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Friday, December 15, 2006
Book Discussion - God's Politics by Jim Wallis

So perhaps December 15 is not the best time to officially kick off our Emerging Women book discussion. We are all busy and try as we might some of us have not actually finished reading the book yet. But this was the day we chose, so let's go for it.

So we are going to dive right in and ignore all rules of polite conversation by talking about religion and politics. God's Politics by Jim Wallis has taken the country by storm. He has hit a nerve and has finally voiced ideas that many have been thinking. Many of us are tired of the bipartisan system and think that neither side represents our beliefs. Wallis has put into words the hope that there is another way. A way that does not bow at the alter of a certain party's agenda, but instead looks to scripture and the values of Jesus. For many this book was a breath of fresh air, but others saw it as mere repackaging of liberalism. So I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the whole thing.

We've never done an official book discussion before, so I'm willing to see what works. We can experiment with different forms and approaches. I'll post a few broad questions. Respond to those or pose some of your own. Interact with each other, engage with the ideas. You are welcome to participate even if you haven't read (or finished) the book. Debate is welcomed, but I ask that we respect each other and affirm the validity of opinions. And while the book was a very American centered book, I think some of the basic principles can and do apply in other contexts. So our international readers are encouraged to join in as well. I understand that at this time of year the conversation might be slow. That's okay - this conversation can continue for as log as we like. I'll post a permanent link on the sidebar so it's easy to find. Happy discussing and here goes-

Questions for Discussion

What did you like/dislike about the book? What was one thing you learned from the book? How did the book change you?

What is the difference between "God's politics" and using God to justify our politics? How are God's politics different from ours?

How does the "politics of Jesus" offer an alternative to the political and economic agenda of the religious Right? What are the "politics of Jesus"?

Polling results after the 2004 election emphasized "moral values" as a deciding factor, but differed on what that meant. What is your definition of moral values? Did that influence your choice of who to vote for? What do you think are the most important moral values in politics?

What does it mean to change society by "changing the wind?" How can people of faith become "wind changers?"


posted by Julie at 12:58 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 12/15/2006 07:44:00 AM, Blogger lydia

    I haven't finished the book quite yet, but I've read enough of it to comment on this post. :)

    What did you like/dislike about the book?

    I really liked Jim's commitment to moving beyond bipartisan politics. I agree with him when he says that God's politics aren't going to line up with the values of any political party and that we should test every party or movement against what (we think) God would say about it.

    I think Jim misunderstood a few things about many of us who are pro-choice. Being pro-choice doesn't mean that I'm "pro-abortion." It means that I don't think the decision to terminate a pregnancy should be decided by anyone other than the woman who is actually pregnant.

    Abortion isn't an easy or happy choice for the majority of women who find themselves unexpectanctly pregnant. It's a shitty solution to what is often a shitty situations.

    I wholeheartedly support efforts to reduce abortion rates by improving sex education and access to contraception, or by reforming adoption laws, or by offering more financial or social support to single parents, or by offering marriage and/or parenting classes to those who are interested, etc etc.

    My support would end at the moment Jim asked me to support legislation that it made more difficult (or illegal) for women to access contraception or an abortion.

    More thoughts later.

  • At 12/15/2006 10:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    I appreciated Jim's comments on being a prophetic voice to politicians and society that helps create movements of justice and assertive peace, rather than aligning ourselves with one political party or another.

    I have to run, more later.

  • At 12/15/2006 10:20:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    I also loved Jim's anectode about his seminary friend who cut out all the biblical references to the poor/money/accountability of the rich rulers, and ended up with a falling-apart bible full of holes, but not very holy.

    I was inspired by some of the resources for getting involved. Here are a couple Jim refers to that I've checked out and gotten excited about pursuing, esp. around Christmas for last minute shopping.

    href="http://tenthousandvillages.com/">Ten Thousand Villages

    href="http://puravidacoffee.com/">Pura Vida Fair Trade Coffee

  • At 12/15/2006 10:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Sorry, I can't get these darn links to work, but they're working on quirkygrace & spiritualsensuality.

