Different Politics, Same Story

I’ve always found Jim Wallis unimpressive. My first encounter came when he spoke at my undergrad university in 2006. Recently, Marvin Olasky criticized Wallis for not admitting his political leanings, which if you’ve read God’s Politics or his many other publications you will quickly see are left of center. Olasky himself admitted that he is conservative, interprets in part through that lens, and thinks openness about such biases is helpful and honest. Knowing the general premises’ of a commentator allows the listener/reader to better understand what about his/her statements are fair representations and what partakes of evasive partisanship. I agree with Olasky’s general call. Be honest about where you come from politically. Both can be Christians but we must admit our reading of Bible is not the only cultural influence.

Further, Olasky points out that Wallis’s magazine Sojourners, has accepted money from George Soros, whose other financial contributions include $5 million to MoveOn.org and $10 to America Coming Together. This statement was made merely to reinforce Olasky’s argument about Wallis’ un-admitted point-of-view. Soros does not give to religious organizations to spread the Gospel any more than Tea Partiers try to recruit Church-goers to fulfill the Great Commission. He gives to progressive groups arguing for a progressive program.

All of that was really introduction, for there is nothing wrong with having a political point-of-view or with accepting financial help. But the troubling part of this story is Wallis’ reaction. When asked about Olasky’s comments, Wallis replied “”It’s not hyperbole or overstatement to say that Glenn Beck lies for a living.  I’m sad to see Marvin Olasky doing the same thing.  No, we don’t receive money from Soros.”

Not only was this mean-spirited; not only was it in the same spirit of the Beck’s and Limbaugh’s he claims to be above; it was blatantly untrue. The next day Sojourners admitted to taking money from Soros. Did Wallis then apologize for not just calling Olasky a liar but saying lying is his form of making a living? No. Instead he says, “”I should have declined to comment until I was able to review the [Olasky] blog post in question and consulted with our staff on the details of our funding over the past several years. Instead, I answered in the spirit of the accusation and did not recall the details of our funding over the decade in question.” 

Not only did he not apologize for calling the truth a lie; he insinuates his mistatement/untruth was provoked by Olasky’s statement of the truth.

He also pleaded justified ignorance of the donations, because “OSI [Soros group]made up the tiniest fraction of Sojourners’ funding during that decade–so small that I hadn’t remembered them.” From 2004-2007 Soros gave no less than $325,000 to Sojourners.

However legitimate his accusations against Glen Beck (which are much closer to the truth than his childish comparison to Olasky), Wallis should perhaps seek to remove the log from his own eye before performing other-focused operations. The upstart religious left is proving to be little different in spirit than the worst offenses of the religious right they so furiously attack.

About Adam Carrington
  • Bre

    Wow, eye-opening for sure. I had no idea Wallis excepted money from Soros. Great post.

  • http://writingdownthejones.com Charles

    The first time I heard of Wallis was at a youth conference he spoke at when I was working as a youth minister a few years ago. I was something less than politically aware, so I didn’t know what I was hearing.

    It wasn’t long, though, before it became really clear. Over the last four years he’s made a habit of tacitly and explicitly insulting conservative-minded Christians, but I never figured him for the kind of guy who would refuse to apologize after being pinned like this. Very sad.

  • Alan Noble

    I second Bre. Very interesting. Thanks for explaining the situation.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com The Dane

    I feel awesome because I don’t know who Marvin Olasky or Jim Wallis are.

    In other news, I’m conflicted over this statement: “Knowing the general premises of a commentator allows the listener/reader to better understand what about his/her statements are fair representations and what partakes of evasive partisanship.”

    I’m not sure that this is actually true. In my experience, knowing (or even suspecting) something about a commentator’s ideology often sparks the bias in listener/reader reaction, prohibiting an audience from approaching material with a fair and critical eye.

    Case in point, how would accepting contributions from Soros (another name I don’t know) ever have any bearing on helping someone evaluate Wallis’ arguments? At best, such knowledge can only serve as a distraction. Wallis’ commentary is either worthwhile or not—regardless of whether someone you disagree with agrees with him.

    Of course, that rabbit-trail was never really the point of your post but it interested me. Especially as someone who is cagey about revealing my political ideology and generally works do subvert attempts to find me out—all because I feel such labels are the tool of the uncritical and generally work to diminish dialogue rather than construct it.

