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Wallis - God's Politics (2005) - Synopsis

Wallis - God's Politics (2005) - Synopsis

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Published by Mark K. Jensen
Synopsis of Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (New York: HaperSanFrancisco, 2005). Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on May 2, 2005.
Synopsis of Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (New York: HaperSanFrancisco, 2005). Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on May 2, 2005.

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Published by: Mark K. Jensen on May 25, 2009
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Digging Deeper, UFPPC’s (www.ufppc.org) Book Discussion Series: May 2, 2005, 7:00 p.m.
 Jim Wallis,
God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It 
(New York: HaperSanFrancisco, 2005).
. “Faith-inspired people” on staffs of Sojourners and Call to Renewal (xi). Book dedicated toson Luke, 6 (xi-xii), written in Daytona Beach, FL, at the ElCaribe (xii).
INTRODUCTION: Why Can’t We Talk about Religionand Politics?
Desire to talk about religion and politics iswidespread (xiii). “God on our side” politics (bad) vs.“asking if we are on God’s side” politics (good) (xiv).“God’s politics”: “never partisan or ideological”; mindfulof excluded; challenging to narrow self-interest; linked tocreation itself; antiwar; “choose life” (xv). Dividedelectorate (xv). “Flawed” poll produced debate on the“moral values voter” (xv-xvii). This book about twoquestions: “Where is the real debate in the moral valuesconversation? And where can we find common ground?”(xvii). Too many Democrats would “restrict religion to theprivate sphere” and too many Republicans would “restrictreligion to a short list of hot-button social issues” (xvii-xviii). Neither candidate had “a progressive and propheticvision of faith and politics” (xviii-xix). Reconciliationshould come, as for Martin Luther King Jr., in finding“common ground by moving to higher ground” (xx). HowBush could do this (xx). Invokes Micah [6:8]: “Do justice,love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (xx).Organization of book around six issues: turning away fromprivatization of faith; prophetic religion as alternativevision; war; poverty; social reconciliation; leadership (xx-xxii). Summer 2004 newspaper ad, “God Is Not aRepublican. Or a Democrat” (xxii-xxiv).
PART I: CHANGING THE WINDCh. 1: Take Back the Faith: Co-Opted by the Right,Dismissed by the Left.
Religious Right focuses religionon sexual and cultural issues; secular Left dismissesreligion (3-4). Time to take back faith from right-wingers,pedophile priests and cover-up bishops, televisionpreachers, liberal secularists, liberal theologians, New Agephilosophers, and politicians (4). The issue transcendsideological left-right divisions (4-5). Evil is not just “outthere,” it is “in here” (5). Society needs “propheticreligion” to pursue “the common good” (6). It can shapeboth personal and communal life (6-7).
The 2004Election.
Republicans manipulated religion (7-9).Democrats didn’t accommodate religion enough (9-10),need to reassess (11). Bush had an opportunity to act onpoverty but his efforts failed for lack of resources (11-13).Bush’s war was wrong; election debate showed polarizednation (13-14).
The Political Problem of Jesus.
Jesus’steachings are impossible to square with the Bush agenda(15-17). A reaction is underway (17-18). Movements forsocial change have historically been fueled by progressivereligion (18-19).
Ch. 2: A Lack of Vision: Too Narrow or None at All.
Speech on changing society not by changing wind-testingpoliticians but by “changing the wind” (20-22). E.g. MartinLuther King Jr. and the Selma-to-Birmingham march tocreate support for a Voting Rights Act (22-23).
History ismost changed by social movements with a spiritualfoundation
” (24; emphasis in original). Proverbs 29:18(24-25). “
Values will be the most important politicalquestion of the twenty-first century 
” (26; emphasis inoriginal). Symptom of its absence: “the politics of complaint, as in Habakkuk (26-28). Sources of “thevision”: “Old Testament prophets, Jesus, and the New Testament writers . . . our own traditions” (28). Refocusingvision question on “the ‘God question,’ which is, ‘How arethe kids doing?’” as a corrective (29-30).
Ch. 3: Is There a Politics of God? God Is Personal,but Never Private.
Private vs. public religion (31).Prophets the place to learn about “the politics of God,”criticizing those in power on behalf of the dispossessed(32). Youthful conviction of this led Wallis to leave thePlymouth Brethren congregation where he was broughtup, in Detroit (33-34). Personal God essential to popularreligion (34). Private faith degenerates into self-righteousness (35-36). “Biblical prophets” superior to“debased spirituality” (36-37). Open letter to JesseVentura (37-39). We should not balance public & private,but “go to the heart of prophetic religion itself in which apersonal God demands public justice as an act of worship”(40).
PART II: MOVING BEYOND THE POLITICS OFCOMPLAINTCh. 4: Protest Is Good; Alternatives Are Better:What Are We For?
