The Great Awakening

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Article Reviews

By Jim Wallis (HarperOne, 2008)

Jim Wallis' prayers seem to have been answered. In 2005 the founding editor of Sojourners magazine decried the state of religious and political discourse in his bestselling book, God's Politics (HarperOne), admonishing both ends of the political spectrum with the subtitle "Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It." Three years and another presidential campaign later, he's a lot more optimistic.

The Religious Right, which has dominated the Republican Party for too long, is being upstaged by so-called "progressive evangelicals" who care as much about the earth's right to life as an unborn child's. The Democratic Party, which for too long has ignored people of faith, is reaching out to liberals and moderates whose political views are grounded in the teachings of Jesus. Time magazine called it a "leveling of the praying field." Wallis calls it the next "Great Awakening."

Like the three previous Great Awakenings, this new revival will apply spiritual power to social change, Wallis predicts. "Faith may indeed be making a comeback as the catalyst that could provide the tipping point in finding solutions to the biggest and most significant moral and social crises of our world today," he writes.

Although Wallis comments primarily on Protestant evangelicals, he also notes a similar trend among Catholics, especially younger ones who are more likely to be incensed about poverty than contraception or gay marriage. In his final chapters, Wallis addresses that new generation as well as those who may not embrace organized religion but who still heed the words of Jesus.

Those twin hungers for spirituality and social justice ultimately lead to a third one: for a new kind of politics, based on hope rather than fear. In a word, those millions of Americans who don't feel represented by the Religious Right or the secular left are looking for change. In this presidential election, they may just get it. A "Great Awakening," indeed.