Monday, April 14, 2008

Jim Wallis has great big. . .

Ok, let's just say that Jim Wallis is very bold.  Last night a number of leaders of faith communities had the opportunity to ask questions of the democratic candidates during a forum held at Messiah College.  They called it the Compassion Forum.  

Normally when these types of things happen there is no drama.  You know what answer the questioner wants to get.  You know what answer the questioner is going to get.  It's so predictable (and often awkward) that its tough to sit through.  

Most of the questions were "softballs" lobbed out there for the candidates to swing at.  Usually there are a corresponding number of  "high and inside fast balls" designed to make the candidates look dumb. They must have controlled things pretty well because I didn't see too much of these.  

But then Jim Wallis said:

"The year that Dr. King was assassinated he was about to launch a poor peoples campaign. The reality is that since then the poverty rate in our country is virtually unchanged.  Something like 30 million Americans live below the poverty level in the richest country in the history of the world.  Would you be willing to make a commitment tonight, that if you are elected president, you will initiate programs and legislation to to reduce the poverty level in half, over the next 10 years?"  

(My paraphrase!!)

I was shocked.  Talk about putting the guy on the spot.  I was not only astonished by the question and its directness but by Obama's willingness to respond.    He said: "Yes, I will."  He then qualified it slightly by acknowledging the enormity of such a task and the fact that the economics of the country on the whole exacerbate the dilemma (e.g. the mortgage crisis is currently sending hundreds of thousands of Americans' back into poverty).    At any rate, as a guy who believes this is not only possible but must be part of the process of addressing systemic issues of injustice I (my independent, non-partisan self) cheered.  

Here is a caveat:  I am not a huge fan of Jim Wallis to be honest because too often his commitment to social justice is indistinguishable from being anti-republican party.  As with guys like Hannity or Moyers, I find it difficult to listen to them because they can never admit to any virtue across the aisle nor any vice on their side of the aisle.  Clearly there are some aspects to what Wallis has championed (like Campolo) that are centrally aligned with my ministry at Sunshine and our commitment to Mercy, Justice and Discipleship.  So all that to say I am proud of him for how he used that moment.  Let's hope it goes beyond being a moment.  

So what would it actually take?  Is it possible?  What role does the church play?   These are a few of the questions that ensue. 


Shlomo said...


Hi Joel,

I truly admire your honesty in writing this post. I pray that your kind would increase and grow, more and more.

Like you, I admire and appreciate some aspects of what Jim Wallis and the Sojourner's community have done over the years, but I'm not in tune with it all. I used to subscribe to the magazine back in the late 70's, probably before most of your readers here were even born. I have followed this segment of the Body, from a distance, from then until now. I read and liked most of GOD's Politics, but I still have concerns about the overt left leaning influence of the magazine. Most of the few readers who frequent my site know that I advocate unity in the Body above all else. Thank you for speaking up in praise of Brother Jim and showing this nuanced stance of walking in the Spirit.



hammerdad said...


Thanks for the comment and affirmation. I agree that the unity of the body is a central concern as reflected in some of my earlier posts. I am also greatly concerned that Christians maintain a focus that includes the poor in system-changing type of love. It's too easy to be patronizing in our love. "I love you, what a bummer you are treated unfairly, I'll pray for you". Wallis' concrete push for action was fantastic. Would that we as a unified body of Christ could push for this.


JudyBright said...

What type of legislation would reduce poverty? You can't just make poverty illegal. I'm asking an honest question :)

Ending poverty-or greatly reducing it- is a worthy goal. I worry greatly how someone like Jim Wallis or Barack Obama would try to make that happen. I envision tax increases and greater government programs that make the poor increasingly dependent on the government for their income. These things make the problem worse in the end IMO, and makes the Federal Government even bigger and more powerful, which is not a good thing at all.

I do support justice system reform, where non violent drug offenders are first treated equitably, and then more creative sentencing is used, offering rehab rather than prison time. No tolerance and three strike sentencing makes no sense and harms poor communities, more specifically minority poor communities.

