News Archives

Sojourners leader tells bishops to tap new generation

 


Sojourners leader tells bishops to tap new generation

May 6, 2005

By Tim Tanton*

WASHINGTON (UMNS)—Young people are ready to change the world—they’re just waiting for the altar call, the editor of Sojourners magazine told United Methodist bishops.

"If we’re church leaders, we better have an altar call ready for a new generation of young people," Jim Wallis told about 35 bishops and bishops’ spouses May 4. Wallis is a founder of Sojourners, a nonprofit Christian organization working for social change.

The bishops visited the Sojourners offices as part of their May 1-6 spring meeting in Arlington, Va. At the same time, other groups of bishops visited lawmakers on Capitol Hill and heard presentations at United Methodist-related Wesley Theological Seminary.

Wallis said he has been traveling around the United States for three months, holding town meetings and signing copies of his book, God’s Politics: How the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. The meetings are drawing large and diverse audiences, including evangelicals, mega church pastors, mainline church members, agnostics, young people, gays, Catholics, rabbis and Muslims.

"We have a lot of evangelicals coming out who don’t feel represented by a handful of television preachers," Wallis said. Many mainline church folks feel their faith has been "disrespected" in the current political debate in the country, as if members of mainline churches are not people of faith, he said. He is hearing from black evangelicals and a lot of Hispanic and Asian Christians, he said.

In particular, young people are "coming out in droves," he said. A lot of them say they are spiritual but not religious, he said.

"What I’m finding is a whole lot of young people want to give their lives for something big," he said. "Not something small. Not something ideological, partisan—they don’t care about left or right."

Noting the different groups that are stepping forward, he quipped: "It’s almost like the rise of the non-religious right."

He sees a change in how faith and values are being addressed in public life.

"When it comes to religion and values in politics, the monologue of the religious right is finally over, and a new dialogue has just begun," he declared. One group is no longer framing the discussion. "It’s not all left-right; it simply isn’t bipolar," he said. "It’s much deeper and more complicated."

The change doesn’t represent the rise of the religious left as opposed to the religious right, he said.

"Religion is not supposed to be a wedge; it’s supposed to be a bridge to bring us together," he said. At its best, religion is not theologically predictable or partisan but prophetic, he said.

"I think there’s a hunger in America to restore a different, better conversation about religion in public life," he said.

Discussing the subtitle of his book, Wallis said people on the right are comfortable in the language of values, faith and God—so comfortable they almost seem to think "they own the territory"—while people on the left are uncomfortable talking about faith, religion and values.

"I think there’s common ground to be found even on issues as tough" as gay marriage and abortion, Wallis said. But they aren’t the only moral issues.

"I am an evangelical Christian, so I will insist when there are 3,000 verses in the Bible on poverty, fighting poverty is a moral values issue." He also cited the environment, war, and the "silent tsunami" of 30,000 children dying daily because of hunger and other causes.

Wallis said it is important for faith groups to join across their boundaries to collaborate on common concerns. He noted that the National Association of Evangelicals has put the environment and global warming back on the map in Washington with the release of a statement characterizing those topics as religious issues.

Separating church and state doesn’t mean banning religion from public life, but in a pluralistic society, the debate must focus on what is best for the common good, he said. "Religion must be disciplined by democracy."

During a question-and-answer session with the bishops, Wallis emphasized the need for "being courageous about a faith that intends to change people’s lives." He pointed to the passion of John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, who worked for spiritual renewal and social justice.

Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who leads the church’s Pittsburgh Area, said afterward he was struck most by Wallis’ comments about young people. The bishop noted that young people are striving to find relevance in the church.

Bishop Charlene Kammerer said she felt "very convicted" to continue building on the Council of Bishops’ relationship with the Bush administration. Kammerer, as bishop of the Richmond (Va.) Area, was part of a delegation of bishops who met with Bush and presented a Bible to him May 3.

During small-group discussions after Wallis’ remarks, Kammerer said her group "wanted to emphasize acts of charity, acts of piety and acts of justice, and be clear that we United Methodists will not allow other people to separate us." The group also wanted "to be sure that all of these are joined together in one fabric of our Wesleyan faith."

Sojourners, founded in 1971, is a nonpartisan, Christian organization that focuses on faith, politics and culture. In March, it organized peace vigils around the United States to mark two years of the war in Iraq, and during the 2004 elections launched a media campaign proclaiming that God is not a Republican or a Democrat.

The Council of Bishops comprises the top clergy leaders of the United Methodist Church, which has about 10 million members in the United States, Africa, Europe and the Philippines.

*Tanton is managing editor for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.

First Name:*
Last Name:*
Email:*
ZIP/Postal Code:*
Question:*

*InfoServ ( about ) is a service of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW


Contact Us

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.

Phone
(optional)

*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add InfoServ@umcom.org to your list of approved senders.