The Waning Days of the Religious Right

Jim Wallis, leader of Sojourners and a
progressive evangelical Christian told 1300 people last night that he believes
the model of the religious right is finally over and a new public dialogue has
begun.

Religion is not
a wedge to
divide. Religion
is meant to
be a bridge
to bring us
back together.
–Jim Wallis

Speaking before a packed auditorium on the campus of the University of California at Berkley, Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, told the crowed he believes the end of the “model of the religious right is finally over and a new public dialogue has begun.”

Wallis said his view is based on a cross-country tour of more than 40 cities in which 80,000 persons have come to meet him. He told the crowd that many evangelical Christians are saying they don’t feel represented by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson or James Dobson. A lot of Roman Catholics don’t feel represented by right-wing bishops. Mainline Christians feel they’ve been “dissed” by the media and have been left out.

Wallis went on to say that many rabbis have come to meet him, Muslims who don’t feel the mainstream image of radical fundamentalism represents the Muslim faith, and “a lot of young people who say, ‘I’m not religious but I’m spiritual and I want to be a part of the moral discourse.'”

This convergence of interests in the spiritual and in social change is much more than the rise of a counter-movement to the religious right, Wallis said. The religious right was the coopting of relgion. Political operatives struck a deal with a half dozen television evangelists for their mailing lists, according to Wallis, for a promise of greater exposure in national media. They used religion as a wedge to divide.

“Religion is not meant to be a wedge to divide,” Wallis told the group. “Religion is meant to be a bridge to bring us back together.”

Wallis was interrupted with applause several times during his speech which clearly struck a responsive chord with the diverse audience. He said the two issues that dominate the dialogue of the religious right–abortion and homosexuality–are not the only moral issues spiritual people must address. With 3,000 verses in the Bible about fighting poverty, this makes poverty a moral, religious issue. Creation and care for the earth is a religious issue. Going to war is a religious issue.

“How did Jesus become pro-war and pro-rich?” Wallis asked the crowd.

He closed by saying we have a clear choice today, to become cynical and disengage or to believe in hope in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change (through action to make conditions better).

He told young persons in the audience to choose between careers and vocation. Careers are the assembling of assets. Vocation is the intersection of “your gifts and the crushing needs of the world.” Using one’s gifts to address these crushing needs is a vocational choice, he said, and many young people today are saying they want to engage in change that is big enough to believe in and to commit their lives to.

Every single progressive social movement in the history of the U.S. has been fuelled by spiritual values, he said in closing.

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