HKS Panel Encourages Religion in the Public Sphere

Christian author Jim Wallis and Memorial Church Minister Jonathan L. Walton argued that the public should harness the power of religion to pursue the “common good” in politics on Monday in an event hosted by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.

The panel, entitled “Religion in the Public Square,” jumped between topics included in Wallis’s latest book “On God’s Side.” Moderated by the Center for Public Leadership Director David R. Gergen, most of the discussion revolved around using religion to achieve social justice.

“The book talks about how we might apply this notion of the common good,” Wallis said. “How do we make choices that really can impact the common good?”

Wallis, who is editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine, brought up immigration reform as a current hot-button issue that reveals the significance of this idea of “the common good.”

“The common good is triumphing over politics on that one issue in D.C.,” said Wallis, who mentioned the importance of mobilizing religious communities in order to achieve political goals. Wallis pointed to the civil rights movement as a poignant example of such mobilization.

Walton, who is also the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, described issues pertaining to race and to the legacy of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, highlighting the upcoming 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.

“The civil rights movement would not have been possible without Black churches,” Wallis said.

Walton echoed Wallis, stressing the importance of “this notion of the common good, this notion that we are in this together.”

“What affects one of us affects all of us,” said Walton, who mentioned light-heartedly that he signs off on his e-mails with “one luv.”

In his introductory remarks, Gergen praised both Wallis and Walton.

“[Walton] is deeply engaged in, and has been for a long time, the history of African-American religious belief and theology,” Gergen said. “Like Jim Wallis, he is also a champion of social justice.”

In a similar vein, Gergen described Wallis as “a progressive evangelical who has deeply been concerned all his life with social justice.”

“He continues to be a champion of social justice,” Gergen said.

The panel was followed by a book signing reception at the Coop.

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