  • At 12/15/2006 08:54:00 PM, Blogger a journey

    Good book ... I agree with his bipartisan viewpoint in politics. I registered as an 'Independent' years ago. I couldn't live with the fact that if I am registered with a certain party, others felt as if they 'knew me' and what I stood for. (Reading 'The Big Picture' by Ben Carson also prompted the action)

    I like the thought/question prompts you gave and I'm sure they will provide good discussion.

    Here's a suggestion from a 'non-virtual' bookclub I belong to. We all come to club prepared to share our favorite sentence and/or paragraph. That can be based on the sentence structure, the grammer (or lack thereof)or the thoughts the author might or might not have put in it. It is an avenue to celebrate and enjoy the act of writing for the sheer joy of it ... without going into the facts of the book.

  • At 12/15/2006 08:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    To break format a bit, I concur with Lydia's and Jemila's comments so far. However, I'd like to add that I think it's preposterous to call Jim Wallis "liberal" and I can't imagine how anyone would. I think the reality is that he does not fit into the conservative evangelical political box, so he gets labeled as "liberal" by default by those who stand up to whine that "He doesn't represent my views - by golly, he's one of them LIBERALS!"

    It is encouraging to read about how evangelicals are moving, albeit at a snail's pace, in the direction of environtmentalism, etc., so they can be somewhat less blatant hypocrites tomorrow, and hopefully someday they'll really "get it." That's my prayer, anyway.

  • At 12/15/2006 10:35:00 PM, Blogger Nancy

    Medium Guy: I don't know that you meant it this way but I'm smiling because maybe Jim Wallis is not either liberal OR conservative. Maybe it is time to carve out some new political labels? And that would be just great to me. I hate this "either/or" way of thinking. It is not very often that reality is so neatly bundled in such black and white terms, let alone politics. But we are confronted with dichotomies in such endless fashion by the media and our culture at large. I'm looking forward to a time where politics truly are multipartisan. Give us some REAL choices!

    I bought "God's Politics" when it came out. I could not muster a lot of steam over it despite my gladness over what I began to see of Wallis's point of view. Refreshing to hear but just not my passion. I never got past the first couple of chapters. I tried it again for this book discussion...still no go.

  • At 12/16/2006 07:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Lydia, regarding your comments about abortion, do you have any thoughts on ways that women could be helped to feel supported and have enough time to think/refLlect/have adequate information to make a decision that is NOT coming from a crisis-panic state of mind without making it more difficult for a women to ultimately have the power to choose? My concern is that none of us make our best decisions in a panicky frame of mind and heart. Also, I am all for using non-partisan language in the debate. Let's not call the being destroyed in an abortion merely, "the products of conception" nor "the unborn child," but rather by their scientific terms: embryo and fetus, which in my mind are stages of human development, just like infants and adolescents are not less human because they are not mature adults or toddlers. And finally, who will speak up for the value of the embryo or fetus if the mother is leaning toward an abortion? I don't think the woman should be forced or coerced, but I do think embryos and fetuses deserve to be "heard" and that a woman doesn't have the right to discard that beginning life without fully understanding the weight of the facts and considering the value of the human being under creation within her womb.

    Nancy & Medium Guy, I would LOVE to have more political options, some of which more closely represent my overarching concerns and values, but I also feel that we should concern ourselves first with "changing the wind" and shaping the political discussion around priorities like justice, human rights and a sustainable global community (economically and environmentally,) without becoming aligned with a specific party to the point where our loyalty to the party exceeds our prophetic voice.

    Nancy, I also got bored the first time reading Wallis, but the second was better for me, because I just skimmed the stuff where he repeats himself or talks excessively about stuff he's done or gets overly preachy and rhetorical. Some of his anecdotes are powerful. I think his writing would improve and be more accessible if it read less like a sermon and more like a coffee table conversation with great material, some serious, some funny, and the really convicting stuff more selective, so that it had more punch power.

    Journy, I like your idea of bringing a sentence we all appreciated for the group to savor. Lead the way!

