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Rev. Wallis: Sojourners and Politics

Rev. Jim Wallis is the founder of the organization Sojourners, a Christian group advocating a style of peace and justice. Wallis is editor in chief of Sojourners magazine. His new book is God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It.


Other segments from the episode on January 20, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 20, 2005: Interview with Dr. Richard Land; Interview with Reverend Jim Walls.


DATE January 20, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Dr. Richard Land discusses President Bush and
evangelical faith

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

On this Inauguration Day, we're going to talk with two religious leaders who
are on opposite sides politically and have different interpretations of the
role of faith in politics. A little later, we'll hear from Reverend Jim
Wallis, author of the new book "God's Politics" and editor in chief of
Sojourners magazine, which he describes as a progressive Christian

My first guest, Dr. Richard Land, is the president of the Ethics & Religious
Liberty Commission, which is the policy arm of the Southern Baptist
Convention. President Bush appointed Dr. Land to two terms on the US
Commission on International Religious Freedom. Last May, National Journal
named Land one of the 10 church state experts politicians will call on when
they get serious about addressing an important public policy issue. Dr. Land
also hosts the syndicated radio programs "For Faith and Family" and "Richard
Land Live." He says that evangelicals played an important part in re-electing
President Bush. I asked him what they expect in return.

Dr. RICHARD LAND (Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty
Commission): We're expecting him to keep his campaign promises. This
president did not run an `It's morning in America' campaign like Ronald Reagan
did. He ran a very specific policy-oriented campaign, laid out a whole series
of proposals in his acceptance speech, campaigned on those issues and said,
`If you re-elect me, I will do this and this and this.' And we expect him,
and not only expect him, we're fully confident that he will. This is a
conviction politician. This is a man who doesn't behave the way normal
politicians do. Normal politicians would have made some sort of compromise on
judicial nominees when the Senate kept unconstitutionally filibustering them
and not giving them a vote before the full Senate. This president did not.
He continued to send up judicial nominees that reflected his judicial
philosophy and he has now resubmitted every one of those nominees that would
allow themselves to be renominated, which I believe was all but two. And he's
going to continue to push for their confirmation and I believe they will be
confirmed and that if this president lives out his full eight years in
office--if he is not killed or doesn't have to leave for illness reasons--he
will have nominated and have confirmed more judges than any president in the
history of the United States.

GROSS: So what are the other issues you want to hold him accountable for?
Conservative judicial nominees...

Dr. LAND: The pro-life issue. We want him to do everything he can to make
this a pro-life administration and a pro-life government that protects and
values every life from conception onward and welcomes all life. We want a
president who will promote marriage. We strongly support his marriage reforms
in the Welfare Reform Act. The single thing that would eliminate more poverty
than any other single thing that could be done in this country would be if
fathers married the mothers of their children. We want him to strongly
support the Marriage Protection Amendment so that we do not have a judiciary
forcing on the American people something that clearly two-thirds of the
American people don't want, and that is same-sex marriage.

GROSS: Now if he doesn't pursue the agenda that you're hoping he will pursue,
if he doesn't pursue it vigorously enough to meet your expectations, what do
you think the consequences should be?

Dr. LAND: Well, the consequences will be that he will lose support. You
know, I had someone say to me the other day, `Well, Dr. Land, if the president
chooses not to really push for a Marriage Protection Amendment, what's the big
deal for the president? I mean, you know, he's already re-elected and where
are your people going to go?' And I said, `Well, that's not really the way
I'd look at it. I would look at it this way. This president has built up a
substantial amount of capital and trust with values voters, with people of
traditional religious values, because he has campaigned on and made
commitments about issues they care about a great deal. If the president is
perceived by those constituencies to be less than enthusiastic in his pursuit
of those, then they're going to give him far less benefit of the doubt in
supporting him on issues where they're not all that certain that he's right.'

And my response when asked what kind of issue are you talking about: Social
Security. A reform of Social Security has far less broad support among
evangelicals and among traditional Catholics than does opposition to same-sex
marriage and being pro-life. But they tend to give this president the benefit
of the doubt as long as they see him as strongly committed to and pushing the
issues that matter most to them. And to the extent they perceive that he's
not, their willingness to go along with him on other issues will lessen and
will lessen rather sharply.

