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Salon Interview with Wallis

Really good interview today. Excerpts below:

"Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, tells Democrats how they can attract moderate religious voters: Be authentic and don't be afraid to use the G-word.

Two days before he lost the presidential election, John Kerry made a campaign appearance at Shiloh Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio. It was the fifth time in five weeks that Kerry had stopped at an African-American church in Ohio, but that doesn't mean he was comfortable in the setting. As the church choir rocked through a long number that morning, Kerry sat stiffly in a chair near the pulpit, looking lost. Do I clap? Do I tap my foot? Do I sing along? And when Kerry rose to spoke -- when he invoked the Book of James and talked of the emptiness of "faith without deeds" -- he came across not as a fellow Christian but as a politician visiting a foreign land, trying to win over the locals with a few words in their native tongue.

While the importance of "moral values" in the 2004 election has surely been overstated, Democrats take it on faith that they've got to do better next time with people of faith. The problem: So few of them seem up to the task. For every Bill Clinton or Barack Obama -- "We worship an awesome God in the blue states" -- there's a John Kerry or a Howard Dean, who famously put the Book of Job in the New Testament during his presidential run and now quotes Scripture as if he's writing speeches with a list of the "10 Most Famous Bible Passages" sitting next to his yellow pad.

"It's so transparent when somebody is being inauthentic about religion," Wallis says. "There are millions and millions of moderate evangelicals and moderate Catholics who are simply not in the pocket of the religious right. And yet Democrats haven't got a clue as to how to speak to them. They have no idea! And Kerry gave them nothing to vote for."

Wallis says that Democrats have to begin a discussion with voters about how faith drives their public policy ideas beyond the confines of abortion and gay marriage. And he says the party needs to find candidates who can talk about God -- or at least spirituality -- more generally, in ways that don't sound as phony to Christians as Ronald Reagan's invocation of Bruce Springsteen sounded to rock 'n' roll fans.

The subtitle of your new book, "God's Politics," is "Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It." What's the "it" that Democrats don't get?

The left, the progressive side, has conceded the entire territory of values and religion to the religious and political right. That's the biggest mistake the left has made in years. It allows the right to define religion and values any way they want to, and that's what they do. That's what you saw on Justice Sunday. When only one side is doing the defining and the talking, when one side talks about what God says and the other side doesn't want to use the G-word, it's clear who wins the public debate.

You've got to reframe policy issues in the values context. Don't start with policies, start with values. Don't start with programs, start with principles. Let policies flow from values. And those of you who are people of faith, let your faith shine through. Don't be ashamed of talking about your faith. A lot of Democrats tell me they feel apologetic, marginalized in their own party, for being people of faith, and that's got to change.

Like I said to Howard Dean, you don't have to be a person of faith, but if you're not a person of faith, don't act like you're one. The worst thing you can do is to sound inauthentic.

Just respect people of faith. Let people of faith in the Democratic Party -- Barack Obama, Rosa DeLauro, Blanche Lincoln, Mark Pryor -- let them talk.

But is the public ready to listen to Democrats talking about their faith?

You look at these town meetings we've been having [about the book], you look at the media coverage, and what's clear is that the monologue of the religious right is finally over and a new dialogue has begun.

As Democrats begin wrapping their policies in the words of faith and religion, it often sounds like they're saying, "Hey, look at us, we're Christians, too!" Dean sounds like he has a list of Bible quotations next to him when he's writing his speeches.

And that's the wrong way to do it. It can't be just language, it's got to be content. It has to be authentic. It has to be more than words. And do it the way King did it, with your Bible in one hand and your Constitution in the other hand, in a way that's open and inclusive and welcoming.

I spoke with a leading Democrat in D.C. -- you'd know who it was -- and he said, "You know, if the average Democratic canvasser ever went to the front door of a home and was asked, 'Tell me what your party is for,' he'd have to make it up. He'd just have to make it up." So in the absence of that, the candidate becomes crucial. I'm not endorsing, you know, Barack Obama, because he's probably not going to run for president anytime soon, if ever. But that kind of candidate -- forward looking, building bridges, comfortable with the language of faith, speaks in a moral vocabulary ... Barack is going to make faith in politics one of his signature issues. Remember when he said at the convention, "We worship an awesome God in the blue states"? That kind of candidate would be very, very appealing to these moderate religious voters.

But it's hard to think of a Democrat in a position to run for president in 2008 who would have that kind of appeal.

It is. It is. So that's going to be the issue. On the [positive] side, we've really had some success in the last several months in changing the debate in the media and on the ground. We've been quite stunned by the success of the book. But it's not about the book. It's that the country is really tired of the monologue, tired of not having their voices represented.
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