EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the May 9, 2005, issue of National Review.
In 1995, Jim Wallis was arrested for protesting against welfare reform in the Capitol Rotunda. In 1983, he was arrested in the Rotunda for protesting the MX missile. But these days, Wallis is more likely to be meeting lawmakers than breaking laws when he is on Capitol Hill. Senate Democrats invited him to a conference in January, and Senate Republicans have consulted with him about their anti-poverty agenda. His influence is even more pronounced in the media. Wallis has shared his insights with Tim Russert and yukked it up with Jon Stewart. His new, best-selling book, God’s Politics, has been widely reviewed.
His basic message is twofold: Democrats should be more accommodating of religion in public life; but religion does not have to be understood as Jerry Falwell understands it. One of the constant refrains of his book and his op-eds is that Jesus is not “pro-rich, pro-war, and only pro-American.”
Wallis has long edited Sojourners, which is generally described as a magazine for left-wing evangelical Christians. In recent years, however, he has moved, at least rhetorically, to the center. He insists that he has no partisan agenda. He says he has no interest in being part of a religious Left. “People are hungry for a better dialogue,” he says, “not the monologue of the religious Right.”
But it’s Democrats who have been most interested in his ideas. Republicans have talked to Wallis about a few discrete issues — such as Bush’s faith-based initiative, which Wallis supports. Democrats, on the other hand, are listening to Wallis’s advice on how to “frame” issues and borrowing his lines. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has said that he wants to make the budget “a moral document.” The words come straight from Wallis. The Democrats seem to think that Wallis offers a way to overcome their deficit among “values voters,” a topic on which they have been fixated since the election . . .
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