GROSS: The evangelical groups that are focusing on gay marriage, abortion,
have been criticized by some other religious leaders for not focusing on the
values of peace and poverty in equal amounts. In other words, why is it, for
instance, gay marriage that is so high on the agenda as opposed to peace or
more jobs or better health care?

Dr. LAND: Well, first of all, we are accused of focusing on those more than
we do because it's all the media ever asks us about.

GROSS: Well, let me just stop you.

Dr. LAND: All right.

GROSS: Let me just stop you...

Dr. LAND: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and say, when I asked you about the priorities, you know, you
talked about abortion, gay marriage.

Dr. LAND: Yeah. But I would--I'm going to talk about some more in just a
second. First of all, our response is--and it's a response on abortion and
gay marriages--our involvement has been defensive. Abortion on demand was
illegal 30 years ago, until the Supreme Court, with one fell swoop, struck
down all the laws protecting unborn children in this country in the first
trimester and we became one of only six countries in the entire world that
allows abortion for any reason whatsoever in the third trimester. That's not
a list I want to be on as an American. And we are not the ones trying to
redefine marriage. It's a court system that has run amok that's trying to
redefine marriage. But we're also very much involved in human rights issues.
We were very much involved in getting the Sudan Peace Act passed. We were
very much involved in getting the United States Commission on International
Religious Freedom as part of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act passed,
and getting an accountability from our State Department on the state of play
of religious persecution and religious freedom around the world and have made
America the champion of religious freedom around the world.

We've also been very influential in getting laws passed against sex
trafficking and against human trafficking and against human rights abuses in
other parts of the world. So I think it's unfair to say that those are the
only two issues. They're very high-profile issues, largely because the
secularists in our society don't like our position on those issues. And when
it comes to, you know, poverty, for instance, I don't know anyone who's
pro-poverty. There's a judicial question of prudence between people of
religious values on the best way to alleviate poverty in this country. That
debate, for instance, took place during the welfare reform legislation. The
current--the welfare system we had at the time didn't seem to be doing a very
good job of alleviating poverty. It seemed to be perpetuating poverty and
creating a semipermanent underclass. And there are many of us who felt there
were better ways to address the issue. It doesn't mean we're not trying to
address the issue. And it doesn't mean that we're not doing it through many
ministries of our churches.

GROSS: There is an assumption that some people have that people of faith
share a lot of the same political beliefs, but that isn't necessarily true.
For example, the war in Iraq. You know, the Bush White House obviously wanted
to invade Iraq and pursue the war. The pope opposed it. So I'm wondering,
you know, what you think the Bible or faith--how that informs your decision
about what the right policy should be and how you think it informs the

Dr. LAND: Well, first of all, I don't think the president wanted to invade
Iraq. I think that he came to the conclusion that it was necessary for the
best interests of peace in the region and the best interests of protecting the
United States to remove Saddam Hussein and his access to weapons of mass
destruction and the possibility that the ongoing cooperation between al-Qaeda
and Iraq would degenerate into a quid pro quo, where weapons of mass
destruction were traded for favors and that those weapons of mass destruction
would be used against the population of the United States. That's a far thing
from wanting to go to war in Iraq. I think he felt that it was the least
worst thing that could be done at that time to alleviate a very difficult and
dangerous situation.

I'm a believer in just war theory. I believe that there are reasons, as
Christians over the centuries have believed, that there are times and places
and circumstances under which it is permissible to wage--for the civil
magistrate, for the government to wage war and there are times when it is
not. And in order for Christians to participate in that warfare, it has to
meet all of the just war criteria. I believe that it did meet all of the just
war criteria. The pope didn't. That's a legitimate disagreement. It is true
that a lot of religious leaders oppose the war in Iraq, but if you look at the
American population, the US Catholic Conference of Bishops opposed the war,
but more than half of Catholics supported it. The mainline churches' leaders
opposed the war but a majority of mainline Protestants supported it. And
Southern Baptists supported the president's liberation of Iraq and the vast
majority of Southern Baptists did. I've been asked why it was that as a
religious leader, I supported the liberation of Iraq when so many other
religious leaders didn't. And I said, `Well, it may be because I was
democratically elected by my rank and file and they weren't.' So I'm more
representative of my rank and file.

