Jim Wallis, a well-known progressive evangelical leader who has challenged the US religious right on their own turf, has taken the opportunity to give a national radio broadcast commending a broad and inclusive moral agenda rather than the sectarian divisions which some faith groups have been stirring up.
In his eventual message he emphasized that ìreligion has no monopoly on morality. 'We need a new, morally-centered discourse on politics that welcomes each of us to the table.'
Senate majority leader Harry Reid rang Wallis, head of Sojourners-Call to Renewal, last week, to see if he would speak to the country in the Democrat's weekly radio broadcast on Saturday 2 December 2006.
In the past, these addresses have been given almost exclusively by elected officials, but the senator appeared to believe that a non-partisan religious leader could speak to the issue of moral values in a way that could bring both secular and faith voters together.
On his 'God's Politics' blog, Wallis says he though long and hard before accepting. "I work hard to maintain my independence and non-partisanship, and didn't want to be perceived as supporting one party over the other", he wrote. "But our country faces pressing issues. We are in a time like no other. This requires new ways of engaging leaders, and the Americans they represent. Forums like this one are rarely offered by either party. I thought the good faith by Senator Reid in risking a new approach should be met with my willingness to act in a new way."
Jim Wallis is seen as an influential figure on the moderate left of the political spectrum. Though backing faith engagement in politics he has opposed hard-line religious interference in government, and while championing radical causes has also recently met with key Republican staff members on Capitol Hill to discuss a bi-partisan anti-poverty caucus.
Some liberals, both religious and non-religious, have feared that Wallis may be being drawn too close in with the establishment ñ but his radio broadcast (reproduced below) was strong on peace-building and social justice, albeit in ways intended to build bridges across the strong political divides.
The written text of the message is as follows:
I'm Jim Wallis, author of God's Politics [a best-selling book]. I was surprised and grateful when Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid called to say his party wanted to set a new tone and invite, for the first time, a non-partisan religious leader to deliver their weekly radio address and speak about the values that could unite Americans at this critical time.
So, I want to be clear that I am not speaking for the Democratic Party, but as a person of faith who feels the hunger in America for a new vision of our life together, and sees the opportunity to apply our best moral values to the urgent problems we face. I am not an elected official or political partisan, but a religious leader who believes that real solutions must transcend partisan politics. For too long, we have had a politics of blame and fear, while America is eager for a politics of solutions and hope. It is time to find common ground by moving to higher ground.
Because we have lost a commitment to the common good, politics is failing to solve the deepest crises of our time. Real solutions will require our best thinking and dialogue, but also call us to transformation and renewal.
Most Americans know that the important issues we confront have an essential moral character. It is the role of faith communities to remind us of that fact. But religion has no monopoly on morality. We need a new, morally-centered discourse on politics that welcomes each of us to the table.
A government that works for the common good is central. There is a growing desire for integrity in our government across the political spectrum. Corruption in government violates our basic principles. Money and power distort our political decision-making and even our elections. We must restore trust in our government and reclaim the integrity of our democratic system.
At this moment in history, we need new directions.
Who is left out and left behind is always a religious and moral question. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the health of a society was measured by how it cared for its weakest and most vulnerable, and prosperity was to be shared by all. Jesus proclaimed a gospel that was "good news to the poor."
I am an evangelical Christian, and a commitment to "the least of these" is central to my personal faith and compels my public actions. It is time to lift up practical policies and effective practices that "make work work" for low-income families and challenge the increasing wealth gap between rich and poor. We must find a new moral and political will to overcome poverty that combines personal and social responsibility with a commitment to support strong families.
Answering the call to lift people out of poverty will require spiritual commitment and bipartisan political leadership. Since the election, I have spoken with leaders from both parties about creating a real anti-poverty agenda in Congress. We need a grand alliance between liberals and conservatives to produce new and effective strategies.
This week, President Bush met with Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq, seeking solutions to the rapidly deteriorating situation in that civil-war torn nation. Nearly 3,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died. The cost and consequences of a disastrous war are moral issues our country must address. Leaders in both parties are acknowledging that the only moral and practical course is to dramatically change the direction of U.S. policy, starting with an honest national debate about how to extricate U.S. forces from Iraq with the least possible damage to everyone involved.
Our earth and the fragile atmosphere that surrounds it are God's good creation. Yet, our environment is in jeopardy as global warming continues unchecked and our air and water are polluted. Good stewardship of our resources is a religious and moral question. Energy conservation and less dependence on fossil fuels are commitments that could change our future - from the renewal of our lifestyles to the moral redemption of our foreign policies.
A culture that promotes healthy families is necessary to raise our children with strong values, and the breakdown of family and community in our society must be addressed. But we need serious solutions, not the scapegoating of others. And wouldn't coming together to find common ground that dramatically reduces the number of abortions be better than both the left and the right using it as an issue to divide us?
We need a new politics inspired by our deepest held values. We must summon the best in the American people, and unite to solve some of the moral issues of our time. Americans are much less concerned about what is liberal or conservative, what is Democrat or Republican. Rather, we care about what is right and what works.
The path of partisan division is well worn, but the road of compassionate priorities and social justice will lead us to a new America. Building that new America will require greater moral leadership from both Democrats and Republicans, and also from each and every one of us.