Wallis talks religion, policy

Rev. Jim Wallis bridged the gap between church and state in a guest sermon Sunday morning for the University Church worship service in Battell Chapel.

Wallis — a progressive evangelist who is a member of President Barack Obama’s new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships — encouraged the roughly 200 students, faculty and community members in the congregation to reflect on the intersection of religion and politics in America.

Emphasizing Christianity’s commitment to social justice, Wallis argued that faith-based social movements pave the way for political change.

“Change requires people of faith,” Wallis said. “If you have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed, you can move mountains.”

Wallis promoted the current economic crisis as an opportunity for change. He argued that the economy should be restructured around Christian values, which he claimed would shift focus away from greedy self-interest and onto the plight of the American poor.

“It is time to start an adult Sunday school curriculum on economics from a biblical point-of-view,” Wallis said.

To foster the growth of social movements, Obama created the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to serve as a resource for both secular and religiously affiliated community organizations. The Office’s top four priorities, Wallis said, are reducing poverty, reducing abortion, strengthening fatherhood and facilitating interfaith dialogue. Those issues, Wallis said, offer new possibilities for finding common ground between conservative and liberal theologians and politicians.

Approximately 30 people attended an open forum discussion with Wallis, following the service.

Bud McAllister, a New London community organizer who attended the forum, called Wallis a “breath of fresh air” and said he agreed with Wallis’ contention that community change can have implications for national policy.

But Sarah Ruden, a visiting scholar at the Yale Divinity School, argued that Americans should be wary of the government-backed, religion-inspired social programs supported by Wallis’ office.

“God is in charge,” Ruden said. “Politicians are not in charge.”

Wallis is the author of several books, including “The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post Religious Right America” and “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.”

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