  • At 12/16/2006 09:44:00 AM, Blogger a journey

    I'm commenting on my own comment (how tacky is that? sorry) but I don't like the way I ended the idea of sharing our favorite part. It is a way we enjoy writing/words, but it is also a way we point out favorite parts concerning the thoughts of the book. I don't remember why I added "without going into the facts of the book" Because this is a book discussion so the facts of the book are the topic.

    So that comment should end with ... "and to share our favorite parts of the book."

    As some of you had also mentioned, it is easy to get bogged down with some of his writings (so I read another book this week instead :) but I plan on finishing this one this weekend, so I will post my fav part soon.

  • At 12/16/2006 12:11:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    I liked what you said about using non-partisan language, Jemila.

    do you have any thoughts on ways that women could be helped to feel supported...without making it more difficult for a women to ultimately have the power to choose?

    Great question.

    For the record I've never had an abortion (and never intend to), and I'm not close enough to the few people I know who have had one to ask them what they needed at that time in their lives, so what I'm about to say is pure speculation. :)

    Honesty is desperately needed in these types of conversations. Life doesn't have a warranty - (the general) you could regret any decision made about a pregnancy. No one decision is right for every circumstance, and I think we do a disservice to people in a crisis whenever we try to act as though there is.

    I've heard of some churches who have started ministries for women who regret their abortion(s). I respect the honorable intentions behind these groups, and I think they do a lot of good in helping women to heal spiritually and emotionally. I wouldn't refer a friend in a crisis to one of these groups, though, any more than I'd refer her to the groups out there that gather the stories of women who don't regret it.

    Over the last few months I've been trying to emotionally support a friend who is going through a (non-abortion-related) crisis of her own. I've known this person for years - she's like a sister to me.

    And yet I had/have no answers for her. Praying yielded nothing from heaven, and there was nothing I could do to help other than listen to her when she wanted to talk.

    I imagine that it would be the same had her crisis been pregnancy-related. No answers, but plenty of listening and prayer.

  • At 12/16/2006 12:31:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    Just finished the book last night.

    Wow, was I impressed with Jim's compassion for GLBT Christians.

    I was bracing for the stereotypes, for all of the misconceptions many straight Christians seem to have about the rest of us.

    At best, I was hoping to hear Jim say that Christians should stop blaming Gay people for the break-down of heterosexual marriage.

    I never expected him to say that he supports the idea of civil unions for same-sex couples in the states. I've always thought that this was an idea that won't catch on with the "average" christian in the States for another 20 years....and not because I think they're bigots or homophobic. Public opinion changes slowly, that's all.

    But Jim gives me hope.

  • At 12/16/2006 03:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    That's funny, cause Jim was more conservative than I expected on the glbt issue (at least in terms of his personal opinion.) I have always agreed with Tony Campolos position that legal marriage should be separate from church marriage, and that churches should be free to offer blessings/sacraments according their own concsciences, and I would certainly choose a church that embraced blessing gay unions, by whatever name.

  • At 12/17/2006 11:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    I interact a lot with atheists online, and one of the things they dislike about Wallis is his talk about the "secular left" and how they want to exclude religion from the public sphere altogether. These atheist friends don't believe this kind of secular left actually exists, that no one is really pushing to exclude religion; all they want is to remove it's supposed privileged status in American society.

    What do you think? Is Wallis right that some elements of the "secular left" are trying to completely remove religious voices from the political sphere? Or is he overreacting?

  • At 12/18/2006 06:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    My impression is that Wallis recognizes the "privileged position" of religion in American society and wants to channel it for good, almost to the point where at times it seems like he hopes to transform the democrats into the "liberal Christian" party, which I think would be a betrayal of his valid call to prophetic non-loyalty in a specific party, while being politically and socially active as a citizen. I think just like there are Christians who are politically involved and political Christians, I think there are secular people who are involved with politics, and politically secular people. The former just want a fair dialoge that doesn't discriminate based on "lack of religion," whereas the latter really does't tolerate religion well at all and would strongly prefer it to be removed completely from the political sphere. Probably the latter are a vocal minority?

