IN PRISM'S BOOK BAG: Jim Wallis' provocative and timely GOD'S POLITICS (HarperSanFrancisco)
reviewed by Jan Johnson
After hearing the subtitle of this book the first time, I heaved a sigh of "Yes!" There in bold print was what I'd been thinking for years. In GOD'S POLITICS: WHY THE RIGHT GETS IT WRONG AND THE LEFT DOESN'T GET IT, Jim Wallis guides our thinking about critical issues in light of God's truths instead of the familiar either/or, conservative/liberal polarizations.
A faith-based activist and founder of SOJOURNERS, Wallis applies mercy and justice in our response to war and terrorism; Middle East peace; global poverty (including free trade vs. fair trade, debt cancellation); a consistent ethic of life (opposing abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, nuclear weapons, poverty and racism); and materialism (including an analysis of the hedonism and strategic self-interest promoted by TV shows such as "Survivor"). Using picturesque stories, statistics, quotations and solid research, he breaks the right-left impasse, refusing to choose between personal ethics and social justice. With each topic, readers are reminded that faith should serve the common good instead of private interest or national or corporate self-interest.
Yet this book is much more than diagnoses or complaints. Wallis urges the American faith community to pursue the Old Testament prophetic role of offering clarity about societal problems and hope for the future. This is indeed our legacy because history has most often been changed by social movements with a spiritual foundation such as the abolition of slavery, child labor reform, the women's suffrage movement, and the civil rights movement. Part of our prophetic role, says Wallis, involves moving beyond protest to offering alternatives so that we have something to be FOR and not just AGAINST (such as the Six Point Plan offered by U.S. church leaders as an alternative to the war in Iraq). Instead of backing politicians who use abortion as a political symbol to gain votes, we can speak up for actions that actually reduce the abortion rate.
As a sometimes tongue-tied prophet, I find Wallis' careful articulation of issues helpful. Because our culture is frankly puzzled by anyone who is not entrenched in the Left or Right, we need finely-tuned clarity in expressing ourselves, which may then result in others responding to us with that same "Yes!" Thankfully, Wallis also models this clarity without the rancor and self-satisfied, know-it-all attitude with which political ideas are often expressed. By learning to speak the truth with love, Wallis offers a prophetic challenge that becomes part of the spiritual formation of our soul.
Jan Johnson is a writer, speaker, and spiritual director living in Simi Valley, CA – www.janjohnson.org.