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Well-known evangelical activist to speak at Bethel College

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- When did Jesus’ priorities become the capital gains tax and the war in Iraq? That’s the rhetorical question Jim Wallis has been asking audiences--including the one on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart on January 19--as he travels around the country promoting his new book, "God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It" (HarperSan Francisco, 2005).

On Friday, Feb. 18, Wallis will have the chance to ask it at Bethel College in North Newton. He will speak at 11 a.m. in Memorial Hall as both convocation and the keynote address for the Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship gathering taking place at Bethel Feb. 18-19. Wallis’ speech is free and open to the public.

Wallis’ point: While the so-called Christian Right in the United States is trying to control the political agenda, they lack a "consistent ethic of life." Wallis argues that biblical concern for poverty, care for the environment and opposition to unjust war are moral values as much as are the Right’s much-publicized opposition to abortion and gay marriage. This view is similar to one that sees opposing euthanasia and the death penalty, as well as abortion, as being integral to a "pro-life" position.

However, as the title of Wallis’ new book makes clear, he’s not letting "the other side" off the hook in the politics and morality debates. "The ways in which both parties’ visions are morally and politically incomplete must now be taken up by people of faith," he writes. "That can best be done by reaching into both conservative Christian communities who voted for George Bush and more liberal Christian communities who voted for John Kerry."

Over the past 30 years, Wallis has probably been best known as a founder of Sojourners, an intentional Christian community in the inner city of Washington, D.C., that focuses on issues of justice and peace. Wallis continues to serve as the editor of Sojourners magazine, which covers faith, politics and culture.

Wallis was also one of the founders, in 1995, of Call to Renewal, a national federation of churches, denominations and faith-based organizations spanning the theological and political spectrum that work together to overcome poverty. Under Wallis’ leadership, Call to Renewal has hosted annual Roundtables on Poverty for national religious leaders, and the organization’s Covenant and Campaign to Overcome Poverty, endorsed by a broad cross-section of Christian leaders, now has tens of thousands of supporters around the United States.

These days, Wallis may be better known as a speaker and writer. He speaks at more than 200 events each year and his columns appear in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and other major newspapers. In the last several years, he has led more than 250 town meetings that have brought together pastors, civic and business leaders and elected officials around issues of social justice and moral politics.

Wallis was raised in an evangelical family in the Midwest. As he recently told Terry Gross, of National Public Radio’s "Fresh Air," as a teenager, his questioning of the racial segregation in his church and community led him to the black churches and neighborhoods of inner-city Detroit, and from there to involvement in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.

While at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., Wallis and several other students started a small magazine, the Post-American, and a community with a Christian commitment to social justice. This has now grown into Sojourners, with a combined print and electronic media readership of more than 100,000 people.

In 1979, Time magazine named Wallis one of the "50 Faces for America’s Future" and The Church Report, an on-line resource for church leaders, put him on their list of "The 50 Most Influential Christians in America" for 2004.

Besides "God’s Politics," Wallis’ books include "Faith Works" (2000), "The Soul of Politics: A Practical and Prophetic Vision for Change" (1994), "Who Speaks for God? A New Politics of Compassion, Community and Civility" (1996) and "Call to Conversion" (1981).

Wallis lives in inner-city Washington, D.C., with his wife, Joy Carroll Wallis, and their two young sons. His appearance at Bethel College is sponsored by the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) as part of the 2004-05 Peace Lecture Series.

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