The Religious Center, and Why Jim Wallis Isn't in It

Wallis's positions place him firmly in the religious left.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

I recently defended my characterization of the Rev. Jim Wallis as a leading light of the religious left—even if he rejected that designation. That prompted a member of his team to send over a Wallis-penned blog post on the inadequacy of "Religious Left" terminology in describing the migration of religious voters to the Democratic column on Election Day 2008:

Christians of color, younger white Christians, "new evangelical" pastors and leaders, and progressive Catholics and Protestants from many denominations are reaching across barriers to change the face of Christianity in this country—and also to engage with allies in other faith communities. They have learned many lessons from the mistakes of the Religious Right and aren't about to repeat them. And they are not about to become a new "Religious Left." When asked if they are liberal or conservative, many answer "yes," depending on the issue. And because they don't easily fit the political categories of left and right, they could become bridge-builders, bringing a divided nation together on the really big and politically transcendent issues like poverty, human rights, climate change, energy transformation, and the urgency of peace. And isn't that just what our new president is calling for?

On one score, Wallis is absolutely right: There were significant shifts in the evangelical, mainline Protestant, and white and Latino Roman Catholic blocs in November, and it wasn't because these voters have joined the religious left. Driven mostly by economic concerns, they were more receptive to Obama because he embraced religion and acknowledged a moral dimension on the abortion issue. They're middle-of-the-roaders.

Wallis's positions, by contrast, place him firmly in the religious left. He's pro-abortion rights (though he wants to reduce demand for abortion) and pro-civil unions for gay couples. Most of the issues he outlines above—poverty (as an issue for the government to solve), human rights (with no mention of national security), climate change, and the urgency of peace—are preoccupations of the political left.

The big thing that Wallis has in common with the religious centrists who moved to the Democratic column on Election Day is that neither is controlled by the religious right. But that doesn't mean the centrists back his agenda.