A leading voice of Christians in this country offers a prophetic indictment against our pursuit of individual spiritualities to the exclusion of any social responsibility for the common good, as well as the lack of political options for believers who want to link their personal ethics to social justice.
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Secular liberals and religious conservatives will find things to both comfort and alarm them in Jim Wallis's God's Politics. That combination is actually reason enough to recommend the book in a time when the national political and theological discourse is dominated by blanket descriptions and shortsightedness. But Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, offers more than just a book that's hard to categorize. What Wallis sees as the true mission of Christianity--righting social ills, working for peace--is in tune with the values of liberals who so often run screaming from the idea of religion. Meanwhile, in his estimation, religious vocabulary is co-opted by conservatives who use it to polarize. Wallis proposes a new sort of politics, the name of which serves as the title of the book, wherein these disparities are reconciled and progressive causes are paired with spiritual guidance for the betterment of society. Wallis is at his most compelling when he puts this theory into action himself, letting his own beliefs guide him through stinging criticisms of the war in Iraq. In his view, George W. Bush's flaw lies in the assumption that the United States was an unprecedented force of goodness in a fight against enemies characterized as "evil." Indeed, although both the right and left are criticized here, the idea is that the liberals, if they would get religion, are the more redeemable lot. Wallis's line between religion and public policy may be drawn a little differently than most liberals might feel comfortable with, and while he pays some lip service to other faiths most of his prescription for America seems to come from the Bible. Still, for a party having just lost a presidential election where "moral issues" are said to have factored heavily, God's Politics is a sermon worth listening to. --John MoeFrom the Back Cover :
Conservative evangelicals have hugged their Bibles, worn their flag pins, and self-righteously attempted to co-opt any discussion of religion and politics. Liberals are embarrassed to discuss their religious beliefs in public and attempt to avoid the subject altogether. Is there an appropriate way Christians and other morally concerned people can express their faith and values in the public debate while still supporting the constitutional separation of church and state?
We’ve become great at pursuing our individual “spiritualities,” but in the process may have lost sight of the power of religious belief for motivating social reform. What we need is something akin to the social politics of Jesus: speaking out for peace, justice, the poor and disenfranchised, while speaking out against oppressive government and rampant commercialism.
Drawing on his experiences with the poor, with preachers, and with presidents, Wallis points a way for every person to draw on their faith and spiritual tradition to do their part, offering practical tips for how one can enact the spiritual ethic in their own public lives.
Wallis finds the current conservative, liberal, and libertarian options out-of-step with the desires of most Americans untenable. Wallis offers a fourth option, “The Common Good,” that would represent those who are traditional on issues of moral character, personal responsibility, sexual integrity, and family values (without scape-goating any group like single parents or homosexuals), while being very progressive on issues like poverty and racial justice. This option affirms good stewardship of the earth and its resources, supports gender equality, and looks first to peacemaking and conflict-resolution when it comes to foreign policy questions. At the spiritual heart of this option is linking one’s personal ethics to social justice.
A prophetic book, it provides a scathing indictment of American society and the skewed values our government seems to endorse and implement. A hopeful book, it offers a platform for bringing the spiritual and political together, offering an alternative to the conservative, liberal, and libertarian options currently available to Americans.
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