GROSS: You said you believe in the just war theory and one of President
Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq was that they had weapons of mass
destruction and this is what our administration argued before the United
Nations and told, you know, us, the American citizens and, you know, now it
seems to be conclusive that there were none; at least there were none to be
found. So what is the Christian thing for President Bush to tell American
citizens now about that premise for the war which so far has proven to be

Dr. LAND: Well, first of all, it wasn't the only premise for the war. And it
wasn't the only premise for the war at the time.

GROSS: But I understand, but...

Dr. LAND: And I don't...

GROSS: was the main one, I think it's fair to say. It was the one that
Colin Powell argued before the United Nations.

Dr. LAND: It may have been the main one to you; it wasn't to me. It may have
been the main one to you; it wasn't to me and it wasn't to a lot of other
Americans. It was certainly a significant factor in the argumentation for the
war at that time. But it wasn't the only one. And I do want to make it very
clear that I think it is extremely unfair for anyone to say or to think that
the president deliberately misled the American people. Everyone thought that
Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. And, you
know, I would rather have a president who errs on the side of caution and a
worst-case scenario than one who thinks, `Well, it's just going to turn out
all right,' and we end up with--we only have to be wrong once for there to be
a horrific event in the United States that would make 9/11 pale by comparison.

GROSS: Just one more thing I wanted to mention: that the Bush administration
has told us that it's important to fight terrorists in Iraq so that we don't
have to fight them here. Many terrorist experts say that what's happening is
that Iraq is becoming a magnet for terrorists and also an incentive for people
to join terrorist groups and that...

Dr. LAND: Well, my response...

GROSS: might really be backfiring. So I'm wondering what--since things
haven't happened...

Dr. LAND: What would you...

GROSS: ...exactly as planned, I'm wondering what you think the Christian
response is from the White House?

Dr. LAND: Well, the response is not to cut and run. You want us to leave

GROSS: I'm not saying that. I'm just...

Dr. LAND: I'm asking you a question. What is your solution? To leave now?

GROSS: I'm not offering a solution. I was just asking what you think the
right response is for having arguments...

Dr. LAND: The right response is to continue to do--is Abraham Lincoln's
response. `We'll continue with malice toward none, with charity for all.
We'll continue to do the right as God gives us the light to see the right.'
The facts are on the ground that 90 percent of the Iraqi people, when polled,
said they want to have a free government. They want to be governed by Iraqis
that they've elected. And the polls also show that if they're allowed to vote
without being slaughtered in the street by militant nihilists whose only
platform for Iraq is death and destruction, that the Iraqi people want freedom
and we're doing everything we can to help them have the opportunity for
freedom. I think that's what America should do. I think that America is
acting in its best self when it does that. And that's what the president's
going to do. And people may have disagreed about the reasons for going to
war. People may have disagreed about whether we should have done it, but
we're there now and, as Tony Blair has said, this is a struggle between
civilization and barbarism. And if the terrorists are right, that this is the
magnet for terrorists around the world, I'd rather be fighting terrorists in
Iraq than in New York City or Washington, DC, or Los Angeles. And guess what?
We haven't been attacked since September 11th because the best defense is a
good offense.

GROSS: Why does it seem to you that just because we're fighting terrorists in
Iraq, we wouldn't also be fighting at some point terrorists here? Why is...

Dr. LAND: Well, if we lose in Iraq and we allow them to drive us out and we
allow them to kill all the Iraqis who agree with us and who support us and who
support freedom and democracy, we will fight them here. These people aren't
going away. They hate us. They want to destroy us. They want to destroy our
influence in the world. They want to put together an Islamic caliphate from
Morocco to Indonesia. And if you think that they're going to go away because
we weary of seeking to defend freedom and democracy for the Iraqis in Iraq,
then that's--I can only describe that as a criminal naivety.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Dr. Richard Land. He's
president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty

Dr. LAND: Let me tell you one thing I said in my debate with Jim Wallis at
The Brookings Institution earlier this week that's very important. I got up
and I started my speech by saying, `The fact that you're here at The Brookings
Institution and Jim Wallis has written this book and the book has gotten such
strong response demonstrates that we in the so-called religious right have won
the debate with secular fundamentalists in this country, that religion should
play no role in public policy.' I've debated the ACLU in several states where
they have said, `Well, now, Dr. Land, is your opposition to abortion or your
opposition to same-sex marriage based upon your religious convictions?' And I
said, `Well, yes, it is.' And they said, with a very smug smile on their
face, `Well, of course you know we can't make public policy in this country
based upon religious convictions.' That argument, which has held sway for 30
years, has now been lost. I don't know if you-all picked it up yet at NPR but
it was lost. Americans want moral values to have a say in public policy.

