National religious leader the Rev. Jim Wallis decided on Ash Wednesday in Denver to fast and pray for the renewal of a troubled national spirit.
The founder of the country's largest network of progressive Christians is calling for a new movement demanding ethical government and corporations.
"I think the nation is in deep trouble. The political system is broken. Members on both sides tell me it's the worst they've ever seen — the vitriol, the attacks," said Wallis, Sojourners president, Harvard University teacher, best-selling author and international commentator on religion.
"Washington is hopeless," Wallis told The Denver Post. "They never stop campaigning to govern. Most people, on all sides, feel that.
Wallis spoke Wednesday at the Denver Forum luncheon at the Oxford Hotel. He passed on the chicken and pushed aside his cheesecake, and told forum members that this Lent he will eat only vegetables and fruit. He is fasting, he said, to clear his mind and focus his heart.
The Detroit native turned eminent Washingtonian is an adviser and friend to President Barack Obama but also rubs elbows with prominent politicians of all stripes. He told The Post he's fasting partly because he doesn't know what else to do.
"I'm very worried about the country." And yet, he added, "fasting is not an act of desperation. Hope is a decision we make."
Wallis' new book is "Rediscovering Values on Wall Street, Main Street and Your Street: A Moral Compass for the New Economy." In it he argues that the current financial crisis is a moral crisis.
"Our kids are not safe in the hands of Wall Street executives. Our economy, society and culture are not safe in the hands of Wall Street," Wallis said. "Washington won't hold them accountable. They have enough money to buy their way out from under regulation."
He said lobbies have spent $200 million to kill regulatory reform.
The advertising and political worlds have made us "mere consumers," he said, and Americans must re-examine what it means to be citizens, or at least consumers who have standards for their corporations. Congress should create the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, Wallis said.
His book details 20 moral exercises for people, from moving their money around to community service.
"We need to build a movement," Wallis said. "We won't get economic recovery without moral recovery."
East High School students attending Wednesday's forum asked Wallis what young people could do. He advised that they choose vocations rather than careers. They should ask what gifts they have to share rather than what assets they want to accumulate, he said.
"It would be wrong to point our fingers at the big fat cats and think we're off the hook," Wallis said. "It's time to stop keeping up with the Joneses to making sure the Joneses are OK."
Electa Draper: 303-954-1276 or firstname.lastname@example.org