Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Rev. Jim Wallis is one man who has benefited from the so-called post-election Democratic soul-searching.

Today, reveling in his newfound stardom with liberals who didn’t believe there was such a thing as “values voters,” Mr. Wallis, as editor of the D.C.-based Sojourners magazine and a pro-life Democrat, is living large.

“The Democrats are now saying ‘I’ve followed your stuff for years but I’ve never called,’ ” the 56-year-old said in an interview. “Well, they are calling now.”

Not only has Mr. Wallis conferred several times with party leaders on how to restore spirituality into the Democratic politic, but his newest book, “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It” has sold 120,000 hardback copies since its Jan. 18 release.

Many like its mix of piety and politics. Passages such as, “The real theological problem with America today is no longer the religious Right but the nationalist religion of the Bush Administration,” have pushed it to No. 13 on the New York Times hardback nonfiction best-seller list, where it has sat for 15 weeks.

“People are really excited and invigorated by his message,” said Melody Barnes, director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. “Progressives are hearing boldly that you can be religious and have progressive values and those two things are not in conflict with each other.”

A Web site run by the liberal think tank,, got 6,500 hits after it posted a recent interview with Mr. Wallis.

The book has gotten its share of criticism.

In February, the liberal magazine Nation criticized the author for not being pro-choice. A month later, World, a conservative weekly, said Mr. Wallis had left out “any talk of evangelism, conversion and the need for sinners to be saved.”

Still, when 125 United Methodist bishops gathered in the District last week for their annual conference, 50 of them asked to meet with the editor.

Mr. Wallis told the bishops that Americans want a new way to mesh biblical faith and politics, using more conservative views on abortion and family issues with liberal takes on the poor, the environment and race issues.

“We are not ideologically partisan. We are prophetic. We cut to the right and to the left,” he said.

Since the Nov. 2 presidential election, Mr. Wallis has been busy educating the left on the “values voters.”

For example, from May 1 to 8 he debated Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Southern Seminary President Al Mohler on MSNBC; appeared at Yale Law School to debate the Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; keynoted a spring clergy retreat for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts; met with the Methodist bishops; spoke to 1,500 students at the evangelically oriented Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.; lectured to 1,000 persons at a Presbyterian church in Detroit; and appeared at a Harvard Divinity School conference on evangelicals.

Although Mr. Wallis’ prominence as the go-to man for religious liberals is fairly recent, he’s been in Washington 30 years. The eldest son of a Plymouth Brethren pastor, he co-founded a magazine, the Post-American, in 1971 along with several seminarians at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. They changed the name to Sojourners, moved to Washington in September 1975 and formed a Christian community, also known as Sojourners, in Columbia Heights.

The magazine, now at 30,000 circulation but with a much larger online readership, specializes in social justice, the environment, nuclear disarmament and opposition to U.S. government policy in Central America. It opposes abortion and same-sex “marriage,” but favors civil rights for homosexuals.

Mr. Wallis received invites to the Clinton White House and, since 2000, had several amicable encounters with President Bush. “But then,” the minister said, “the Iraq war closed conversation down.”

Even before that the editor told the chief executive during a 2002 reception on faith-based initiatives, “Unless we drain the swamp of injustice in which the mosquitoes of terrorism breed, we’ll never defeat the threat of terrorism.”

Mr. Wallis shrugs off the fact that the White House has not called since.

“Presidents,” he said, “sometimes have a hard time with criticism.”

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