Rev. Jim Wallis searches for old-time justice
The author and activist aims to strengthen the link between spirituality and commitment to moral issues like poverty.
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But crisscrossing the country over the past few years, Wallis is exhilarated by what he sees happening in the evangelical community – and, broadly, among young people. The National Association of Evangelicals has officially stepped out to embrace a broader agenda, including poverty and environmental action.Skip to next paragraph
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"Jim is one of the people who's inspired Bible-believing Christians to see the connection between justice for the poor and Christian faith," Mr. Beckmann says.
And youths have been showing up at his talks eager to get involved in social justice issues, from HIV/AIDS to Darfur to poverty. They are mostly Christians, but also Jews, Muslims, and even atheists.
One Muslim youth leader who's been strongly influenced is Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago. In a Washington Post online column, Mr. Patel writes of seeking out Wallis and going to hear him many times in recent years. He calls himself a member of "the Jim Wallis generation," and says, "we are ready to change the world."
Some Evangelicals have criticized Wallis as a liberal who's not vocal enough on issues like abortion. In his book, he says people are tired of right and left and hungry for "a moral center" focused on the common good and getting things done.
In an interview, Wallis says he's talked with both Democrats and "compassionate conservative" Republicans, seeking a bipartisan way to put poverty and the UN's Millennium Development Goals on the public agenda. The day his new book came out, he says delightedly, Congress passed a resolution committing to the goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years.
"It's a nonbinding resolution, but you can build on it," he says. "Britain has made that commitment and already cut it by 7 percent."
But he isn't likely to focus his time lobbying Congress or getting involved in partisan politics. Experience tells him that nothing will change on the big issues until there's strong public pressure on politicians to make them accountable. That's where a new social movement comes in.
Wallis is clear that a "vision without a strategy is like faith without works." He has a plan for galvanizing people into action – and it looks a lot like that of his 19th-century heroes.
He proposes a set of "Justice Revivals" in various US cities. In what he calls "a combination of Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr.," they'll involve a call to faith, but lead to specific actions.
Next month in Columbus, Ohio, he and local pastors from various denominations will hold the first week-long revival in the city's largest megachurch. Along with preaching, they'll discuss how to commit to having a long-term positive impact on the city. People of other faiths will be welcome.
What makes him feel this will work?
In all his travels, he says, it's what he hears from the young people. They know what they think is wrong in society and they're eager to do something about it.
Even the children. A third-grade girl at one speech particularly touched him. "When you talked about that 'silent tsunami' that is killing so many children every day because of poverty – children like me ... I started to think to myself, 'If I'm a Christian, I better do something about that,' " she told Wallis afterward, according to an account in his book.
A movement happens, he says, when people change their minds about what is acceptable in the world, and have faith that what needs to be done is possible.