Wednesday, February 22, 2006

God's Politics in the UK

by Jim Wallis (Editor of Sojourners amagzine)

I just returned from the United Kingdom, where God's Politics was launched last week. Because the book was written primarily for an American audience, we weren't sure exactly what the response would be in Britain, a more secular country in which ? unlike the U.S. - the subject of religion and politics is far less central.
Yet from the first day, it was apparent that something new and important was happening. First, the media coverage was extensive, both from political and religious sources?especially the mainstream political media. British radio listeners and television viewers were pleasantly surprised to hear a different religious voice from America. Many people in the U.K. and throughout Europe suspect that most or all American Christians agree with the loudest of America's television preachers - such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell - and that almost all Christians here probably voted for the Christian President George W. Bush.
Suddenly they heard an American religious leader (an evangelical, even) say God is neither an American, nor merely a Republican who cares mainly about gay marriage and abortion. To hear an American Christian link faith to the urgent issues of poverty, HIV/AIDS, the environment, human rights, and the ethics of war seemed to the British public like a breath of fresh air. I continually said that the two greatest hungers in the world today were for spiritual integrity on the one hand and for social justice on the other - and that the connection between the two is what the world is waiting for. That struck a deeply responsive chord in Britain. And to hear an American Christian critique the war in Iraq was especially heartening to a country in which a majority opposed it, despite the decisions of Prime Minister Tony Blair. The book talks about the meeting several of us American church leaders had with Blair just before the war broke out.
The big news story in Britain the last few weeks has been the likely succession of Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown to become prime minister. Blair has vowed not to run again and the British system allows the ruling party to replace a prime minister with a new party leader before the next election. Because my longtime friend Gordon Brown had warmly endorsed God's Politics for the book's cover, the book became part of the political succession story. There was much media speculation about Brown, Blair, and Bush (whose praying picture was superimposed on the book's front cover with the red, white, and blue background of the stars and stripes). David Cameron, the new Tory leader, even brought the book up in the weekly Prime Minister's Question Time in Parliament, noting that Brown had endorsed the book although it opposed the war in Iraq. What does that say about the kind of prime minister he will be? the media kept asking. I said that I greatly respect Gordon Brown's political values and especially admire his moral leadership on Africa and global poverty. I believe Gordon Brown could become the Western political leader who cares most about global poverty. I wrote in God's Politics that both he and Bono often remind me of the tones of the prophet Micah when they talk about the subject.
But perhaps the most heartening aspect of the trip to me was the turnout at the speaking venues. Not only were the crowds large, but they were also full of young people, which is especially unusual for events in Britain having to do with faith. Many of the event sponsors were astounded and grateful to see so many young Britons coming out for serious discussions of spirituality and politics. Just as we have found all over America, a new generation is looking for an agenda worthy of their gifts, energy, commitment, and lives. The best conversations I had in the U.K. were with talented young men and women who really want to make a difference in their world - just like in the U.S.
Soon the book was in the front of many key bookstores. Borders and Waterstone's have already reordered the book, and God's Politics made Amazon U.K.'s top 30 list in its first week - and remains in the top 10 for religion and spirituality. Because religious books don't often reach broad popularity over there, according to the publisher, Lion Hudson, our friends and allies in Britain began to hope that the same thing would happen there that has happened in the U.S. - a book that helps to open the space for many more voices talking about prophetic biblical faith and its relationship to the urgent issues of our time. That's why I wrote God's Politics in the first place, and nothing would make me happier.

My, oh my, wouldn't it be interesting to see how the Bushites would deal with a Gordon Brown led British government?