I’ve begun to feel empathy for Jim Wallis. First he was unable to persuade enough of his fellow evangelicals that abortion and gay rights should not have been determining issues in the 2004 presidential vote. Now he’s taking flak from the left — specifically Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice, writing in the Dec. 13 issue of The Nation.
In the case of abortion, schizophrenia abounds: First Jim Wallis, the moderate evangelical preacher who speaks frequently on behalf of religious progressives, tells us we shouldn’t focus on this issue at all; then he expounds on what the Democrats should do to attract “‘centrist’ Catholic and evangelical voters.” Wallis says the Democrats should “welcome pro-life Democrats — Catholics and evangelicals — and have a serious conversation with them” about how to reduce teen pregnancy, make adoption easier and conditions for low-income women better. It is odd for a progressive religious leader to suggest that Democrats, rather than Republicans, are the obstacle to helping teens and low-income women but perhaps not surprising from a man whose personal commitment to dialogue has included demonstrating at a nuclear plant and an abortion clinic on the same day.
That closing sentence is especially interesting. It’s not clear (to met, at least) whether Kissling intends the wording as a backhanded compliment or as further evidence of schizophrenia on abortion. For introverts who don’t readily attend political demonstrations, there’s something admirable and heroic about Wallis’ day of Seamless Garment-style activism.
Wallis is sticking to his campaign argument that Christian political engagement means being just as concerned about war and peace as about abortion, In an op-ed published Monday in USA Today, Wallis criticized both parties:
Right now, neither party gets the values question right. The Democrats seem uncomfortable with the language of faith and values, preferring in recent decades the secular approach of restricting such matters to the private sphere. But where would we be if Martin Luther King Jr. had kept his faith to himself? The separation of church and state does not require the segregation of moral language and values from public life. The Republicans are comfortable with the language of religion and values. But the GOP wants to narrow the focus to hot-button social issues it then uses as wedges in political campaigns, while ignoring or obstructing the application of such values where they would threaten its agenda.