The Common Good

The Limits of Pollsters, Pundits and, Yes, Politics

Sojomail - January 24, 2008

The Great Awakening

[A]s I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart ... many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don't mix, they say. Aren't you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his speech, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence." (Source: American Rhetoric)

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The Limits of Pollsters, Pundits and, Yes, Politics

This early primary election season has clearly demonstrated the limits of the pollster's predictions, the pundit's prognostications, and the ability of politics to really address our deepest problems.

The polls have gotten it wrong several times now. And the political commentators have wrongly told us what was going or not going to happen so many times that many have just stopped listening. Obama would never catch up to Clinton's inevitability - then he won Iowa. The Clinton dynasty was finished and Obama was about to march to the nomination on pure momentum and inspiration - then Clinton won New Hampshire. Edwards would be strong in the early primaries - quickly it was a two-person race between Obama and Clinton. McCain was pronounced dead this summer by all the political talking heads - now his staff calls him "Lazarus," with comeback victories in New Hampshire and Florida. Romney was finished after investing so much in Iowa and New Hampshire and losing - then he won the next two contests. Huckabee wasn't worth covering until two months ago - then he shocked the establishment by winning Iowa. But then he failed to win South Carolina, where his evangelical base is the strongest. Thompson was the re-incarnation of Ronald Reagan - until he "fizzled." Giuliani was the early frontrunner - until he wasn't anymore, but may be again if he wins Florida, or not.

Iraq was to be a big campaign issue - then it faded. Health care was big early on, but isn't so much now. Race and gender bickering recently broke out between the potential first woman and first black president. Now the fear of recession is the big issue and "It's the economy, stupid," all over again. Change beat experience early on, but experience and competence have made a comeback. And ALL the pundits said the early front-loaded primary season would produce clear nominees by early February. Now they talk about what fun it would be for journalists to have nominations go all the way to the conventions. Maybe this is all about their fun.

But have the following issues been primary in this primary election season: the shameful scandal of global poverty and the embarrassment of a growing number of poor families in America; the increasingly urgent threat of global warming; the horrendous costs of the war in Iraq and the consequences of a foreign policy that relies exclusively on war to fight evil; the gross violations of human life in places like Darfur, the Congo, and Kenya; the need for a bi-partisan effort to dramatically reduce abortion rates; the corruption of the popular culture and its daily assault upon our families and children? Nope.

All this points again to the fact that real change will never begin in Washington nor be simply a top-down process. I live in the nation's capital and, believe me, this will be the last place change comes. But it has always been like that. Change will grow from social movements, from grassroots efforts that rush up, not trickle down, and from critical culture and values shifts that ultimately will affect politics. Awakening the faith community, for example, to the biblical vision of social justice and the moral imperatives to address poverty, creation care, human rights, culture renewal, and a better way to combat evil in the world will more likely lead to deeper change than mere lobbying on Capitol Hill.

That's why I am excited to begin a 20-city tour to talk about my new book, The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in A Post-Religious Right America. The conversation at every stop will be about how real and deep change could happen in this country and around the world—and is already beginning to. And that change begins with our own lives, our congregations and communities, and the kind of social movements that do finally move politics. The book lays out not a laundry list of "issues" but rather a set of seven commitments that could lead to a "tipping point" on the greatest moral challenges of our time. Each of those seven chapters ends with "The Commitment" which describes what individuals and families can do, how congregations and community groups must lead, and then how changes in public policy must be the result.

It's a hopeful book, because I am very encouraged about what I see happening all over the country, despite the limits of politics already apparent in this early primary season. The Great Awakening describes the "revival" that is already occurring and could bring the change and the hope that so many people are clearly longing for in this critical election year and beyond. I hope this book gives you as much hope in reading it as I found in researching and writing it. It's the story of change from the bottom up - change that is a matter of faith.


New from Jim Wallis: The Great Awakening

Jim Wallis’ last book, God’s Politics, was phenomenally successful in changing the national conversation on faith and politics. In this month’s primary elections, we’ve already seen that broader dialogue on moral values at work.

That’s why the moment is right for Jim’s latest book, coming out this week, The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America.

+ Click here to order your copy of The Great Awakening and help lift its message to a national audience.

In The Great Awakening, Jim lays out the need and the call for spiritual revival as the foundation for real social and political change. A revival of faith, he argues, is the only force big enough to take on the greatest challenges of our time: senseless poverty, deadly pandemic diseases, alarming climate change, massive violations of human rights, and the endless cycle of terrorism and war.

You can help us bring this message to a national audience. Here’s how:

1) Buy the book TODAY. If enough supporters of Sojourners buy the book this week, we can get it on the best-sellers lists, moving the book onto the talk shows and to the front of the bookstores.

2) Tell someone about The Great Awakening. Start a study group at your school, church or with your book group.

3) When you’re out this weekend, stop by Barnes & Noble and thank them for their support of The Great Awakening.

+ Click here to order your copy today – and a portion of your purchase will directly benefit Sojourners' ministry


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Video: Jim Wallis on A Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Jim talks about the new movements in faith and politics described in his latest book, The Great Awakening.

Interview with John Sayles on Religion, Race, and Rock and Roll (by Becky Garrison)

My films are politically conscious as opposed to being politically unconscious. Part of who we are is what we live, what we see, and how we define ourselves. And politics is how we define ourselves. As a screenwriter of hire, very often my job is to get rid of all that stuff and just concentrate on the genre because it's thought to be distracting. But when I make a movie and want to talk a bit more honestly about people, you can't leave it out. For example, you can't really talk about the U.S. in the Deep South in 1951 without talking about segregation.

Beliefnet Survey on Religion and Politics (by Duane Shank)

Faith and politics continues to be a major storyline in the election campaigning. Beliefnet is interested in what you think about the mix of religion and politics in this year's election. Click here and check out the survey on Religion and Politics.

Listening to MLK (by Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

"Beyond Vietnam" is worth a listen as a history lesson, as a challenge to the more domesticated gloss that gets applied to MLK's legacy every January, and perhaps most importantly as a continuing challenge to society and the church to take seriously the imperative of nonviolence: "We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation." A few passages are familiar to me by now since they're the kind of things that we at Sojourners frequently quote. ... But those passages are primarily political. Listening yesterday, another passage jumped out that I was less familiar with—one that rooted King's nonviolence in his faith, and an important reminder to Christians that allegiances to political movements and divisions must fall beneath our allegiance to Christ.

MLK's Unfinished Revolution (by Mary Nelson)

Martin Luther King's sermon at Riverside Church linked the devastating Vietnam war to the struggle over poverty. I began working that year in an under-resourced community and wore a "Bread not Bombs" sweatshirt to anti-war demonstrations. Sadly, not much has changed. The amount spent on the Iraq war (CBO estimate $9 billion a month, up to $1 trillion total), if directed elsewhere, would virtually ensure universal education, universal health care, and affordable housing.


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The Great Awakening by Jim Wallis: You read the book and then together we'll make it happen. Check out Jim's video messages, the book tour schedule, and the free study guide at:

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