Lesson of the considerable interest inthe ‘Third Way’ Six-Point Iraq peace plan on eve of war asWallis’s child was born: to be effective, an alternativeneeds to be presented (43-46). To be transformative,protest must offer a better way (46-47). “That is the wayof the prophets” (47). Evil dictators & terrorism can’t beignored (47). Poverty needs a plan addressing personaland social responsibility (47-48). Spiritual componentcrucial to finding alternatives (49). Six-Point Peace Plan(Mar. 14, 2003) (50-52). Letter in British papers (53-55).
Ch. 5: How Should Faith Influence Your Politics?What’s a Religious Voter to Do?
Democrats are tooshy of using moral and religious language (56-61). Poweris dangerous (61-62). Unlike the Civil Rights Movement,the Religious Right movement of the 1980s and 1990s hassuccumbed to the temptation of power (62-64). Religionhas always been part of American political discourse (65-66). “Fundamentalism is essentially a revolt againstmodernity” (66). Best critique of fundamentalism “comesfrom faith itself” (67). At heart, I am a nineteenth-century evangelical” (67). Modern fundamentalism hasmoved to theocracy and too easily justifies violence (68).“Secular fundamentalists make a fundamental mistake”and misunderstand the nature of faith (69-71).
Ch. 6: Prophetic Politics: A New Option.
Prophecy is“articulating moral truth” (72). Current political optionsare conservative, liberal, and libertarian (72-74). We needa “prophetic politics” option: traditional on family values,sexual integrity, progressive or radical on poverty andracial justice (74-75). This would break the deadlockbetween personal vs. social responsibility (76). It shouldcome from the churches and the religious community (77).It often has before (77-78). Politicians’ positions on issuesshould be compared to their professed religious beliefs(78-80). Political vision moral important than reilgiosity ina politician (80-81). Most religiously motivated voters actdefensively, not offensively (81-82). Religion in politics isno longer all on the right (82-83). Values should be put“at the center of political discourse” (84).
PART III: SPIRITUAL VALUES AND INTERNATIONALRELATIONS: When Did Jesus Become Pro-War?Ch. 7: Be Not Afraid: A Moral Response toTerrorism.
4-year-old Luke tells Dad Jim Wallis, “Daddy,
don’t be afraid” (87-88). U.S. a nation living in fear (88-89). Wallis’s remarks at an interfaith prayer service at St.Aloysius Church in Washington, D.C., several weeks afterSept. 11, 2001: And let the light of courage equip us toface darkness that lies so thick and heavy before us.Courage to heal the darkness in ourselves. Courage toreveal the darkness in the very structure of our world.Courage to confront the darkness in the face of evil we sayon September 11” (89-90). Statement by Wallis on Sept.12, 2001: “. . . a test of our national character. Let usmake the right choices” (91-92). War language a mistake(92-95). Many Americans wanted a measured response(95-96). U.S. needs to examine the grievances of others(96-97). Religious community can play a crucial role (97).In doing so, important 1) not to give impression U.S.deserved attacks; 2) not present terrorists as freedomfighters who went too far; and 3) distinguish betweeninequalities as cause of terror and as breeding ground of terror (97-100). U.S. making bad choices (100-03). JuliaRoberts as “my favorite ‘theologian’ of this crisis . . . ‘In acrisis, we don’t’ just save ourselves, we save each other’”(103-04 ― apparently Wallis doesn’t recognize this “moralwisdom” as an adaptation of a line from “Pretty Woman”).Positive possibilities (104). Sept. 11, 2002 “Ten Lessons”column (105-07).
Ch. 8: Not a Just War: The Mistake of Iraq.
Saddamwas evil, but war wasn’t necessary (108-10). Hammersand nails (110-11). Preemptive military action not allowedby international law or Christian just-war doctrine (111).U.S. government deceived American people (111-12). Noexit strategy (112). Provoked hatred (112). Moralquestions (112). Fighting terrorism different from “war”(112-13). World church unified against Iraq war (113). Joint U.S.-U.K. church leaders’ declaration: war illegal,unwise, immoral (113-16). This was true, but debate wasstifled (116-17). If the war had been prevented, thatwould have been a U.S. victory, too (117-18). Goodriddance, Saddam (118). But legacy of war is the specterof further conflict (119-20). “Lessons of War”: democracy,not peace movement, failed (120-22). President “misledthe American people” (122-23). U.S. in Iraq does notcontribute to struggle against terrorism (123-24).Sacrifice unjustly distributed (124-26). Rumsfeld &Wolfowitz should resign (126). U.N. should control Iraq(126). Tax cuts should be repealed (126-27). Fallujahshows U.S. occupation “out of control” (127-28). Abuse(128-29). Occupation the problem; it must end (129).Xmas sermon on Saddam’s capture (129-31). ArchbishopRenato Martino’s strong antiwar statements;Bush=pharaoh (132-33). Account of meeting with Blair,Feb. 18, 2003 (133-36). Credits Blair with “real dialogue”(135-36).
