soup kitchen may have instinctively felt that their efforts fell short of what was needed…and Wallis tells them they are correct. Although individual efforts are important, we must address the bigger questions. We have to look at the reason we tutor an inner-city kid (failed educational systems) or why we need free health clinics (failed health systems). We need a commitment to move from a lens of charity to justice and from paternalism to empowerment.
Wallis’s previous book, GOD’S POLITICS, challenged Christians to rethink what it meant to be a person of faith who votes in America. THE GREAT AWAKENING moves from examining politics to action, putting into place an agenda that reflects justice. This is a must-read for anyone concerned about the staggering problems that America faces today. Before you vote, read THE GREAT AWAKENING.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on January 22, 2008