Nashville – Jim Wallis is predicting the decline of the religious right. “Lets not worry about them anymore,” Wallis told a group of nearly 500 Presbyterians in Nashville Friday night. (August 31).
“Our faith can be a catalyst for a new movement,” Wallis told the clergy and lay leaders who were in Nashville for the first national conference on evangelism that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has held in more than a decade. He called for American Christians of all denominations to join a “Justice Revival,” focusing on the teachings of Jesus. Such a revivial movement would focus on national social and political issues, but would go far beyond politics.
“People acting out of faith can do more powerful things” than people activated by hate or greed, he said. Wallis envisions a tour of cities that would combine powerful evangelism preaching at night with protest marches in the daytime – a combination of Billy Graham and Martin Luther King.
“We need a new spiritual movement for social justice,” Wallis said. After such revival events, small groups of enthusiastic Christians would need to follow up the preaching and marching with disciple-making – calling people not just to believe the tenets of Christianity, but to act on Jesus’ call to feed the hungry, shelter the poor, visit the prisoner and to “let justice roll down like water.”
Wallis, president and executive director of Sojourners/Call to Renewal and author of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, is a frequent guest on TV talk shows as an alternative voice to Christian Right leaders such as the late Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson.
After Wallis appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he said the Sojourner organization got e-mails from people saying they had lost their faith because of money-hungery TV preachers who distort the gospel, clumsy evangelism phone solicitations and pedophile priests. The e-mails went on to say that the writer “didn’t know you could be a Christian and care about poverty.”
Wallis sees “much confusion about what we mean by the gospel message.” He says America has “had some bad religion under the name of evangelism – bad religion pulls out the worst in us. Good religion can pull out the best in us – a love for justice and a pursuit of peace.”
Wallis, who calls himself a progressive evangelical, said Christians “have lost battles in Congress [over the issue of immigration] that were more than justice issues. It’s a matter of welcoming the stranger, and also a deeper opportunity” for American churches to be transformed by immigrants who often have “a deeply personal faith.”
Wallis noted that Congress recently passed a farm bill that continues subsidies to wealthy American farmers – subsidies that ultimately threaten the survival of subsistence farmers in Africa and other areas of the global South.
The liberal Presbyterian denomination has taken “the right positions” on social justice issues for years, he said.
But members of Congress don’t pay attention to position papers. They have their fingers in the air, looking for the way the wind of public opinion blows, he said.
“If we’re going to change this country, we have to change the wind. Having the right position doesn’t change anything until you change the wind.” He called for a “prairie fire” of activism that “would make it impossible for congressional representatives to vote the wrong way.”
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