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Wallis, Jim.


Biographical Statement

Jim Wallis, author, speaker and activist is founder of Sojourners Fellowship, dedicated to proclaiming and practicing the biblical call to integrate spiritual renewal and social justice. Born in Redford Township, MI, near Detroit, Wallis grew up in a privileged middle-class environment, attending Bible camps and worshipping with the conservative Plymouth Brethren. An athlete and diligent student, he loved the tales of Robin Hood, recalling: “Taking from the rich and giving to the poor seemed like a good idea to me.”

As a result of his father’s corporate raises, the family periodically relocated to affluent neighborhoods; as their material wealth increased, so did teenaged Jim’s cynicism toward the values he had been raised to respect. Dissatisfied, he quit sports, his grades plummeted and he drifted from his faith. “Before long I started wearing tight pants and pointed shoes,” he recalls. “My father especially hated my long hair, as it symbolized to him my rebellion.”

In the late 1960s, race riots exploded in Detroit and other metropolitan American cities. Throughout childhood, Wallis had noticed that there were no black faces, or any other minority, represented among his church assembly. He investigated inner city neighborhoods where, to his shock, he discovered a disheartening race/class disparity. “Detroit in the 1960s was two communities,” he writes in Revive Us Again: A Sojourner’s Story (1983), “one white and one black, separate and dramatically unequal.” Observing the country’s pervasive discrimination and its consequent violence, he wondered what action evangelicals were implementing – or not – to relieve the impoverished.

In 1966, Wallis enrolled at Michigan State University where radical students raged against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Sympathetic to the cause, he organized debates against racism, poverty and war, for the first time encountering arrest and national media exposure. Although Wallis’s break with Christianity achieved completion during the antiwar movement, he eventually realized that permanent change would be effected exclusively through spiritual transformation, specifically in surrendering to the atoning work of Jesus Christ. The declaration of Christ’s forgiveness of sin must stabilize all efforts.

Seeking answers, he returned to his New Testament. “The way of life described in the Sermon [on the Mount],” he writes, “is truly revolutionary, much deeper and more radical than the revolutionary movements of which I had had a taste.” Long interested in theological issues, he decided to attend seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

Wallis’ consuming concern for social injustice attracted other students who participated with him in peace vigils and campus discussion forums, in addition to demonstrating in Chicago and elsewhere. These friendships formed the basis for the Sojourners Fellowship, its name derived from Hebrews 11:8-10, describing God’s people as pilgrims on the Earth, just passing through.

Less enthralled with Wallis, however, was Trinity’s administration and alumni, who frequently confronted him concerning his activism and the negative publicity it attracted to the college. Once, to assuage doubts, he received summons before the board of trustees to affirm his testimony of faith in Jesus Christ.

One weekend, Wallis and a few friends were hired to house-sit (at the home of the broadcaster who voiced the Jolly “ho-ho-ho” Green Giant commercials). There they conceived the Post-American newsletter, later becoming Sojourners magazine. Shortly after, Wallis and his associates determined to establish a commune in Washington, D.C., to serve in destitute neighborhoods. When Wallis moved east, another group espousing similar interests splintered, journeying to the Upper Peninsula, MI, to form the Menomonee River Fellowship.

Arriving at Washington, D.C., in 1975, the Sojourners settled in Columbia Heights, and immediately implemented their agenda: “…We dedicate ourselves to no ideology, government, or system, but to active obedience to our Lord and His Kingdom, and to sacrificial service to the people for whom he died.” In addition to publishing the magazine, the “Sojo” faith communities continue to pursue youth ministry, operate food kitchens, conduct worship and explore housing options for underprivileged families.

Wallis, an evangelical, cites two profound influences on his career, both Catholic. The first, Dorothy Day, founded the Catholic Worker, a religious community devoted to nonviolent social change. ”Dorothy was a mentor for me and taught valuable lessons about the courage it takes to be ‘prophetic,’ to speak to the deeper causes of things.” The second, St. Francis of Assisi, founded the Franciscan Order, dedicating his life to serving the poor. “What I saw was Christ vividly incarnate in the life of Francis,” Wallis recalls. “It was like meeting Jesus afresh.”

Amid the activism, Wallis stresses the need for attending to one another, families, kids and ourselves. In dealing with campaigns and projects, he says, one is ultimately dealing with people; integrity and ethics must hold an unshakeable center. Fun, also, is a vital grace in public ministry. “If a movement doesn’t produce good jokes and good songs,” he reflects, “it probably isn’t worth joining.”

Wallis is the convener for the Call to Renewal, a network of churches and other faith-based organizations providing a spiritual politics beyond the traditional categories of Left and Right. The Call directs Evangelical, Catholic, Pentecostal and Anabaptist churches to local and national events for reflection and action.

