At home, conservative evangelicals tend to argue that the Christian obligation to help the poor is best fulfilled through private charity -- such as the Salvation Army -- rather than through government action.
But that may be starting to change. Scores of religious leaders of all political views convened at the Capitol last month to pray for changes in the budget bill. Led by Wallis, they denounced the cuts in services as immoral and unchristian -- and blocked an office building until they were arrested.
Pressing the same issue in a quieter manner, all 65 bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America signed a letter urging Congress to reject the proposed cuts. The church, a socially liberal denomination, has 5 million members.
Several members of Congress picked up the bishops' terms, referring to the budget as a "moral document." But it's unclear whether issues such as the budget resonate as questions of faith for most Americans.
The progressive evangelicals "are starting out 25 years behind," said Corwin Smidt, director of the Paul Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. "They haven't built a mass base of support."
Sojourners has 200,000 people on its e-mail list. The American Family Assn., a conservative group heavily focused on abortion and homosexuality, has 3 million. Sojourners hopes to generate several hundred calls to Congress about the budget bill, which is up for a final vote this week. The American Family Assn. got nearly 680,000 members to protest NBC's drama "The Book of Daniel," about a priest struggling with addiction.
Social conservatives take those numbers -- and victories such as the show's recent cancellation -- as proof that they're focusing on the issues most urgent to Christians.
"Most people's eyes glaze over when you start talking about billions and trillions of dollars," said American Family Assn. President Tim Wildmon. "Abortion? Gay marriage? Everyone understands that."
Stephanie Acker, a 20-year-old college student, understands why leaders reach for issues that seem more black and white. But the relentless focus on abortion and homosexuality has made her reluctant to label herself an evangelical -- or even a Christian.
"It has such connotations," she said. "Instead, I say I'm a follower of Jesus."
Acker said her reading of the Bible taught her that Jesus cared above all about fighting poverty and injustice. When she has a State of the Union party tonight at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., Acker will be listening for initiatives to narrow the gap between the poor and the rich.
She's hoping to hear that a president who shares her faith also shares her priorities.