  • At 12/18/2006 12:58:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    one of the things they dislike about Wallis is his talk about the "secular left" and how they want to exclude religion from the public sphere altogether

    Yeah, I wondered about those claims as well.

  • At 12/18/2006 05:36:00 PM, Anonymous agma

    Disclaimer: I haven't put my hands on the book yet, but I'm a Sojo reader and I met Jim a few times when I was living in DC.

    Re: new political labels
    In person, Jim likes to refer to himself as a "progressive evangelical" and "red-letter Christian." I'd be surprised if he didn't mention that in the book since he brings it up so much in other publications & speeches.

    Re: sounding like a sermon...
    I think you hit it right on, except the line between sermon and other public speaking is blurry for him. Jim Wallis is a very busy and yet very prolific person. Thus I suspect the system for allowing him to do both goes something like this: whenever Jim speaks, an intern sits in the front row with a tape recorder. The speeches then get turned into columns/articles/blogs...maybe books? I don't think there's anything wrong with doing it that way, except that maybe it doesn't always read well.

    In general, I usually find Jim to be thought-provoking & prophetic whether I agree with him or not, but sometimes I feel like he's one-sided for the Democrats, and that makes his "God is not a Republican or a Democrat" message a little hollow. But which of us aren't human?

  • At 12/18/2006 06:11:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    I have not read the book, so cannot comment on specifics there.

    Our church, which in someways embraces emergent thought and is trying to be more open, is launching the Focus on the Family "Truth Project" in January. They are trying to open an environment where we can really discuss what we believe and why. They have also made sure to include those of us on the more "liberal" side of the congregation as group facilitators. But, most of the church has the unwritten rule that if you don't vote republican, you're not really a Christian. "One issue" voting is pretty much the name of the game.

    I'm not sure what Jim's suggestions may be, but was wondering how some of you have navigated politics and social issues within your faith communities. Do you have any other resources to recommend?


  • At 12/18/2006 11:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Amy, this issue hasn't directly come up in my current church, but you're comments brought to my mind something Philip Yancey said when an interviewer asked him how he "got away with so much" in evangelical circles. He said, 'I just quote the bible at them.' So I think that's key if you're dealing with a conservative crowd with alot of preformed opinions of the conclusions you *should* end with on certain issues...show them it's not biblical. "So you really, really believe the bible? And you want to follow what it really, really says? Well the bible says...not very much about abortion or homosexuality compared to the poor. The poor is a much "clearer issue" biblically than women in ministry, church polity or eschatology. So let's talk about the bible and the poor and then do something about it together, for God's sake."

    Sometimes I think ecumnical dialogues are really cross-cultural exchanges. You have to understand the other person's basic assumptions about life and reality and create bridges by speaking to them in terms they understand/can resonate with to have a hope of discovering and collaborating on common ground. My experience is that most conservative evangelicals are not ready to ask tons of (potentially) threatening questions about the nature of the bible/revelation, but many are willing to relook at what the bible actually says and understand it as God's word in a particular context, when educated within their existing paradigm.

  • At 12/19/2006 05:25:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    I like that, Jemila. Communication in general is cross-cultural and the church is no exception.

    I know (because I've been there myself) that fear and the need to "know" who's on my side of the line becomes important within some communities. Beginning the move past the lists of who's measuring up and realizing the freedom of being called to love and to be change agents is a relatvely recent experience for me. Remembering where I've walked and allowing others to begin to tip-toe the path without dragging them along behind me is something I'm working on.

    I appreciate the insightful input.

  • At 12/20/2006 01:32:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Great discussion so far. Sorry I was nonexistent for a few days there - holiday and family stuff kept me off the computer.

    as for bringing up the "easy" issues of helping the poor first in a church setting, I have to add that that tactic may be dangerous as well. In the church we were asked to leave, social justice and helping the poor were not accepted topics. One could help unwed mothers because the point was to prevent them from getting abortions, but beyond that nothing. The pastor would preach that consumeristic captialism was the biblical way for societies to operate. He preached that since in James it says not to favor the rich that means we can't help the poor. And after Katrina he said the people were suffering because of the sinful lifestyles they had chosen.

