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It Takes a Movement: The Next Steps

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Editor's Note: This is the final installment of a six-part series by Jim Wallis reflecting on the past two years and painting a post-election vision for people of faith and Sojourners. To read more from Jim and join in a discussion with other Social Justice Christians check out his blog at God's Politics.]

It is always appropriate and necessary for the faith community to question and challenge political leadership on the biggest moral issues -- indeed it is our prophetic vocation to do so. That means lifting up the now growing rates of poverty in America and around the world, even when both parties only want to talk about the middle class. The plight of undocumented immigrants and their families unites almost all sectors of the faith community. The younger generation of the faithful is insisting on the urgency of "creation care" of the environment and the threat of climate change, especially to the poorest people around the globe. People of faith across the political spectrum also want to make serious progress on reducing the number of abortions in America -- not with symbolic amendments or criminalizing desperate and tragic choices -- but by preventing unwanted pregnancies and supporting low-income women. There is much work to be done in promoting healthy families; not by scapegoating gays and lesbians or bullying gay teens, but by creating policies that build a culture of support for families. Increased numbers of religious leaders are also ready to challenge the ethics of endless and failed wars of occupation, which have yet to seriously reduce the real threats of terrorism but have killed too many people.

It is not enough to talk about what President Obama should be doing; instead, we should be talking about what a movement can be doing to clear the space for change and provide energy and pressure on both the Congress and the White House. Only serious public education and mobilization will move the country forward on the "big vision" above. The "outside strategy" must be strong for the "inside strategy " to finally be successful -- and only then will access give way to influence. Learning the lessons of the midterm elections means not just wondering what Obama will do next, but also asking what we will do.

I have learned in the last two years that changes in Washington, Wall Street and the country are indeed much harder to accomplish than anyone expects. The combination of entrenched politics (on both sides); hugely influential special interests; the growing power of money in politics; the 24/7 assault of ideologically driven media machines; and a still-passive electorate that believes voting is the only requirement of citizenship -- all have contributed to where we now find ourselves.

Instead of just sitting back and watching how things go, an empowered new electorate must push the country deeper into our best shared values, understand the need for social movements in making social change, and act to hold both political sides accountable to trying to actually solve the country's greatest challenges, instead of just winning and keeping power.

We need to construct a new "moral center" in American politics. Yes, the rising deficit is a moral issue, but dealing with it in a moral way is also important. We cannot cut the deficit using methods that would hurt our most vulnerable and least powerful people. Yes, defeating terrorism is also a noble cause, but being willing to challenge the enormous human and financial costs of failed military solutions is also a just cause. And the faith community will always be lifting up the biblical priority of the poor, the weak, the sick, the oppressed, the left out and left behind, and always the children; and we will look for allies on both sides of the political aisle wherever we can find them.

Real social change depends more on a return to core values than a partisan victory by either political side. It means lifting up the fundamental personal and social virtues in our individual choices, family lives, community involvement, and engaged citizenship. For people of faith, it means leading by example from our congregations and actually doing the things we say we believe in.

Neither the left nor the right has the answers now, though each will continue to say that it does. So we have to focus on the spiritual and moral values that bring us together; that choose the common good over private gain, inclusiveness over intolerance, civility over shouting, long term over short term, integrity over celebrity, justice over excuses, morality over expediency, stewardship over consumption, truth over spin, patient persistence over immediate results, and finally, right over wrong.

These are the values that work for our personal lives, for teaching our children, for leading our congregations, for changing our communities, for holding politicians accountable, and for creating the social movements that make a difference.

We've learned that making change is harder than we think. Now, it's time to go deeper.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy and CEO of Sojourners. Get e-mail updates from Jim Wallis.