In the preface to this book, Bill Moyers says that Jim Wallis is hard to "put into a box and label." Though Wallis, the editor of Sojourners, presents the gospel of individual piety, he is nothing like the Religious Right that roared back when religious liberals called for racial justice and the end of the Vietnam war.
When many ministers’ primary role shifted from being pulpit preacher to being institutional CEO, clergy found themselves wondering, “When did my study become an office?” Today, as congregations consider tapping government funds to provide social services once provided by secular agencies, another question may be arising: “When did our ministry become a program?”
In 1998 Sue Hill, an administrator with the Department of Human Services in Peoria, Illinois, was trying to help find jobs for several adults whose families were on welfare. Under the new welfare laws, the families would lose their cash benefits (called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF) if the heads of the households didn’t find work soon.
Last fall, mainline denomination lobbyists scored big in the game of Washington politics when Congress passed legislation to provide $435 million in debt relief for developing countries—part of the international Jubilee campaign endorsed by the pope, evangelical celebrities and rock stars, plus lawmakers right and left.
The annual Family Fest at Bethany Christian Schools in Goshen, Indiana, is usually a joyous event as families auction off handmade quilts, furniture and other goods in the annual school fund-raiser. But this year, double-digit unemployment rates overshadowed the event with a sense of anxiety. The event failed to match last year’s proceeds.
President Obama has named nine new advisers to the White House office for religious and community groups, adding a gay rights leader, an Orthodox Jew, a black Pentecostal bishop and others to an eclectic 25-member council.
On a recent trip to Jordan, no one directing my tour group objected to my meeting with Christian evangelicals. But the evangelicals were nervous. They are carefully conforming to the role that Jordan has given them: providing social services and avoiding activities that could invite government suspicion—like preaching or distributing Bibles. Publicly they state, “We’re not here to change anyone’s religion, we’re here to help people.”“Still,” one of them added later, “If I get five minutes with someone I’m going to share the gospel.” There are few stories of Jordanian Muslims converting to Christianity. Evangelical missionaries explain that it takes time, but they also seem frustrated that the Jordanian government hasn’t recognized their efforts to moderate their language and behavior.
Only a tiny fraction of black churches have received money to help the poor as a result of the Bush administration’s federal faith-based initiative, and most of those tend to be liberal in their theology and located in the Northeast.
Those weathering Katrina’s aftermath see no end in sight. “It's going to go on for years,” says United Methodist bishop Hope Morgan Ward. "For years and years." “We’re not back to normal, and I don’t know what that would be like,” says Nelson Roth, pastor of Gulfhaven Mennonite Church in Gulfport, Mississippi.