Now, by bringing up the subject of the relationship between faith and politics I am no doubt going to get the likes of Laurence B into a lather. But so be it. As Jim Wallis pointed out, many of the great movements that have changed the world and changed politics have their roots in religion. Yes, religion can rightly on occasions be be blamed for conflict and evil, but it has also been a force for good. The same may be said about atheistic belief systems such as Communism, though no doubt there would be some debate about the Communist contribution for good. Arguments that religion and politics don't mix are meaningless to those who believe they do, which is why I applaud the work Jim and others are doing to challenge the religious right in the States. As Desmond Tutu says "I wonder which bible people are reading when they say religion and politics don't mix". I have no truck with those of faith who think it is purely personal and should have no impact on what they do to try to make a difference to the lives of others.
Jim Wallis believes that the obsession with abortion and gay marriage by the religious right has totally skewed the message of the gospel. As he says, Jesus said nothing at all about homosexuality but an awful lot about poverty and justice. Similarly he criticises the position on abortion, as he points out, despite the rhetoric, abortion rates have remained steady, dropping slightly under Clinton and actually rising slightly under Bush. He argues that is the result of social policy and that the emphasis should be on reducing the number of abortions, not on criminalising abortion. He decries the polarisation of the debate between pro life and pro choice - a topic to which I will return (having not had time to join in the abortion debate last week).
His challenge to the church is about taking the issues of poverty and justice seriously and asserts that politics is groping to find solutions to some of these great world issues. His position is that faith has been and can be a catalyst for action, reminding us of former campaigns against slavery, child labour, the Civil Rights movement in the US and Jubilee 2000. He told us that the origin of the "alter call" popular in so many evangelical churches, was the call to sign up for the anti-slavery campaign.
I applaud him for what he is doing and his contribution to changing things in US politics, to quote from his book "We have now entered the post Religious-Right era. That doesn't mean the Religious Right is dead, or won't still be an influence in Republican party politics. But its "era", the peak of its influence and its monopoly over faith and politics are now gone. Although religion has been given a negative image in the last few decades, the years ahead may be surprisingly shaped by a dynamic and more progressive faith that helps make needed social change possible. I have always been a progressive evangelical. "Progressive evangelical" has seemed to be a misnomer in recent years, but now it is becoming a movement."