Now I'm going to have a debate with Jim Wallis and people like Jim Wallis and
we're going to have some significant disagreements about where religious
conviction would take us and what the hierarchy of moral values are, but
that's a very different discussion than the one I've been having with Barry
Lynn and the ACLU, where they say, if your beliefs are based upon religious
convictions, your moral values are based upon religious convictions, you're
disqualified from putting on a uniform and playing in the game. No, we're
not. And the majority of the American people now understand that and I relish
a dialogue and a debate about the best way to apply religious convictions as
they translate into moral values in public policy. And if all of us bring our
moral convictions to bear whether they're religiously based or not on public
policy, it'll make Republicans better Republicans and Democrats better
Democrats and the country a better country.

GROSS: I heard several people before the election predict that, if Bush won
for a second term, that there would be a civil war within the Republican
Party between moderates and fundamentalists, between, you know, pragmatists
and true believers. We're about to start that second term. What do you

Dr. LAND: I think that's wishful thinking on the part of people who hope it's
true. Of course not. That's not going to happen. The Republican Party is a
party of traditional religious values and of cultural conservatism and there
are a few, you know, vestigial relics like Arlen Specter and former Governor
Whitman around, but they're clearly in a minority and they're going to stay in
a minority and if--let me bring some really bad news to some of your
listeners. The next Republican nominee for president will look an awful lot
like George W. Bush, because George W. Bush is the product of long-term
cultural and historic forces. The real civil war is going to be in the
Democrat Party between the Deaniacs and the secular fundamentalists on the one
side and people like Jim Wallis, who want to reinsert religiously informed
moral values into public policy.

GROSS: By the way, the two people who I was referring to in talking about a
civil war within the Republican Party--one was Patrick Buchanan and the other
was Bruce Bartlett, who was in the Reagan White House. So it wasn't Democrats
saying that. It was Republicans.

Dr. LAND: Well, it still may have been wishful thinking. This debate is over
in the Republican Party state by state, which makes up the 50 states of the
Republican Party. And, you know, if a social moderate and an economic and
foreign policy conservative wants to run for president in 2008, fine. Let
them. They won't win a primary west of the Hudson.

GROSS: Dr. Land, you are head of what is basically the lobbying arm of the
Southern Baptist Convention. Did you always feel that your faith could
connect to politics or did you arrive at that connection later in life?

Dr. LAND: Well, first of all, we don't lobby. We engage in public policy
education and public policy advocacy and we won a court case in Washington,
DC, that proves that. We engage in public policy and I came to this fairly
early in my religious experience. I started a full-time ministry when I was
16. Martin Luther King Jr. is a personal hero of mine. He models for me what
it means as a Baptist minister to bring your faith into critique of society
and to right wrongs and to address evil in society. And that was furthered by
my exposure to Francis Schaeffer, whose central tenet was truth is truth with
a capital T and if it's true at home, it's true in the world; if it's true at
church, it's true in government, and you have an obligation to be salt and
light in the world and to speak truth to power in all places in all times.

GROSS: Dr. Land, thank you very much for talking with us.

Dr. LAND: Thank you.

GROSS: Dr. Richard Land is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty
Commission, which is the policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Reverend Jim Wallis discusses his interpretation of
the role of faith in politics

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

On this Inauguration Day, we're talking with two religious leaders who are on
opposite sides, politically, and have different interpretations of the role of
faith in politics. The Reverend Jim Wallis is an evangelical leader who
agrees with my previous guest, Dr. Richard Land, that it is appropriate for
religious values to inform political debate. But Wallis is politically
liberal and interprets his faith as emphasizing social justice, peace and
trying to reverse poverty. He's the editor in chief of Sojourners, which he
describes as a progressive Christian magazine covering faith, politics and
culture. Jim Wallis has written a new book called "God's Politics: Why the
Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get it."

You write in your new book, `Many of us feel that our faith has been stolen
and it's time to take it back. In particular, an enormous public
misrepresentation of Christianity has taken place.' What do you mean by that?