    As youth leaders of focus on the bible and justice issues and involvement in things like the 30 hour famine, the One Life Revolution, and IJM were not looked favorably upon. It was all part of the case brought against us at the end.

    So to read people like Wallis is refreshing for me. To just get evangelicals (and were I livedwas often colled the evangelical mecca) to see that there are other options is a huge step.

  • At 12/20/2006 09:54:00 PM, Blogger Nancy

    Julie! : (

    I really get riled up when I hear stuff like this...in particular that bad things like hurricane Katrina are part of God's wrath against sinful people. If God wants to beat up on sinful people, God will have to take us ALL out!!!

    Fortunately, God is so much bigger and better than such religiousness and self-righteousness. I wish I could be too.

  • At 12/20/2006 10:12:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    sometimes I feel like he's one-sided for the Democrats

    How so, Agma? What do you think Jim should say (or refrain from saying) to avoid giving this impression?

  • At 12/28/2006 07:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous


    everytime I hear such stories I amazed -- I understand being a hypocrit because I know I am one in many, many ways, but it's hard for me to comprehend such blindness to Jesus' and the prophet's persistent message.

  • At 12/29/2006 09:32:00 AM, Blogger Joy

    I am struggling through this book. I am really appreciating it... but the book is due back at the library and this is the second time I've checked it out. I'm going to have to check it out again... I really want to finish it (I am on chapter 3), so I hope this dialog continues. It is encouraging.

    Two points that have stood out to me... First, his description of politics...

    "...land, labor, capital, wages, debt, taxes, equity, fairness, courts, prisons, immigrants, other races and peoples, economic divisions, social justice, war, and peace--the stuff of politics." These are the subjects that the biblical prophets addressed! Jim's break with his childhood faith was at the point where his an elder in his church tells him, "Christianity has nothing to do with racism; that is a political issue, and our faith is personal." Jim's conclusion was that God IS personal, but NEVER private.

    Being from the south, this is a typical defense when people begin to have conversations below the surface of the weather... Politics and religion are taboo topics, because they are personal, thereby private. I love Jim's line! I so agree!! This is the source of much pain and abuse... Not dealing with topics that are personal and private. But I am seeing how important it is to be active in the politics that God is interested in...

    Another story was the one of the teens in the church who found themselves in a 'sexual transgression'. The girl was pregnant and the elders wanted to publicly denounce the behavior and bring the couple to the front of the whole church. Jim's dad, the head elder, agreed on the condition that everyone else be brought up, also... and since he had counseled with many of the people, he was going to make sure they left NOTHING out! They crawled off their self-righteous podiums very quickly and the discussion turned to HOW to support them in a difficult situation.


  • At 1/01/2007 03:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    I also loved Jim's "whoever is without sin throw the first stone" story.

    What do you ladies think are some ways we could draw more attention to critical issues in a way that would touch people's hearts and "change the wind" and the whole political discussion?

  • At 1/08/2007 05:30:00 PM, Blogger Meg

    I like this term change agents. Amy you said this was a new experience for you and that you were learning to love and be a change agent. I would really love to discuss more about how to "change the wind" in love.

    Right now I am going through a really rough time with my dad. The church I grew up in has the exact story of the young couple caught in "sexual transgression" and they were made to stand before the church. I think of it now and want to cry (I still keep in touch with the couple, who are happily married with three kids). My dad and I do not see eye to eye at all. I'm so bitter and upset about the way he makes me feel like I am not a follower of Christ because I disagree with his conservative opinion.

    Wallis, McLaren, emergent, this group of women are so refreshing. I feel at peace and free in what I read from you all and affirmed.

    After Christmas and spending time with my dad, I realized that and seem to just want to argue with him and treat him the same way he treats me.

    I think its important to make strides to step out of this "safe world" of the emergent women's blog. I just don't know how, and I'm scared. I don't want to feel like I feel around my dad all the time, judged and going to hell.

    Julie, how did you deal with the church that sent you away? How do you forgive them?

    Uhhhh...I guess I didn't talk much about the book. I'm only half way through....


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