God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn

Review & Commentary

One thought on “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn

  1. Review

    Almost ten years ago, Theology Today (April 1995) published an article by Murray Joseph Haar, Professor of Religion at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, titled Self-Serving Redemptionism: A Jewish Christian Lament. Identifying himself as a convert to the Christian tradition from Judaism, he wrote that he had observed a sickness within the American church which he called a “rampant, individualistic self-serving redemptionism. This sickness is marked by a “certain faith that (1) God is alive and present in Jesus Christ to benefit ‘me,’ (2) God wanted Jesus to die in order to benefit ‘me,’ and (3) I am a Christian because I find that it benefits ‘me.’ The symptoms can be observed in the use of phrases like, “Jesus died for my sins,” Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away my sins,” and “I have decided to accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.” Harr clings to the belief that “there is something left in the DNA of the church that will cause it to wake up. When it wakes up it will realize that self-serving redemptionism is a “lie” and that “the God who redeems all humans to stand with their neighbors in pain is realized in the life of the church.

    Jim Wallis, founder of a network of Christians working for justice and peace and editor of Sojourners magazine, has written a book which can wake up the church to recover the prophetic traditions of the prophets and Jesus. In contrast to the religious right, which confines moral discourse to individual values and therefore “Gets It Wrong,” and the secular left which dismisses moral discourse as irrelevant to public policy and therefore “Doesn’t Get It,” Wallis offers a vision of faith which engages the political, economic and social issues of the day.

    Declaring that “values will be the most important political question of the twentieth-first century,” he is convinced that it is critical to begin a dialogue on the issue of the privatizing of faith and the recovery of the witness of faith to social issues and policy exemplified by the biblical prophets and Jesus. He writes, “Personal and social responsibility are both at the heart of religion, and the two together could make a very powerful and compelling political vision for the future of our bitterly divided nation.”

    The political vision Wallis holds up is applicable at any time to federal, state and local politics, conservative or liberal, right or left, Republican or Democrat. The immediate context of his book, however, is the politics and policies of the four years of the Bush administration and the Republican control of the Senate and the House of Representatives. In order to engage the political, economic and social issues of the day, he suggests that it is necessary to move “beyond the politics of complaint.” And although protest has an important place, we must move on to alternatives that offer a better way. Specific alternatives would emerge from what Wallis calls “the prophetic religious tradition” which is “traditional or conservative on issue of family values, sexual integrity and personal responsibility, while being very progressive, populist, or even radical on issue like poverty, racial justice, stewardship of the environment, gender equality, conflict resolution and peacemaking. He explores alternatives which go beyond the politics of Democratic, Republican, religious and secular fundamentalists.

    A major section of the book is devoted to exploring Spiritual Values and International Relations which includes chapters on responding to terrorism, the war in Iraq, the theology of empire, peace, and national and global security. Another section is titled spiritual values and economic justice, and focuses on poverty in America and the world. Following is a section on spiritual values and social issues which includes chapters on abortion and capital punishment, race relations, and family and community values. Each of these sections engages established or proposed policies of the Bush administration and offers alternatives guided by the vision of the biblical prophets and Jesus.

    The final section of the book is titled Spiritual Values and Social Change. Wallis states that prophetic religion does not see the primary battle of our time as “the struggle between belief and secularization” but as “the fundamental choice between cynicism and hope.” The section contains stories of hope from the treasury of his own experiences. He then offers fifty predictions for the new millennium. Several related to the theme of the book are: “The Religious Right will lose control of the discussion of religion and public life and other voices will be heard.” “ The secular Left will give up its hostility to religion and spirituality, or it will die.” “ Some liberals will get the values question right and some conservatives will really care about poor people.” “ The need for prophetic religion will grow.” “ Hope will be the most essential ingredient for social change.”

    In an epilogue, Wallis tells a story of Lisa Sullivan, a young African American woman who, when people complained that we do not have any leaders today, would get angry and say, “We are the ones we have been waiting for!”

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