Jim Wallis, meet Robert Casey

Jim_wallisI’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.

Kissling writes:

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.

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  • http://www.relapsedcatholic.com Kathy Shaidle

    I don’t doubt Wallis’ sincerity, having read some of his books myself back in the day. Hey, I used to subscribe to Sojourners if you can believe it.

    My humble advice to him would be this: lay off the Martin Luther King and Gandhi stuff. Wallis and Co. can’t write a paragraph without mentioning either, like some kind of verbal tick. The Christian progressive vocabulary is stunted, stale and uninspired — I was eventually driven out by all the “prophetic broken-ness paradigms”.

    But constantly harping on these two (count ‘em, two) long dead guys only emphasizes the embarrassing fact that non-violence has very limited practical uses and therefore shouldn’t be held up as an ideal. And for young people with no living memory of MLK or G., invoking their names as a talisman isn’t as effective as progressives may think.

  • http://www.urbanangel.net andrew chamberlain

    Well, two cheers (at least) for Wallis on that basis. I am really bemused by the amount of debate between adherents to what might be called the red zone ‘micro morality’ – abortion, teen pregnancy, individual responsibility; and the ‘macro morality’ issues of the blue crowd: war/peace, social justice, the environment.

    It reminds me of the old ‘evangelism vs social action’ debate that has rumbled on for years.

    The Christian faith surely has to get beyond this red corner/blue corner stuff. Why? Well for a start scripture embraces all these things, scripture has something to say about all of them. Red zone guys – you better start really caring about social justice because here’s the news: God does! Blue zone folks – you better start dealing with the issues of personal morality because, guess what, these are important to God too.

    Now here’s the really important stuff: and Wallis touches on this. Speaking as a Brit, and a Christian, I look at the US and I see all the Christian’s there and I think: ” wow you guys have a chance now, a real chance to do something profound for God”. Seriously, you might not get a chance like this again for another 100 years, and if you get it right it will impact the US and the world for maybe 200-300 years, and I am not exaggerating.

    So what do you need to do? Primariliy you need to care and love and serve people. And then you need to do it again, and again. Show them you love them before you start to tell them where they are going wrong.

    Okay I hear you, you really want to tell people how sinful they are, and all about Christ. Sure, okay, but speaking as someone with what might be called Red zone inclinations, I would suggest that, you need to put in maybe 50-100 hours of practical love for every 1 hour of talking about Jesus, and what sin is.

    You guys have got this chance, it’s not even once in a lifetime, it’s less than that; so for God’s sake take it.

  • http://www.anotherthink.com Charlie

    I have a hard time getting very worked up about trying to make either political party more sensitive to God’s agenda for humanity. Life is too short. Wallis is undoubtedly a sincere Christian, but does he really believe the Democrat or Republican parties are one day going to set aside the love of power for a life of humble service to God? Give me a break.

    Politics serves a necessary social purpose, and does so poorly and without much regard for God and his purposes. Every few years, religious voters have to make some decisions about which levers to pull, and those decisions always amount to judgment calls about the lesser of evils. They require us to give approval for programs that always have negative consequences and are often intended to bring about social changes of dubious value.

    Politics is pragmatic and pragmatism can be a nasty business. Politics is self-serving and rarely brings about true justice, true peace, true social improvement.

    Christians who put their trust in political movements to achieve God’s purposes just haven’t spent much time studying the Bible. The Kingdom work gets done when I put my own hands to work in the service of others, not when I punch my ballot.

  • http://bunniediehl.worldmagblog.com Bunnie

    I think that the Red and Blue folks both believe in a non-Orthodox (in the confessional sense of the word) God. Their God cares more about the earthly condition and less on the eternal.

    But their God is really similar. He just fights homosexuality in the South and fights the death penalty in the North. Neither group cares about clergy, creeds, liturgy, or the higher things.

    This God of most of Americans is very earthly. But not in the incarnated sense . . .

  • PowerTee

    How would Jesus vote? He would not vote for governmental policies that force people to be “charitable,” that are based upon covetousness, that remove all accountability, that rely on fantasies that central gov’t can solve every problem. Like the Republican Party, Christ advocated freedom with accountability. Oddly, Democrats do not support these things.

  • Verdad

    Could anyone here let me know more information on Jim Wallis. I would like to research him.

    What denomination is he? Marital Status?


  • Pierre

    I do not understand why we are so bent to villify others we have grown to near extremism in our belief that only the Right speaks the Truth. I do not understand why issues of such little consequence on our lives such as gay marriage and abortion are of such importance to us when more than half the children of the world are hungry and we have mistakenly caused the death of 100,000 Iraqis most of whom are innocent women and children. I am a christian and when I hear the Right talking I imagine everything but what Jesus would have said. I believe it is time we make love to mankind not just our kind the cornerstone of our politics. Jesus would not have invaded Iraq, he would not have adopted the current economic policies that favor the rich and nor would he have stood behind our environmental policies. We are mistaken if we believe that Jesus would have spoken at a Republican convention. If we want to spread our influence then I suggest we apply it peacefully and not as crusaders.