  • Adam Carrington

    Dane,

    I can see your point about a sort of reverse bias on the part of the reader. But I wonder if a person puts up such defenses to admitted-differing perspectives, would he probably be someone who will be reading through his own lens uncritically regardless? Unless revealing one’s point-of-view is done in a fashion that also makes you appear to be a rather uncritical partisan, and thus not to be taken seriously as a dialogue partner. Then the problem is with the speaker and not the listener.

    I tend to be more charitable toward someone who appears to be aware of their perspective and how it shapes their interpretation of the world. Why? Because I assume we all have such perspectives and that we cannot help them creeping in. Knowing our own assumptions can help us guard against being unfair toward opposing sides when discussing our opinions. Otherwise we can sometimes label opposing points as ridiculous and stupid and not encounter their premises from which they might be logically following. I’ll use a non-political example. I read a book by Dr. Richard Gaffin on the gifts of the Holy Spirit and whether charismatic gifts are for today. His viewpoint came out of Presbyterianism and certain past writers’ views on the debated passages in Scripture. Now his view could be right and his perspective the best one. But knowing the basic premises from which he reasoned not only helped me get into his line of thinking quicker but also helped me see some weaknesses in his argument that would not have been apparent aside from knowing his point-of-view. Admitting religious perspectives like “I’m a Calvinist” or “I’m a dispensationalist” in theological discussions can be helpful, too.

    One more point: Knowing whether Wallis’ organization accepted money from Soros was merely stated to refute Wallis’ claim that his organization is neither left nor right but “deep.” Soros by his stated purpose and money trail donates not on the basis of religious belief but political leanings. That Soros is willing to give a good chunk of change to Wallis doesn’t mean Wallis is right or wrong in his views. The good/bad of them can be discussed apart from a money trail. But It is one of several arguments that in claiming to be neither right nor left, Wallis is being less than forth-coming.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com Seth T. Hahne

    Hey Adam, sorry, didn’t see your comment here.

    I think you’re probably a better man than most if you’re perfectly willing to hear arguments from someone on the other side of the fence from you. I’m more likely to run into people who not only will not listen to my side of things but will actively look for signs that I’m a member of the opposition so that they won’t have to listen to me. If I mention being wary of FoxNews, they will pigeon-hole me as a liberal and therefore not worth the time. If, however, I don’t mention such wariness, there is often an assumption that I am on the same side as them and so my arguments have at least the opportunity of audience whereas before they did not.

  • Adam Carrington

    Seth, you are far too often correct in how people interpret. I do think it has partly to do with the fact that we have such short attention spans that don’t take the time to consider others’ arguments. Add to that our self-centered tendencies to assume we’re right and cable news becomes an often unhelpful engine for bad public discussion. So I understand how you can feel the need to conceal your assumptions/affiliations. Perhaps my predominately academic setting has schewed my viewpoint on how much people are able to consider opposing viewpoints, as I’ll explain below.

    As to listening to opposing sides, I think before you critique an argument, you should be able to rehearse its points in a way that a reasonable person making that argument could say “basically, you stated my position accurately.” Once you’ve done that, then you are able to argue against it with the idea that you are really addressing it and not some straw-man. The approach actually can prove more effective, at least to reasonable persons, because you have given the other side its due and still pointed out problems. I can think of two academic examples that are very good on this point and have helped me. The first is a book called “Liberalism and the Limits of Justice” by Michael Sandel at Harvard. He examines philosopher John Rawls’ philosophical and political beliefs, building them up to the strongest and clearest case he can. Often, he explains Rawls better than Rawls. Then he proceeds to a very effective critique, one nearly devastating in light of how well he articulated Rawls beforehand. The other is Harry Jaffa (who, sadly, too often fails to follow his own example). His book “Crisis of the House Dividied,” builds up Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln’s understanding of the American Union and of justice, making both sides very strong, only to later decimate Douglas.

    Once again, that could be mostly the academic nature of the work. But I’d hope such consideration could increasingly creep into public discussion.

  • http://eatsleepreadlove.wordpress.com Saskia

    I don’t know the issue at hand, so I can’t comment on that. What struck me while reading this was the invocation of the log/splinter metaphor. Interesting that you would use that particular one while sitting in judgment yourself on Wallis’ actions.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com Seth T. Hahne

    I sense an infinite recursion coming up! *glee*

  • http://pos51.org/ Charles Jones

    [That's a go on the infinite recursion]

    Saskia,

    For your criticism of Adam’s use of the log/splinter metaphor to be valid, he’d have to be accusing Wallis of something he himself was doing. Unless you’re suggesting he’s (a) lying, (b) hiding contributions, or (c) engaging in the unpleasant practices of the religious left and right, your comment has no basis.


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