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God's Politics: A Better Option

Excerpts from Jim Walis's latest cover story at Sojourners Magazine and is this article is excerpted from the forthcoming book God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It: A New Vision for Faith and Politics in America:

"THERE ARE NOW three major political options in our public life. The first political option in America today is conservative on everything - from cultural, moral, and family concerns to economic, environmental, and foreign policy issues. Differences emerge between aggressive nationalists and cautious isolationists, between corporate apologists and principled fiscal conservatives, but this is the political option clearly on the ascendancy in America, with most of the dominant ideas in the public square coming from the political Right.

The second political option in contemporary America is liberal on everything - both family/sexual/cultural questions and economic, environmental, and foreign policy matters. There are certainly differences among the liberals (from pragmatic centrists to green leftists), but the intellectual and ideological roots come from the Left side of the cultural and political spectrum - and today most from the liberal/left find themselves on the defensive.

The third option in American politics is libertarian - meaning liberal on cultural/moral issues and conservative on fiscal/economic and foreign policy. The "just leave me alone and don’t spend my money option" is growing quickly in American life.

I believe there is a "fourth option" for American politics, which follows from the prophetic religious tradition we have described. It is "traditional" or "conservative" on issues of family values, sexual integrity and personal responsibility, while being very "progressive," "populist," or even "radical" on issues like poverty and racial justice. It affirms good stewardship of the earth and its resources, supports gender equality, and is more internationally minded than nationalist - looking first to peacemaking and conflict resolution when it come to foreign policy questions.

The people it appeals to (many religious, but others not) are very strong on issues such as marriage, raising kids, and individual ethics, but without being "right-wing," reactionary, mean-spirited, or scapegoating against any group of people, including gays and lesbians. They can be pro-life, pro-family and pro-feminist, all at the same time. They think issues of "moral character" are very important, both in a politician’s personal life and in his or her policy choices. Yet they are decidedly pro-poor, pro-racial reconciliation, critical of purely military solutions, and defenders of the environment.

Who are these people? Many are religious: Catholics, black and Latino Christians, evangelicals who don’t identify with the Religious Right, and members of all our denominational churches who want to put their faith into practice. They are Jews and Muslims who are guided by an active faith and not just a personal background. They are people who do not consider themselves "religious," but rather "spiritual," and would be drawn to a fourth option in politics. And they are people - religious, spiritual, or not - who consider themselves shaped by a strong sense of moral values and long for a political commitment that reflects those values.

AS I TRAVEL the country, I find many people who share this perspective. Still, it is not yet a viable political option. It should be.

As one who has called for a new "moral politics" that transcends the old categories of both the secular Left and the Religious Right, I believe it is time to assert a clear "fourth" political option. In a recent conversation, columnist E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post said there was a huge constituency of "non-right wing Christians" and other morally concerned people in the country who need to get organized. Like E.J., they are moderate to conservative on personal moral questions while very progressive on social justice."

"What we need is nothing less than "prophetic politics." We must find a new moral and political language that transcends old divisions and seeks the common good. Prophetic politics finds its center in fundamental "moral issues" such as children, diversity, family, community, citizenship, and ethics (others could be added such as nonviolence, tolerance, fairness, etc.) and tries to construct national directions to which many people across the political spectrum could agree. It would speak directly to the proverb "Without a vision, the people perish," and would offer genuine political vision that rises out of biblical passages from prophetic texts. Our own ancient prophetic religious traditions could offer a way forward beyond our polarized and paralyzed national politics and be the foundation for a fourth political option to provide the new ideas politics always needs."
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