Politics and religion in the USA
book review by Fred Lane
Wallis, J. God’s politics: Why the right gets it wrong and the left doesn’t get it. Harper: San Francisco. 2005. 384pp. $40.
Naval officers traditionally sidestep discussions about politics and religion, for very good reasons. Jim Wallis agrees that these topics are avoided in polite company (p. xvii), then he goes on to supply some very good ammunition in support of this position.
Wallis is one of those evangelical preachers that America produces so prolifically. Their fundamentalist factions wield increasing political power, both through direct intervention with the population at large and by lobbying elected officials. Wallis’s opening salvo in this book is challenging: “Many of us feel that our faith has been stolen, and it’s time to take it back … How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war and only pro-American?”(p. 1).
Along with the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King, Wallis rails against the neglect of the poor and powerless while the mainstream agenda of the right focuses on issues such as homosexuality, abortion and war. His response to all these is to say, “How are the kids doing?”
He makes a strong point that people who are honest and eager to work hard should not have to struggle to bring their children up in poverty, anywhere. America, and by inference Australia, has the wherewithal to raise armies and make some people very rich, but, “How are the kids doing?”
Wallis is not alone. At least half a dozen books on the same subject were published in 2005. Randal Balmer, the highly respected evangelical Professor of Religion at Barnard College, wrote one. He points out how 19th century evangelicals campaigned for issues such as abolition of slavery, universal suffrage and public education.
Now, Balmer says, these issues have been replaced by abortion, gay marriage, intelligent design and other agenda virtually indistinguishable from that of hard right American politics. The evangelical movement regularly mobilised millions of votes for President G.W. Bush and the Republican Party, he stated.
Laurie Goodstein is the national religion correspondent for the New York Times, and before that reported religion at the Washington Post. She won many important awards for her coverage of religion. She makes the same charge, but shows how opposition to mainstream policies can be costly.