The evangelical minister hosting Monday's discussion of faith, values and poverty with Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former North Carolina Democratic Sen. John Edwards sees 2008 as a turning point for faith-based progressives.
"I think the 2008 election will be dramatically different from the 2004 election in relationship to issues of faith and values," the Rev. Jim Wallis told ABC News. "The Democratic front-runners are all people who are clearly more comfortable in church as people of faith -- relating their faith to politics -- than the top Republican front-runners."
Wallis is the author of "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It" and the founder of Sojourners, the largest national network of progressive Christians.
He describes himself in his writings as an advocate of a "new moral politics" that "transcends" the "old categories" of both the "secular left" and the "religious right."
In an e-mail to supporters sent just hours before the start of his 7 p.m. EDT forum with the Democratic Party's top-three presidential contenders, Wallis wrote, "There are very few moments when we have the opportunity to turn the eyes of the nation away from the three-ring circus that our electoral process resembles and on to the concerns of those whom Jesus called the 'least of these.' Tonight is one of those moments."
Rather than invite all eight Democratic presidential candidates to Monday's discussion at George Washington University, Wallis decided to limit the invitation list to Clinton, Obama and Edwards, in order to foster a "more thoughtful, deeper, reflective" conversation among those candidates who he thinks have a realistic chance of winning their party's nomination.
"You can imagine the Democratic front-runners knowing the psalms in church, knowing when to clap at the right time and knowing what comes next in the service," Wallis told ABC News, "and the Republican front-runners kind of squirming awkwardly and, you know, not knowing the music and clapping at the wrong time, and looking at their watch to see when the service gets finished."
"We think they are the top-three candidates because they are so far ahead of everybody else," continued Wallis. "I suspect that the nominee will come from one of the three on the Democratic side."
Wallis is an influential voice in Democratic Party circles.
Following President Bush's re-election, Wallis advised Democrats on Capitol Hill on how to discuss budgets as "moral documents" rather than in programmatic terms as a way to shed the Democratic Party's secular image and to tap into the religious commitment that Wallis believes has always been at the heart of progressive social change.
Even though the Democratic Party's 2008 presidential contenders are as staunch in their support of abortion rights and gay rights as the Democratic Party's 2004 presidential nominee, Wallis believes the 2008 conversation of spiritually based issues will be "broader and deeper," and that the playing field has been "leveled" by a willingness of more Democrats to connect their religious commitments to the policies they support.