Ten years ago, Kathy Sakahara proudly wore a button that read: "Keep churches out of politics. " The Maple Valley liberal feared the rise...

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Ten years ago, Kathy Sakahara proudly wore a button that read: “Keep churches out of politics.”

The Maple Valley liberal feared the rise of the religious right. She worried America was becoming a theocracy. Though a Christian, the idea of preaching politics from the pulpit made her queasy.
Today, Sakahara still has that button — as a reminder of how wrong she was.

“It was a mistake to try to keep religion separate from politics,” said Sakahara, 50. “We need to wake up and try a new approach.”

Given how packed Seattle’s First Baptist Church was the other night, it’s clear Sakahara is not alone.

A standing-room crowd of 900 heard traveling evangelical speaker Jim Wallis give an “altar call” for the religious left to engage in politics.

The night before, an estimated 1,000 heard Wallis deliver the same message at Seattle’s University Temple Church. The night before that, 700 came out to St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Tacoma.

“Something is happening here!” Wallis exclaimed at the size of the crowds. “The monologue of the religious right is finally over and a new dialogue has begun.”

Wallis’ main point is in the title of his top-selling new book: “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.” Republicans have seduced religious conservatives to serve a political agenda that doesn’t square with Jesus’ teachings. And Democrats have an “allergy to spirituality” and can’t talk about faith and values at all.

“The worst mistake progressives made was to concede the territory of religion and values to the right,” Wallis said.

He says America’s future is about moral values — only not abortion and gay marriage. Liberals ought to be proud to invoke the Bible to push for peace, economic justice and environmentalism.

This isn’t a new idea. What’s striking is how the success of the religious right is emboldening some liberals to set aside their usual qualms about keeping church separate from state.

Your relationship with God is not private, Wallis says, meaning you’re supposed to do his works in the streets and all the way to Congress.

Sakahara, who I met at Wallis’ speech, said some lefty groups plan to adopt a tactic straight from televangelist Pat Robertson: distributing special-issue voter guides at churches.

The Christian Coalition gets slammed for this because it puts partisan politics in the heart of religious sanctuaries.

Of course, religion already is in the heart of our national government. We have people praying in Cabinet meetings. We have congressmen reciting Leviticus to justify constitutional amendments. We have federal agencies pushing faith-based grants.

It’s obviously too late to keep religion out of politics and government, which would be my choice.

So Wallis resonates when he says: Why give one strain of faith a monopoly?

You can’t beat the religious right. So the religious left might as well join it.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Friday.

Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.