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GOD'S POLITICS: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It
Jim Wallis
HarperSanFrancisco
Religion/Current Affairs
ISBN: 0060558288

Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine, is relentlessly caught between a rock and a hard place. Conservative on some issues, liberal on others, he can't seem to convince his critics that he's not rabidly partisan. But that's probably to be expected. You write a book titled GOD'S POLITICS, and your readership is likely to include a high percentage of partisan types. Judging by the flak he's taken recently, most of Wallis's detractors are firmly in the conservative camp. And yet, here's what Wallis writes as early on in the book as page 4:

"Just because the religious Right has fashioned itself for political power in one utterly predictable ideological guise does not mean that those who question this political seduction must be their political counterpart. The best public contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideologically predictable or a loyal partisan." That seems pretty clear to me.

What Wallis would like to see is a fourth option political, an alternative to the Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian parties. That option follows what he calls the prophetic religious tradition best represented in our time by Martin Luther King Jr., who combined social activism with an unwavering biblical faith. Such a movement would support conservative causes like family values, sexual integrity and personal responsibility while addressing liberal issues like poverty, racism and social justice. That option would appeal to those voters in the last election who reluctantly voted for Kerry because of their opposition to the war in Iraq and those who reluctantly voted for Bush because they couldn't support the Democratic position on abortion.

"Most simply put," Wallis writes, "the two traditional options in America (Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative) have failed to capture the imagination, commitment, and trust of a clear majority of people in this country…The media make everything worse by assuming that every political issue has only two sides, instead of multiple angles for viewing and solving the problem."

One of the results is the failure on the part of either side to actually accomplish anything significant, as precious energy is drained away on finger-pointing and party-bashing. The irony, Wallis points out, is that we somehow think that replacing one politician with another will bring about change, but that seldom happens. What brings the greatest change in a society is not the party in power, he writes, but social movements that have a spiritual foundation. Under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement accomplished in months what politicians --- including then-President Lyndon Johnson --- said could not possibly be accomplished in nearly a decade.

I approached this book with high hopes, since I was familiar with Wallis's previous work. I expected a great book, and that's what I believed I was holding in my hands when I first started reading it. But --- and here's where I start to sound like a broken record --- the book needed far more editing than it received. Even I was getting annoyed at all the repetition, and I'm a reader who really liked what he had to say. Before I reached the halfway point, I had the unshakable impression that this was yet another book rushed into production, in this case because of what was apparently perceived to be its post-election timeliness. Unfortunately, the important points Wallis set out to make got lost in wordiness and redundancy.

I still recommend it. Just be aware that you'll find yourself reading similar material over and over again.

   --- Reviewed by Marcia Ford (misfit@marciaford.com)

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