Wallis Stresses ‘Commitment’ in EMU Address

Jim Wallis speaks at EMU Wallis: “Enlist in Christ’s program for the world.”
Photo by Jim Bishop

A noted Christian activist gave an “altar call” at Eastern Mennonite University Tuesday night, Feb. 21, for persons to bring a heightened moral sensitivity to the social and political arena.

In an address at EMU, Jim Wallis of Washington, D.C., drew from ideas in his latest book, “God’s Politics,” in calling persons to “get involved and make a difference where you are” because of their faith commitments.

Wallis is the founder and long-time editor of “Sojourners” magazine that covers issues of faith, politics and culture. In 1995, he was instrumental in forming “Call to Renewal,” a national federation of churches, denominations and faith-based organizations from across the theological and political spectrum working to overcome poverty.

“It’s easy to be confused about what it means to be a Christian these days,” Wallis said. “Being a Christian doesn’t automatically put you in a certain political camp. God is a public God. God is neither Republican nor Democrat. To be a Christian means to stand for what Jesus stood for.

“I’ve got some good news for you,” Wallis told his audience of EMU students, faculty and community persons. “I believe that the monologue of the Religious Right is fading in this country and a new dialog has begun. I sense a new hunger for finding a moral center that wants to dig deeper, to view what lies beneath our current social and political order.”

“Faith can’t and shouldn’t be narrowed down to addressing just two issues – abortion and gay marriage – as many are wont to do,” Wallis said. “I find more than 2,000 scripture verses in my Bible that convince me that poverty is a moral issue too.

“Nuclear weapons, AIDS, concern for the environment and the ethics of war are also moral issues,” he added.

In contrast to emphases on abortion or gay marriage, Wallis said in his travels and conversations he is meeting more people with “a desire to find common ground on the sacredness of life and the integrity of the family.”

The speaker said he is encountering “a new generation of young people who have been turned off by religion but are asking “what can I do,” and responding to a new altar call to “make a difference” in the world right where they are.

“What the world is waiting for is spiritual integrity and social justice, for people to come to Christ and to enlist in His program in the world,” Wallis said. “Discipleship follows conversion.

“People of faith have to make a choice between hope and cynicism. Cynicism is a buffer against commitment and leads to despair,” he said. “Rather, rise to the challenge of using your God-given gifts in the crushing needs around you – that’s what changes history.”

Wallis’s remarks were frequently interrupted by “amens” and audience applause in the nearly-full Lehman Auditorium (the facility seats around 1,000). He received a standing ovation at the close.

Wallis’ appearance at EMU was made possible by The Student Lecture Series, a student-initiated endeavor to bring well-known speakers on campus to address socially relevant issues. Sponsorship for this event comes in part from Student Government Association, The Lilly Project and the Shenandoah Anabaptist Science Society.