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The Soul of a Nation

I’m so glad I heard this Sunday Edition interview with Jim Wallis. Wallis is a Christian writer, political activist and the founder of Sojourners. He has been a spiritual advisor to both President  Bush and Obama.

He noted that poverty was not an issue in this campaign. In Washington it isn’t an issue, but he believes the country is ready for a new engagement with this issue.  More people have fallen below the poverty line than has been the case for 50 years.

Wallis said that a wide range of church representatives met with Obama. They stated that the Bible does not say, “As you’ve done to the middle class,” but “As you’ve done to the least of these.” The President knew the text. They told him he must not make cuts that would hurt the poor. While he didn’t make any commitment at that time, he did follow their advice. Wallis was later told that these provisions would not have been made without their input.

Addressing the question of why Obama, who had been a community organizer and entered politics to help the disadvantaged, hasn’t focused more on the poor, he noted that David Brooks wrote in the New York Times that the political process has become bitterly partisan, divisive, and obstructive. They don’t try to solve problems;  they blame the other side. They don’t govern; they’re always running, trying to win. A senator told him that he has to raise $20,000 a day. One of Obama’s people said they didn’t realize how really broken the system was until they got there nor did they appreciate how much money controls Washington.

Wallis noted with regret to a class of college students that climate change had not been mentioned in the campaign, an issue that will likely influence their children and grandchildren the most. Energy companies control energy infrastructure.  Regulations on the environment and the financial markets have been eroded. Regulations are not in place as they used to be to watch over the behaviour of the financial markets because those who pay for the elections had regulations removed that would have prevented the meltdown of the financial system.

This election demonstrated that it is no longer white males who control America. This fact will cause Americans to rethink what kind of country they want. The fact that the poor were scarcely mentioned by the media in this campaign is a moral indictment of the media. The Biblical prophets all said a nation’s integrity is primarily determined by how we treat the poorest and most vulnerable. They become the sign of whether we are  committed to all God’s children  If we are leaving out the least of these, we are making a fundamental mistake about  the soul of a nation.

Now that Obama has won a second term, Wallis’s message to the President is that he must not reduce the deficit in ways that increase poverty. He must also pass immigration reform.

Sojourner’s polling shows that people do care about the issue of poverty, which is fundamentally an issue of broken social contracts in America. The country is ready for that conversation, he believes. The Obama administration did make decisions that benefited low income people but they didn’t talk about it as a moral issue. Wallis hopes that in the second term they will make it a moral issue and that the leadership will find a path to fiscal sustainability that is not at the expense of  the poorest and most vulnerable.

I urge you to listen to the full interview. You can find it here: http://www.cbc.ca/thesundayedition/shows/2012/11/09/jim-wallis-on-us-election/

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