By Jeff Walton (@JeffreyHWalton)
Immigration reform legislation will pass Congress by the August recess, predicted Sojourners CEO and President Jim Wallis in an April 28 interview. Wallis sat down with Washington National Cathedral Dean Gary Hall to discuss immigration, gun control, the direction of young evangelical Christians and Wallis’ new book “On God’s Side.”
Part of a book tour, Wallis’ visit to the Episcopal Cathedral was followed the next day with an appearance at Hall’s former parish, All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California.
“I’m going to predict that by the August recess we will have comprehensive immigration reform,” Wallis declared, announcing that immigration reform is Sojourners’ top concern. “It may be the only positive thing we see in Washington, D.C. in the next few months.”
Encouraged by support from both Southern Baptists and some conservative groups such as Focus on the Family, Wallis reported that the Administration, Republicans and Democrats all cite the faith community as a “political game changer” on the issue.
Wallis also praised the Cathedral’s advocacy on gun restrictions saying it “warmed my heart” and categorized it as a “long-term battle.”
“The country has changed — Washington has not,” Wallis asserted, labeling gun owners’ groups like the National Rifle Association as “gun runners” and linking them to manufacturers rather than members. The author proposed that parents and pastors would ultimately change the firearms debate over the long-term.
Hall asked Wallis to respond to a quote by Washington Episcopal Church Bishop Mariann Budde that it is time for religious bodies like the Episcopal Church to reach out to young Evangelicals who might not share their parents’ social views.
“There is a sea-change going on among young evangelicals,” Wallis reported, adding that the “none-of-the-aboves” who decline to identify with a specific church still believe in God, “they just don’t want to affiliate with religion.”
“I’m wondering if Lincoln was one of the first none of the aboves,” Wallis pondered, noting that the former president went to church but was not a member.
Pivoting back to his book, Wallis asked what it meant to be on God’s side.
“What religion forgets is I think the second commandment – to love our neighbor as ourselves,” Wallis explained, adding that “we forget who our neighbor is” and that God pushes out the definition.
“How do we extend our notion of who our neighbor is?” Wallis posited. “That’s a transforming ethic that makes the common good possible.”
Asked what could be done to restore the credibility of the church, Wallis responded that his theology of the incarnation is that “In Jesus, God hits the streets.”
“How do we surprise people by bringing unexpected hope? That, I think, is what brings credibility back.”
Asked about the importance of civility, Wallis replied that the country was hurt by the political climate.
“It’s more than losing good manners,” Wallis diagnosed, partly blaming the media, which he charged loves street fights and confrontation. The common good, on the other hand “isn’t sexy.”
The Evangelical Left official also made note of a statement on civility that he signed with the now-deceased Chuck Colson. “Learning to talk to each other and listen can be really important.” Wallis even echoed Colson in recalling that the lifestyle of the early church “created the evangelistic impact — ‘How do we live’ is the question.”
“Change happens here only when we decide for the common good outside of Washington,” Wallis announced, citing a “Bibles, badges and businessmen” trifecta of clergy, law enforcement and the business community in support of immigration reform.
Decrying cynicism as “a buffer against personal commitment,” Wallis said it was something only possible for comfortable people, with others preoccupied by a fight for survival. Wallis also argued that there is a difference between optimism and hope.
“Optimism is a feeling, hope is a decision you make,” Wallis defined. “Hope means believing in spite of the evidence, then watching the evidence change.”