Reverend JIM WALLIS (Sojourners): Well, I wonder sometimes how Jesus has
become pro-rich, pro-war and only pro-American. It's almost as if Jesus' top
priorities would be a capital gains tax cut and the occupation of Iraq. I
mean, as foolish as that sounds, that's almost the perception now. So many of
us feel like our faith has been stolen. Hijacked is a good word. And what
I'm trying to do in this book is to say it's time for us, indeed, to take it
back. A rescue operation seems to be called for here. The religious right
has controlled this conversation for far too long. The truth is Jerry Falwell
doesn't speak for millions and millions of Christians, let alone other people
of faith. And so there's a whole response now. It's time for a better
dialogue and time for a different, better, deeper conversation about this
important issue of faith and values in our public life.

GROSS: About President Bush, you've written you believe his faith is personal
and real, but you think that the president is often guilty of bad theology.
What do you mean by that?

Rev. WALLIS: I think the president's faith is very real. It's personal in
his life. It has changed parts of his life in important ways. I respect it.
I've talked to him enough and been in meetings with him a few times. I think
that's true. But I do question his theology. I think--two examples. One, I
think President Bush believes in a God of charity. You solve poverty by
social services projects made in faith-based initiatives. Dorothy Day, the
founder of the Catholic Worker, was a mentor of mine. She talked about the
works of mercy, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless. She was right,
but she also said--above her study there was a plaque that said, `Most of our
problems stem from our acceptance.' She said, `This filthy, rotten system.'
She talked about why people were poor.

The God of the Bible is a God of justice, not just a God of charity. The
prophets speak again and again about the demands of justice. They speak to
kings and rulers and judges and employers. And so I think we've got to talk
not just about faith-based initiatives, but budgets as moral documents, what
our priorities are. Our values are revealed by our budgets, our policies,
what we spend our time on. Does a budget put the burden of fiscal
responsibility and deficit reduction on those least able to bear it or those
who, in fact, are benefiting most of all? Permanent tax cuts for the rich is
not the kind of priority that derives out of a close reading of those biblical

The other place where I'm very concerned is if you can't see evil in the face
of September 11th, you're probably some kind of post-modern relativist, I
would say. But to say, `They are evil and we are good' is bad theology.
Jesus said, `Don't you see the beam in your adversary's eye, but also the log
in your own eye?' Our foreign policy is now a first resort to war, not a last
resort. It's a very defensive policy based on military supremacy, which
finally will not prevail. We can't deal with this real threat of terrorism
unless we confront the root causes, the environment. Unless we drain the
swamp of injustice in which these mosquitoes of terrorism breed, we'll never
be successful. So I think the faith is real for the president, but I think
there are often issues of theology here that I have some deep concerns about.

GROSS: I think this next quote of yours that I want to read fits in with what
you were saying. You write, "The real theological question about President
Bush is whether he would change from essentially a self-help Methodist to a
social reform Methodist."

Rev. WALLIS: Well, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is a hero of mine.
In the 18th century he led this revival and, you know, it transformed Britain.
It ended slavery and slave trade. It was--it changed child labor laws. And
that kind of social reform Methodism, I think, hasn't really occurred yet to
President Bush. Self-help Methodism, yes, I think his faith has helped him.
It should help all of us, our faith should, but it also changes the world,
changes structures, changes neighborhoods, changes nations. I'm a 19th
century evangelical born in the wrong century, because in this century, we've
seen the privatizing of faith. The great heresy in America in the 20th
century was the privatizing of faith. And what this book talks about is how
the God is personal. God is personal but never private, never private. And
the God of the Bible is a public God, talking about justice, talking about
equity, talking about fairness, talking about how we treat those whom Jesus
called the least of these. So I want to see more attention in the president's
theology to that issue, that biblical issue of justice.

GROSS: When you say it's not just private, do you mean it's not just about
helping the person who's praying? What can--what's in this for me?

Rev. WALLIS: Yeah, well, I'll tell you, there was an incident that was very
pivotal for me as a young teen-age kid. I was 14, growing up in Detroit, and
I had these questions about, you know, why we lived the way we did in white
Detroit and why life seemed so different in black Detroit. Finally--I wasn't
getting answers to my questions. One elder in my church had said, `Son, if
you keep asking that question, you're going to get into a lot of trouble.' And
that proved to be true. I went into the city and I found the other church,
the other evangelical church. The black churches loved the same Jesus, read
the same Bible, sang out of the same hymn book, but made it sound so much
better than we did. And then I came back to my church with new answers and
some new friends from those black churches. And they said to me, they said,
`Jim'--I will never forget what they said, this elder in my
church--`Christianity has nothing to do with racism. That's political and our
faith is personal.'