True hope and reform must be led by the church. I'm not well acquainted with the inner city poor, but what I've seen is that education is paramount, along with showing mercy and helping people to turn their lives around. Jesus is the only true hope, and after that things like financial stewardship education can be offered. I'm rambling, but the government has nothing to heal a broken heart or to relieve people of guilt, or offer support and wisdom to someone trying to make better choices.

Poverty will not be eradicated in our time. Jesus said that the poor will always be with us. There are forces of ignorance, and those that seek to exploit others working against us. But the problem can certainly be lessened, and hope can be offered.

hammerdad said...

Hey Judy~

you've given me a lot to think about!

"What type of legislation would reduce poverty?"

Where you live in our society, determines what kind of school you go to, which in turn determines to a very high degree what type of education you will get. This societal structure leads to the type of job/vocation you will get and that in turn sets the standards for where you will live and what type of school your kids will attend.

This is the cycle of poverty at its most dumbed down level. The most basic issue here is the system of tax policy that keeps poor kids in bad schools and bad neighborhoods.

The government is the only mechanism that will change this at a systemic level and can do it through both incentive and legislative efforts.

How many Christians do you know that would be willing to move into the inner city to begin to effect this change? The church should lead this but (just being real here) won't.

Even if every Christian in the US did tithe, and every church gave its entire budget to address these issues, it wouldn't be enough. There must be a role in government (not that I know completely where to draw the line).

"Jesus is the only true hope, and after that things like financial stewardship education can be offered." This is a troubling approach for me for a couple of reason. First, it seems to indicate that spiritual meaning (life in Christ) can be disembodied from ones social and physical situations. Don't get me wrong. . . Jesus is the one true hope AND financial stewardship can be a help but if sharing our financial acumen will only come AFTER someone becomes a Christian then we will be paying folks to accept Christ. . . and they will. We are to give to those who cannot return the favor and to do so lavishly (Luke 6 et al)

The second reason it is troubling is that you and I have literally millions of brothers and sisters in Christ living in urban ghettos around the country. They already have Jesus but the society we live in (one that is often purported to be largely a Christian society) works at cross purposes with anything in their lives changing. I think we as believers must deal with this boldly.

Jesus did indeed say that the poor will be with us always. He was quoting from Deuteronomy 15 which I highly recommend if you are not familiar with. Too often we read Jesus words as an excuse not to do anything when they are intended as exactly the opposite. The way our society is built, however, too many Christians DON'T have the poor "among" us. We can socially and physically isolate ourselves so that we NEVER see them, hear them, feel them, know them, love them.

Have you noticed that many of our new churches are built with no sidewalks? If you don't have a car you can't come. . .

JudyBright said...


It's late and I'm not going to try to respond to everything.

I totally agree with you on the point about schools. Here in Ohio the school funding system was ruled unconstitutional around 1992 and still nothing has been done to fix it. I went to a poor country high school and was fortunate to have excellent teachers and received a good public education. But when I traveled to games in other districts, and especially when I moved to Columbus, I saw the stark difference in resources.

I don' know much about Chicago's public school system, but Columbus is a decent sized city with about 16 high schools or so. I was a substitute teacher's aide for awhile and also student taught at a predominately African American high school. That was my introduction to the black community here in Columbus. While there was a difference in resources between the Columbus schools and the suburbs, the main problem seemed to be how the schools were run. Racial tension, politics, and political correctness had a lot to do with it. I wanted to teach and help these kids, but my hands were tied by a horrible system.

One thing that's been positive here is the introduction of charter schools. They're public schools but they're privately run, so kids in the Columbus SD can go to them tuition free and parents have choice on where to send their kids. There have been some failings, but overall it's been successful and is forcing the Columbus Schools to make some changes because of the kids flocking to these schools.

Just to clarify, I didn't mean at all that someone had to accept Christ before we'd help them with financial stewardship education or any other type of help. I just meant that Jesus is obviously above all. I was giving the example of financial stewardship as just one example of help that could be offered.

I could write a ton more, but I need to go to bed.