Ch. 9: Dangerous Religion: The Theology of Empire.
 The right now admits the U.S. is an empire (137-38).Bush’s religious development, then 9/11 gives him amission (138-40). Bush’s belief in a divine plan (140-41).Bush misuses religious language, adapting it tonationalism (142). His simplistic they-are-evil language isdangerous (143-45). Christian theology is “uneasy withempire,” is in favor of “truth telling” (145-47). Bush’s badtheology fosters abuse (148-49). The Bush administrationhas a “dangerously messianic” “nationalist religion” that isincompatible with the better American practice of  Jefferson, Lincoln, and King (149-50). Book of Revelationis a critique of empire; we are “a new Rome” (151-52). A2004 “Confession”: 1) Christ is not national; 2) Christ is for“a strong presumption against war”; 3) Christ sees goodand evil in all; 4) Christ is for loving one’s enemy; 5) Christteaches humility (152-55). Fall 2003 letter to Gen. WilliamBoykin, “disciplining” him for “idolatry” (155-58).
Ch. 10: Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Winningwithout War.
Terrorism poses a special challenge to theethic of nonviolence (158-64). Theologians’ suggestions(164-68). Defining terrorism (168-70). War has failed as aresponse (170-71). No one has the answers, but “Jesuscalls us to be peace
, not just peace
” (171;emphasis in original).
Ch. 11: Against Impossible Odds: Peace in theMiddle East.
Wallis’s eight days in the Middle East (172-73). Parallel to apartheid (173-75). Both sides guilty of terrorism (175). Asymmetrical violence (176). ChristianPeacemaker Team (177). Rachel Corrie; Tom Hurndall(177-78). Possibilities for nonviolence (178-79). MichaelLerner (179-80). Arthur Waskow (180). Jeremy Milgramand Arik Ascherman (180-81). Jeff Halper (181). On thePalestinian side, Naim Ateek, Anglican (182). Jean Zaru,Quaker (182). Jonathan Kuttab, lawyer (182). Sabeelpeace conference (182-84). Voices of peace andnonviolence (184-85). 2002 letter to Bush (185-86).
Ch. 12: Micah’s Vision for National and GlobalSecurity.
Micah 4:1-4, “my favorite prophet of nationalsecurity” (187-88). 9/11 a missed opportunity to “join therest of the world” (188-89). U.S. leaders have a vision of domination (189-90). U.S. soldiers were fighting forsomething else: protecting loved ones (191-92). Micahcalls for more equal distribution (192-93). U.S. going theother way (193-94). Jan. 20, 2003: National Cathedralprayer for peace and justice, “Micah and Martin” (194-97).Micah-like voices: Bono (198-200); Gordon Brown (200-01). British maj. gen.: “Micah is right; Rumsfeld is wrong”(202). Walllis-Bush conversation (202-03). MicahNetwork, Queretaro, Mexico, fall 2003 (203-05).
PART IV: SPIRITUAL VALUES AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE: When Did Jesus Become Pro-Rich?Ch. 13: The Poor You Will Always Have with You?What Does the Bible Say about Poverty?
Americansmisinterpret Mark 14:7 completely (209-11). The “Biblefull of holes” where passages on poverty have been cutout (212-14). King and Howard Thurman, author of 
 Jesusand the Disinherited 
(214-15). Desmond Tutu (216). MaryGlover: “Lord, we know that you’ll be comin’ through theline today, so Lord, help us to treat you well” (217).Matthew 25 (218). “Radical Jesus” (219). Mary Glovergets it (219-20).
Ch. 14: Poor People Are Trapped ― in the Debateabout Poverty: Breaking the Left/Right Impasse.
Burger King Mom (221). Poverty in U.S. “astounding(222-23). Policy debate is self-serving (224-25).Deepening concern about poverty among Christians (225-26). Both conservatives and liberals are right on poverty(226-28). Government must be involved; racism is a keyproblem (229). Call for a “new debate” on poverty (229-31). Call for Renewal (231-33). Need for moral critique of policies (234-35). Local service (235-36). Advocacy (236).Spiritual poverty (236-38). Poverty is becoming “thedefining moral issue” (238). Pentecost 2004 UnityStatement at National Cathedral (239-40).
Ch. 15: Isaiah’s Platform: Budgets Are MoralDocuments.
Social vision of Isaiah 65:20-25 (241).Budgets as “moral documents (241-43). Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama inspired by Susan Pace Hamill’s “An Argument for Tax Reform Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics” to propose atax-reform package (243-45). Exclusion of low-incomeworking families from child tax credit in summer 2003(245-46). Top 400 taxpayers getting much richer (246-47). We need language of moral denunciation (247-48).Our policies are outrageous, “morally offensive” (247-48). Those who cry “class warfare” are waging it (249). Effect

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