That really caused me to leave my childhood faith. I got kicked out of the
church, found my home in the civil rights movements and the anti-war struggles
of my generation and came back to faith later on. That's a different story.
But what I learned from that is this lesson that stays with me today, that
God is personal but never private. You can't privatize the God of the Bible.
It's not just me and God, it's not just--you know, it's not just this sort of
private relationship. It's what God intends for our lives and for the world.
Everything gets transformed by this old power of this thing called faith.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jim Wallis. He's the editor of
Sojourners magazine, which he describes as an aggressive Christian magazine.
He's also the author of the new book, "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It
Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It."

The religious right has emphasized, in its values agenda, trying to outlaw gay
marriage and trying to outlaw or more seriously restrict abortion. Let's
start with gay marriage. What would your position on gay marriage be?

Rev. WALLIS: Well, the first thing I always want to say is that I welcome
this discussion about moral values. I think values are the right conversation
for America's political future. The question is whose values, what values and
how broadly or deeply they'll be defined or whether they're going to be
defined in a very partisan way, whether values are going to be wedges and
weapons that divide us or bridges that really can help bring us back together
again. So I always want to say that moral values can't be reduced to one or
two hot-button social issues like abortion and gay marriage. That I'm an
evangelical Christian and I find 3,000 verses on the poor in the Bible. So
fighting poverty is a moral value, protecting the environment, God's creation,
is a moral value. Whether and how we go to war and whether we tell the truth
about that is a moral value. That being said, I think the issues are--of
abortion and gay marriage and family are important and need a much deeper and
wider conversation on all sides. I think gay marriage in this election became
a kind of surrogate for people expressing their concern about families. There
is a deep concern about families in America, family breakdown. It's a huge
problem not just in poor neighborhoods like mine but across the country.

But, you know, the gay marriage civil union issue isn't at the heart of that.
What's at the heart of that is parenting. I travel the country and say
something like this: Parenting has become a countercultural activity in
America. And all parents' heads start nodding, liberal or conservative,
because we know how hard it is to raise our kids. I'm the father of a
six-year-old son and an almost two-year-old son and Tee-Ball coach on Friday
night, and I care deeply about strengthening families and helping parents get
by. I mean, the pressures on parents are incredible these days. How do we
support families is the real issue here. That's where we could have some
common ground. Now most Americans, the exit polls show, believe in some kind
of legal protection for same-sex couples. So whether we call it civil unions
or gay civil marriage, that'll be resolved over time, probably state by state.
But the real issue, I think, is how to support families, and then, I think,
also extend legal protection to same-sex couples. And the common ground here
is kind of you can be pro-family and pro-gay civil rights at the same time.

GROSS: You say that you think you can find common ground in some kind of
legal contract, something that isn't quite marriage, but still grants some
kind of rights to gay couples, but there are leaders on the religious right
who oppose homosexuality in general. I mean, their argument is they don't
oppose homosexual people, but they oppose the actual practice of
homosexuality. And I'm not certain that you'd be able to find that common
ground with them.

Rev. WALLIS: Well, this debate about homosexuality is really destroying the
churches. And there are many on both sides now who are saying this finally is
not the biggest issue of our time. My goodness, the ethics of war--the book
talks about a statement issued by a number of theologians right before the
election, who really are on both sides of this issue of gay marriage and all
the rest, and they say there's a theology of war emanating from the White
House, a language of righteous empire. There's a talk of divine mission in
this war on terrorism. This is a much more serious problem than debates in
all of our denominations over gay ordination and gay marriage. And so some
have called for kind of a cease-fire in the churches on both sides, to say
this should not be a faith-breaker.

There are always going to be those on the extremes, on the left or the right,
for whom there is no common ground. But I do think that you find common
ground by moving to higher ground. And Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us
that. There will be religious disagreements about homosexuality. Those will
go on. There are biblical discussions, theological, pastoral matters. Those
will go on for a long time. How we have that conversation, whether we listen
to each other, how we treat each other in the discussion is very critical, and
not to let that conversation rip our churches apart or divide the society in
ways that really don't make any sense and won't really help strengthen
families. That's, I think, the bottom line here.

