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Jim Wallis to La Sierra: “Create New Culture”

The Reverend Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, best-selling author, and member of a religious advisory counsel to President Barack Obama, spoke to La Sierra University students, faculty, alumni, and community members Saturday, calling for a new culture of compassion.

Wallis spoke during the La Sierra University alumni homecoming weekend at the tenth annual Paul J. Landa Memorial Lectures on Faith and Learning.

Wallis noted that the current economic crisis presents an opportunity for people of God to clarify the Church’s mission. He said that he has received many letters from young people who lost faith because they had never been shown that they could be Christian and care about poverty, the environment or AIDS. With the current crisis comes the possibility of demonstrating a different kind of faith, Wallis said.

Wallis attended the 2009 Davos World Economic Forum where he spoke at a plenary session on the moral values of capitalism—what they are and what they ought to be. In response to a reporter’s question about when the economic crisis will end, Wallis suggested that the needful question is how this crisis will change us. If we return to business as usual, we will have failed, Wallis suggested. However if we can change as a result of the pain and misery of this crisis, perhaps the pain can be redemptive.

Jim Wallis

Wallis met guests and signed books at a reception following his lecture.

Wallis’s remarks focused largely on poverty. Just as canaries served as warnings to miners that the air had become toxic in mines, Wallis said that the poor provided a similar warning, but society failed to get out.

Archaeology tells an interesting story, Wallis said. Digging down through remains of civilizations, where archaeologists find relative homogeneity among the houses and artifacts that demonstrate relative societal equality, those periods correspond with periods of silence from the prophets. But when digging reveals great social disparity, during those time periods, prophets rose up in Israel.

Scripture mentions the poor over 2,000 times, Wallis noted.

“How should Christians respond to the global crisis?” Wallis asked. “What do pastors, lay leaders—what do Christians have to say about a time like this?”

President Barack Obama told a religious advisory council on which Wallis serves that the world will look to faith-based organizations for leadership during this crisis, but noted that everyone has less to give because of the crisis. But President Obama made it clear that America needs faith-based organizations.

Then, recalling the history of the Great Awakening in North America, Wallis told the audience that big changes occur when revival breaks out. Abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and the Civil Rights Movement all have roots in the Great Awakening. A new awakening is coming and has now come according to Wallis.

Wallis compared the feeding of the 5,000 recorded in the Gospels to the economic crisis. The boy with the lunch must have seemed a hopelessly small donation. “Wouldn’t you have loved to have heard the disciples’ response—the cynicism, the disbelief?” But Jesus took the offering seriously. “In times of crisis,” Wallis went on, “we want to hunker down and save our lunch. But we’ve got to give our lunch.”

Historically, the time of greatest giving and church building (when adjusted for inflation) was in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression.

Wallis called on the assembly to work toward a new culture and shared his conviction that the answer will not finally come from Washington. The best changes, he said, come from faith movements.

Calling for the cooperation of strange bedfellows across the ideological spectrum, Wallis declared the end of the culture of greed and the time for a culture of the common good.

“Are we ready to be the body of Christ?” Wallis asked, “or will we hunker down and protect our lunch?”

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