When not lecturing, he resides in Washington, D.C., with his second wife, Joy Carroll, and their son, Luke. Joy, one of the first women ordained in the Church of England, served as script consultant and inspiration for the BBC comedy, The Vicar of Dibley, starring Dawn French.

Wallis is the author of The Soul of Politics (1994), Who Speaks for God? (1996), Faith Works: Lessons from the Life of an Activist Preacher (2000) and God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It (2005). He is a fellow at the Center of the Study of Values and Public Life at Harvard Divinity School, and teaches at the university’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

Collection 498 Oral History Interviews with William E. Pannell

Identifier: CN 498
Scope and Contents Oral history interviews with William E. Pannell in which he describes his childhood in Michigan, his family, conversion as a teenager, his growing awareness of racism in America and especially its influence on American Christianity, education at Fort Wayne Bible College, involvement with the Brethren Assemblies, the part preaching has played in his life, the divide between urban and suburban culture and its impact on black and white churches and institutions, his work with Youth for Christ,...
Dates: Created: 1995-2007

Jim Wallis Papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: SC-109
Scope and Contents

The Jim Wallis Papers are composed of book manuscripts, journal articles and book reviews by/about the author, correspondence, press clippings, photographs and audio cassettes (with transcripts). (see also Sojourners Records)

Dates: Created: 1971-2012; Other: Date acquired: 1988

Sojourners Records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: SC-023
Scope and Contents The Sojourners Collection contains the archival papers of the Christian social concern and community group known by that name.  Sojourners traces its origin to a group of seven students at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, (see Jim Wallis) who called for a new and rigorous application of Biblical ethics to American Culture.  Believing that the church was losing the current generation,...
Dates: Created: 1971-2017; Other: Date acquired: 1988

Additional filters:

Audiotapes. 2
Christian biography. 2
Christianity -- 20th century. 2
Christianity and politics -- History -- 20th century. 2
Christianity and politics -- United States. 2
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Conversion. 2
Correspondence. 2
Racism -- United States. 2
Abortion -- Religious aspects -- Christianity. 1
Administrative Records. 1
African American clergy. 1
African American evangelists. 1
African American leadership. 1
African Americans -- Families 1
African Americans -- Religious life. 1
African Americans -- Social conditions. 1
African Americans. 1
Afro-Americans. 1
Alcoholism -- United States 1
Alcoholism. -- United States -- Race relations. 1
Articles. 1
Authors and publishers -- United States. 1
Authors and publishers. 1
Bible colleges 1
Bible colleges -- United States. 1
Black power 1
Black power -- United States. 1
Christian biography -- United States. 1
Christianity and justice. 1
Christianity and politics. 1
Church and social problems -- United States. 1
Church and state -- Biblical teaching. 1
Church and state -- United States. 1
Cities and towns -- United States. 1
Cities and towns. 1
City missions -- United States. 1
City missions. 1
Clergy -- United States -- Biography. 1
Conscience 1
Conscience -- Religious aspects -- Christianity. 1
Conversion -- Christianity. 1
Disarmament 1
Disarmament -- Religious aspects -- Christianity. 1
Ecology 1
Ecology -- Religious aspects -- Christianity. 1
Environmental protection 1
Environmental protection -- Religious aspects -- Christianity. 1
Evangelicalism -- 20th century. 1
Evangelicalism -- United States. 1
Evangelicalism. 1
Evangelistic work -- Congresses 1
Evangelistic work -- Congresses -- United States. 1
Evangelistic work -- New Jersey. 1
Evangelistic work -- United States. 1
Evangelistic work. 1
Filmstrips. 1
Financial records. 1
Government, Resistance to 1
Government, Resistance to -- Religious aspects. 1
Inner cities 1
Inner cities -- United States. 1
Kingdom of God 1
Kingdom of God -- Biblical teaching. 1
Liberalism (Religion) -- United States. 1
Liberty 1
Liberty -- Religious aspects. 1
Manuscripts for publication. 1
Nonviolence 1
Nonviolence -- Religious aspects -- Christianity. 1
Peace -- Religious aspects -- Christianity. 1
Photographs. 1
Preaching. 1
Pressure groups 1
Pressure groups -- United States. 1
Publications (documents) 1
Race riots 1
Racism. 1
Reviews (documents) 1
Right and left (Political science) -- Religious aspects. 1
Sex role -- United States. 1
Sex role. 1
Social ethics. 1
Sociology, Christian. 1
Sojourners 1
Sojourners -- History. 1
Sojourners Fellowship -- Archives. 1
Sojourners Fellowship -- History. 1
Television in religion -- United States. 1
Television in religion. 1
United States -- Church history -- 20th century. 1
United States -- Politics and government. 1
United States -- Race relations. 1
Videotapes. 1
Wallis, Jim -- Interviews. 1
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