GROSS: Let's get to the issue of abortion. You--you're very opposed to
abortion, and you say you're in a very lonely position as a Democrat who's
very against abortion. Can you talk a little bit about your position on
abortion and how you arrived at it?

Rev. WALLIS: Well, I would just say that most of us, I think, want to say
that the abortion rate is way too high for a good and caring society, one that
cares about women and children. And so I think pro-life and pro-choice people
could come together and really aim it seriously, dramatically reducing the
abortion rate, focusing on teen-age pregnancy, adoption forum. Supporting
low-income women, economically, always reduces the abortion rate. So I mean,
I don't favor criminalizing agonizing, desperate choices, backing women into
difficult corners, but I think we've got to work very hard in preventing
unwanted pregnancies. And that should be something, again, that brings us
together. So whether one is pro-life or pro-choice, I think really targeting
some solutions here. Abortion--again, the abortion debate is so symbolic,
it's a political litmus test on both sides, and we don't seem to be able to
work towards solutions. I want to actually do something about abortion and
not just argue about it at election time and ignore it in between those

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Reverend Jim Wallis. He's the
editor of Sojourners magazine, which he describes as a progressive Christian
magazine. His new book is called "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It
Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It."

When you say the left doesn't get it, you're referring to?

Rev. WALLIS: Well, let me say the Republicans are very comfortable with the
language of faith and values. They almost claim to own the territory; they
own religion they seem to think. But then they want to restrict it, narrow it
to just one or two hot-button social issues. The Democrats are uncomfortable,
often, with that language, almost suggesting that faith should be restricted
to the private seer. But I tell them, where would we be if Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. had kept his faith to himself?

Democrats were connected to a civil rights movement led by black churches just
a few decades ago. So how have they been portrayed now as so hostile to faith
and so secular? This idea that one party is God's party and all of the
religious folks are jammed into the red states and the blue states are full of
agnostics and Democratic, you know, secular fundamentalists is not true. But
that's now what the perception has become. So I'm saying to Democrats, `If
what you believe is motivated by moral values, let those values shine
through.' And I find that it really is for Democrats. If you are a person of
faith--some Democrats are, some Democrats aren't--let your faith shine
through. But whatever you do, you've got to reframe your policy issues in a
moral context, in a values context. Everybody wants politics to have a moral
compass. That's the issue. And Democrats need to not concede this argument
to the Republicans, who will then define it in a very narrow way.

GROSS: You describe yourself as a 19th century evangelist at heart. What
does that mean?

Rev. WALLIS: Well, I mean in the 19th century, evangelicals who were--well,
they were evangelists and they were abolitionists. They fought to overcome
slavery, they fought for women's sufferance, they fought for child labor law
reform. They were revivalists and reformers at the same time. They put their
faith into action. It didn't just change their lives, it changed the world.
And I love that kind of faith.

My concern, Terry, is what faith does in the world. You know, whether it be
President Bush or any of the rest of us, what faith does in our lives is a
good thing. That's an important thing. But I want to know what it means in
the world. What does your faith mean in the world? What does it mean in
relation to people who are poor and left behind? Half of God's children in
this world--you know, three billion people live on less than $2 a day. That's
extraordinary. Faith should change that.

Wars now kill more civilians than they do soldiers. Conflicts are going on
all over the world. Faith can change that. The environment is fragile and
imperiled in significant ways. Faith can change that.

I talk to young people all the time. I say, `Do something big with your life.
Make a difference. And don't talk about career, talk about vocation, talk
about your calling, talk about your gift. Where does your gift meet the
pressing urgent needs, crushing needs of the world? That's vocation.' Faith
believes that if it's the size of a mustard seed, it can move a mountain.
That's what my Bible says.

GROSS: What are you expecting in the next four years of the Bush

Rev. WALLIS: Well, George Bush talked about compassionate conservatism at the
beginning of his first term and that just disappeared. I hear nothing anymore
about the poor except for a minor emphasis on faith-based initiatives. But I
want to see a budget that really talks about, you know, a serious commitment
to help low-income families escape poverty. In Britain, they've made a
commitment to cut child poverty in half in 10 years. They're halfway through
and they're succeeding. If they could do that, we could do that, too. I
don't see anything like that in the president's priorities. He's talking
instead about permanent tax cuts for the rich.

