Friday, January 23, 2009

Jim Wallis on the new President

One of the best places to gain creative new ideas and a updated thinking on a christian approach to social justice is the Sojurners Community in Washington. Longterm director and social justice leader Jim Wallis wrote after the inauguration of Barack Obama the following inspiring column.

It’s a better country than I thought it was. I honestly wouldn’t have thought
this possible. I guess I would have agreed with the older generation of African
Americans in my neighborhood: This day would never come in our lifetimes—but
here it is.
For four decades, I’ve been fighting against all the bad stuff in
America—the poverty, the racism, the human rights violations, and always the
wars. At a deeper level, the arrogance, self-righteousness, materialism, and
ignorance of the rest of the world, the habitual ignoring of the ones that God
says we can’t, the ones Jesus calls the least of these.
From the time I got
kicked out of my little white evangelical church as a young teenager, and
plunged into the student movements of my generation, the issue that drove me was
racism. Now the son of an African immigrant and a Kansas white woman has become
president. I keep pinching myself.
And he talks differently—about almost
I’ve known him for a decade, but I watched him grow as a leader
all through this campaign, and now each day. I have never met a more
self-disciplined political leader, with one exception—Nelson Mandela. And
Mandela had the advantage of 27 years of spiritual formation in a South African
I am used to White Houses who want to arrest me—22 times over 40
years. This White House wants our advice. Leaders from the faith community have
been virtually inhabiting the offices of the Transition Team over the last
weeks, with our advice being sought on global and domestic poverty, human
rights, criminal justice, torture, faith-based offices, foreign policy, Gaza and
the Middle East. A staffer joked one day, "We should have just gotten all of you
bunks here."
I took my two boys to the Opening Ceremony at the Lincoln
Memorial, which I thought was just going to be "a concert." But it turned out to
be a wonderfully musical civic lesson about the best of America, the history
that has been a shining light to the world at our best, and one that has
attracted the most diverse population on the earth. I watched my boys watch and
listen, and even felt proud of my country for the first time in a very long
time. Bono and Springsteen weren’t bad either, and Tom Hanks’ reading of Lincoln
might have been the high point for me. Everybody was very happy and even
Then on this year’s celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther
King Jr., one day before the inauguration of the nation’s first black president,
one could almost feel the warmth of Martin’s smile. The freedom fighters of the
civil rights movement who are still with us, like Congressman John Lewis, said
that while the election of Barack Obama wasn’t the fulfillment of King’s dream,
it was, nonetheless, a hefty down payment.
Joy and I were blessed to attend
the private prayer service for the new president that began inauguration day for
Barack and Michelle Obama. Then there was the swearing in, which was almost
unbelievable as the world watched. And then the speech. The more I listen to it,
the better it gets. Here was a leader who wanted us to face how serious our
situation really is. What some have called the "fake optimism" that often
attends such inaugurals wasn’t there, but rather a serous invitation to make the
hard choice of hope, which has always been the strength of this nation when
facing the most difficult times. And here was a leader who said this wasn’t
really about him, but about us, and what we would decide to do together. He
called for a "new era of responsibility." And bridging the polarized left/right
debates of the decades, it was clear that he meant both personal and social
Read the speech a few times. But some of the highlights for
me were:
That the national security strategy of Donald Rumsfeld will now be
replaced by the wisdom of the prophet Micah—that our security depends upon other
people’s security.
That the secret governance and detention centers of
Dick Cheney will now be replaced by the rule of law and the renunciation of
torture as not American after all.
That the money changers of the temples of
Wall Street will be replaced with the call of the prophet Nehemiah to rebuild
the broken walls and establish the common good.
And American "manifest
destiny" will be replaced by a new relationship to the world, more characterized
by "humility" (he actually said the word) and leading by American example more
than by American domination.
In concert with and in challenge to the new
president, Joseph Lowery prayed:
Help us then, now , Lord, to work for that
day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be
beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her
own vine and fig tree, and no one shall be afraid; when justice will roll down
like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.
The opportunity that has
always been the American promise must now be extended to all, including those at
the bottom of the economy, said the new president, who also pledged that the
poor of the world would not be abandoned anymore.
To the people of poor
nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let
clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.
He also
gave a stern warning to the country about the results of misplaced policies and
This crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the
market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors
only the prosperous.
Obama sometimes did sound like the prophet Nehemiah, who
after he carefully surveyed the broken walls of the temple, called the people
together to start the rebuilding and to "commit themselves to the common
Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and
begin again the work of remaking America.
Afterwards, as we were leaving the
Capitol, my son Luke whispered in my ear, "Yes, we did."
Simply put, these
last few days were a moment of answered prayers for me—the prayers of
Participating in the Presidential Prayer Service at the National
Cathedral was a fitting end to the week’s inaugural events. Christians, Jews,
Muslims, and Hindus stood to pray for the president as the first family sat just
a few feet away.
It was acknowledged that it was time now for the new
president to go to work. And so should the religious community. Our job now is
to offer prayers and support for the new president, as we did in the Cathedral
yesterday. But it will also be our job, our prophetic religious responsibility
in fact, to offer challenge when necessary, as it certainly will be for this
president like all presidents before him. But I think this president has the
capacity to understand that challenge can be the deepest form of support.

Jim Wallis Sojurners Community

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