- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2009

Anyone wanting to meet young evangelicals who voted for President Obama would have done well to drop by Sojourners’ “Mobilization to End Poverty” conference this past week.

More than 1,000 of them were there to help build AIDS caregiver kits, attend a “justice as an act of worship” service and figure out ways to make their campuses more aware of world hunger.

Back in my college days, it was considered radical to pass out New Testaments. These days, one creates a “visual experiential” campaign.

That’s right: Kids don’t process anything unless they experience it, so one dons a bright orange T-shirt that proclaims “orphan”; talks fellow students into wearing them around campus on a set day and presto — you have an instant campaign to help fellow collegians realize that one out of every 20 children in sub-Saharan Africa has been orphaned by AIDS.

Or you can stage an outdoor sleep-in under bed nets to raise awareness of the need for mosquito nets.

The idea is not to preach the Gospel or call for conversions like we did in the 1970s. These days, that comes across as being exclusivist. One now tries to act Christian in terms of being concerned for the world’s poor and hungry masses and in theory, the mere sight of all this compassion will move others to consider Christianity. The jury is still out as to whether that works, but that’s the zeitgeist.

I picked up some of this information at a booth for the Seattle-based World Vision, one of the world’s largest Christian charities. World Vision was all over the Sojourners conference with its Acting on AIDS campaign and its co-current annual Summit on the Hill on political advocacy “for God’s justice.”

Then I sat in on a morning conference session and was amazed to see who’s climbing on this bandwagon. Lots of evangelical groups have been caught flat-footed by the Obama administration’s efforts to find other voices to represent religion in the nation’s capital but groups such as Bread for the World and Sojourners are very much on board. Indeed, a video of President Obama shown to conferees had the chief executive talking about “my good friend Jim Wallis and the entire Sojourners organization.”

An obviously pleased Mr. Wallis — founder of Sojourners — told us the White House “is offering an open door we’ve not seen in a long time.”

He added, “Other White Houses have been quite eager to arrest us. This one puts us on task forces.”

Sojourners was giving out red-white-and-blue “The Great Awakening” buttons at the conference, a not-subtle comparison to American revivals in the 1730s and early 1800s. But weren’t the First and Second Awakenings more about repentance than changes in public policy?

Today’s evangelical youth seem less interested in personal morality than, say, providing free groceries, haircuts and medical help to poor families. Words such as “millennium development goals” and “faith in action for social justice” energize this group. They even cheered one White House aide Monday morning as she listed an array of federal child nutrition programs the Obama administration hopes to offer.

“These are actually applause lines,” a surprised Martha Cowen, point person for the Domestic Policy Council, told the crowd. “I am so grateful.”

Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Sundays and Thursdays. Contact her at jduin@washington times.com.

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