On foreign policy, again, I see almost a singular emphasis on military
superiority as the only real foreign policy that we have. That's a terrible
mistake. These issues of terrorism will not just be solved by military power.
And many of us feel the war in Iraq was a disaster. It was conceived in
confusion, carried out in arrogance and now has resulted in chaos. And that
war is looking like it's going to just plunge us deeper and deeper into an
abyss. We need to end the American occupation of Iraq. We won't succeed
against terrorism until we do that. And I think this president doesn't yet
understand that yet.

We need a solution in the Middle East. It's the source of so many of our
conflicts around the world, and we've got to deal with this crushing, urgent
issue of global poverty.

GROSS: You've had a couple of encounters or meetings with President Bush.
What did you talk about?

Rev. WALLIS: Well, the first time was a meeting in Austin before he came to
Washington where he invited several of us to talk with him about poverty and
about the faith-based initiatives. And he invited people that hadn't voted
for him and some that did. I thought that was good. He wanted a broad range
of conversation, and there was. I think a lot of good things were said to the
president that day. We challenged him to make a serious, measurable
commitment to overcoming child poverty, for example, to cut it in half in 10
years, but that wasn't forthcoming.

But in his inaugural the first time, a lot of that speech came from that
meeting. He said those of us who don't understand poor people have to listen
to those who do. He said to me at one point, he said, `You know, Jim, I've
never been around poor people. I don't know how they think. I've never lived
in a poor community. I'm just a white Republican guy who doesn't get it, but
I would like to. How do I get it?' I said, `Mr. President, you have to
listen to people who are poor themselves or work with those who do.' And
there was that kind of hope at the beginning, but then it disappeared with
budget and domestic priorities that were focused much more on tax cuts for the
wealthy than serious help for low-income families trying to escape poverty.

The second time was around a lot of the issue related to the war on terrorism.
And he said, `We've got to focus all of our attention, our energy, our
resources on defeating terrorism, this war on terrorism overseas.' And I said,
`Unless you focus, unless we focus our energy resources, our attention on this
poverty and hopelessness and despair and resentment that is the breeding
ground, unless we drain that swamp of injustice in which these mosquitoes of
terrorism breed, we'll never succeed. We'll fail both in the war on poverty
and the war on terrorism.' So we had that conversation so, you know, there
was some conversation early on.

I was sad to see the president not talk to any religious leaders who disagreed
with him on the war in Iraq. In the book I talk about our meeting with Tony
Blair. Tony Blair did meet with several of us before the war in Iraq for a
serious hourlong conversation about theology and, you know, whether this was a
just war and political, moral issues. And we said there was a better way to
remove Saddam Hussein from power and disarm him, a better way than war. And
at least Blair listened and we talked. And the president never did that. I
wish he would have availed himself of the wide range of religious wisdom on
these questions, even if he disagreed, to listen to all of those religious
leaders, some in his own denomination who were eager to speak with him. He
didn't do that, and I think that was a mistake.

GROSS: So you're saying you don't think he listened to enough religious
leaders. What do you know about what his prayer life was like leading up to
the war? What was the religious input that he got?

Rev. WALLIS: Well, you know, I have no--I'm not privy to the president's
prayer life, of course. I don't know what's happening in his heart or even in
the White House. I'm sure he's a praying man. I'm sure he prayed about his
decisions leading up to the war in Iraq, but I think it would have been far
wiser for him to pay attention to the religious wisdom being offered around
the world. The pope was against this war, still is. The Vatican was opposed
to it, the Catholic bishops were. Every major church body in the world, with
the exception of the American Southern Baptists, was opposed to the war in
Iraq and said this was not a just war. The president really defied global
religious opinion on this war. I mean, evangelical bodies all over the world,
in other countries, were against the war. So George Bush defied religious
wisdom around the world on this war, and I think that's a serious thing for a
president who is a man of faith.

GROSS: Well, Jim Wallis, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Rev. WALLIS: Thank you. It's great to be back and to talk to you again.

GROSS: Reverend Jim Wallis is the author of the new book "God's Politics."
Earlier we heard from Dr. Richard Land, the head of the policy arm of the
Southern Baptist Convention.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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