Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Today on the Christian History Almanac, we remember a major figure and publisher in 20th-century American Evangelicalism on his 76th birthday: Jim Wallis.

It is the 4th of June 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


It is both the second day of my vacation with my family at the Grand Canyon and the second day in a row with a figure blending things in church and society that haven’t always seemed obvious.  Yesterday, it was Brother Antoninus, the beat poet, and Dominican, while today, we remember a giant coming out of the general Jesus movement of the 60s and 70s, an evangelical and activist but on the political left. He is Jim Wallis, who was born on the 4th of June in 1948, today marking his 76th birthday.

He was born in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up in affluent suburbs. His father was an engineer but also a de facto leader in their church- a Plymouth Brethren congregation without official clergy. He was raised as an evangelical, but in college at Michigan State, he drifted from the church as he became involved in various groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society. In an interview, he claimed that while he had left the church, there were many on campus trying to “re-evangelize” him, and while that didn’t work, he did realize he couldn’t shake Jesus and went back to his New Testament. There, he came back to faith, realizing the Gospel's implications not only for his own life but for his communities looking for meaning. This, as the Jesus movement was taking place, puts him in that orbit, but his political leanings would garner him titles like “father of the evangelical left”.

He would attend Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois, and while he found a group of like-minded Christians, the leadership of the school was wary of his radical past. He was called upon, at least once, to publicly affirm an evangelical and orthodox faith to a board skeptical that he could merge conservative theology and progressive politics. He founded the People’s Christian Coalition in 1971 in Chicago with fellow Christians who lived communally and began the magazine “Post-American” as a nod to being Christians first and Americans second. The group moved to Washington, D.C., in 1975 and changed the name of the group and publication to Sojourners. Some from the group moved to the Upper Peninsula (which belongs to Michigan for some reason) and formed the Menominee River Fellowship in the Mennonite tradition.

Wallis and Sojourners spent the 1980’s arguing for an alternative to the Religious Right without sacrificing theological fidelity. He would come to fame as a speaker and public figure and site two catholics as his inspiration: Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker and St. Francis of Assisi who had similar concerns for the poor.

Wallis has published over a dozen books and has been a fellow at the Center of the Study of Values and Public Life at Harvard Divinity School and taught at the JFK School of Government. At Georgetown he was a Research Fellow at the Georgetown University Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs and is most recently the Chair in Faith and Justice and the founding Director of the Georgetown University Center on Faith and Justice. In 2022, he was named one of the 500 most important people shaping policy in DC. He is routinely on national news broadcasts as a representative of the so-called “Christian Left.”

Existing in the nexus of politics and faith he has had his share of public scandal. He stepped down as the editor of Sojourners in 2020 after taking down an article critical of white supremacism in the Catholic Church. He has also taken criticism for his positions on both abortion and marriage issues- seeking a middle way between the traditional left and right. He and Sojourners serve as a helpful reminder that evangelicals exist across the American political spectrum, and both have a heritage coming out of the Jesus movement- one needn’t agree with either or both to recognize the difficult work being done by many to appropriately wed political and theological issues. In the words of Wallis, one has a personal faith, but it is not a private faith. Fun fact: his wife Joy Carroll Wallis was a vicar in London and served as the model for famous British comic writer Richard Curtis, who wrote the BBC comedy “The Vicar of Dibley”.

Born in 1948, Jim Wallis, of Sojourners fame, turns 76 today.


 The last word for today is from Romans 5: 

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.



This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 4th of June 2024, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man who loves his rom-coms and knows Richard Curtis as the writer of both 4 Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually; he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who knows Richard Curtis as the writer of Blackadder and Mr. Bean. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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