This website is accessible to all versions of every browser. However, you are seeing this message because your browser does not support basic Web standards, and does not properly display the site's design details. Please consider upgrading to a more modern browser. (Learn More).

You are here: home > opinion > one on one

Politics and religion: Who got it right?

By D. G. Martin
Posted Monday, February 27, 2006

e-mail E-mail this page   print Printer-friendly page

Chapel Hill, NC - What is the best title of a recent book?

My candidate is “God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It,” the best seller written by Jim Wallis, a Washington- based Christian minister who is at Duke University this week (Friday, March 3) for The American Values Summit.

Why is the title so good? Of course, anything that hints of mixing religion and politics gets our attention these days. Either of these topics can evoke strong feeling in many of us, and the mixture compounds their powerful hold on us.

But this title has more. It seems to slam both the political right and the left. “The right is wrong,” the title implies. That message rings with political liberals.

“The left doesn’t get it” confirms the feelings of many conservatives. Amazingly then, “God’s Politics” title draws in both the political right and the left. They all want someone to slam their “wrongheaded” opposites.

The title seems to imply that the author, Jim Wallis, may give us a balanced critique of both sides of the American political divide from an impartial religious perspective, and then give his readers guidance about how to determine what God would have us do in political matters.

This is exactly what Wallis tries to do.

He points out, “The best public contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideological predictable nor a loyal partisan. To always raise the moral issues of human rights, for example, will challenge both left and right wing governments who put power above principles. Religious action is rooted in a much deeper place than ‘rights’—that being the image of God in every human being.”

He is critical of the political Right, which “has hijacked the language of faith to prop up its political agenda -- an agenda not all people of faith support.”

Wallis writes, “The religious and political Right gets the public meaning of religion mostly wrong—preferring to focus only on sexual and cultural issues while ignoring the weightier matters of justice.”

“And,” he writes, “the secular Left doesn't seem to get the meaning and promise of faith for politics at all—mistakenly dismissing spirituality as irrelevant to social change.”

In material promoting the book Wallis’s views are summarized this way, “The Left hasn't done much better, largely ignoring faith and continually separating moral discourse and personal ethics from public policy. While the Right argues that God's way is their way, the Left pursues an unrealistic separation of religious values from morally grounded political leadership. The consequence is a false choice between ideological religion and soulless politics.”

The book’s promotional material asks these questions, “Since when did believing in God and having moral values make you pro-war, pro-rich, and pro-Republican? And since when did promoting and pursuing a progressive social agenda with a concern for economic security, health care, and educational opportunity mean you had to put faith in God aside?”

Wallis urges all Christians to turn to scriptures to seek God’s directions for our political efforts. Wallis is an evangelical Christian minister. So it should be no surprise that his understanding of the scriptures have led him to take strong “pro-life” and “pro-family” political positions.

But he finds in the words of the Old Testament prophets and the words of Jesus clear directions to work for peace and justice for the poor and oppressed. Wallis’s criticism of the war in Iraq and the current administration’s positions on poverty might surprise those who think Evangelical Christians are all automatically political conservatives.

Wallis not only surprises. He also dismays conservative groups, one of which accused him and his ministry of “reading scripture through the lens of leftwing politics.”

Wallis would, no doubt, reject this criticism, asserting that some of scripture’s commands are unambiguous, whatever lens is used.

Even though he has become a sought-after advisor for Democrats, he pleads for religious people to resist being forced into one political camp or another. “In a political and media culture that squeezes everything into only two options of left and right, religious people must refuse the ideological categorization and actually build bridges between people of good will in both liberal and conservative camps.”

On that note, religious people of all political persuasions should agree with Wallis.


D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, which is taking a break during through the end of March during “Festival.” He hosts a segment of the March edition of UNC-TV’s “Our State” featuring the Chapel Hill garden of 90-year-old Twin sisters Bernice Wade and Barbara Stiles. The program airs March 1 at 8pm and March 30 at 9:30pm.

e-mail E-mail this page
print Printer-friendly page
Politics and religion: Who got it right?

Related info:
NC Book Watch

Our State Magazine
Latest articles in One on One
North Carolina and the U.S. – Mexico border
Four good North Carolina books for the spring
North Carolina’s last liberal
"Most moderate" and Kay
New lessons from old wars
A non-lawyer on the Supreme Court?
Is it that bad?
Music, murder and more for your summer reading
The Republicans’ best choice for 2016
The South is a dilemma for both parties
Would a Shirley Temple help?
Saying thanks is not enough
North Carolina is 'Variety Literatureland'

Got Feedback?
Send a letter to the editor.

Sign up for the Chatham Chatlist. Find out what your friends and neighbors are saying about what's going on in Chatham County.

Promote your business at

Subscribe now: RSS news feed, plus FREE headlines for your site