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The Amnesiac Civility of Jim Wallis

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Peter Wehner on Commentary Magazine’s Contentions blog looks at the recent joint statement on civility from Jim Wallis and Chuck Colson:

… what is worth noting, I think, is that Wallis (as opposed to Colson) has repeatedly violated his commitment to civility. For example, in 2007, Wallis said: “I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this [Iraq] war and the shameful way they have fought it.”

Americans and Iraqis died “because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.” Wallis went on to say he favors investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on “official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges.” And if they were found guilty of these “high crimes,” Wallis wrote, “I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison. … Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.”

As I showed here, these statements are slanderous. Given that, how does Wallis square what he wrote with his counsel not to resort to “personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, [and] assaulting their character”?

More recently, Wallis strongly implied that the Tea Party movement was animated by racism. Is this the kind of thing Wallis has in mind when he cautions us against “demonizing our opponents,” which in turn “poisons the public square”?

These episodes are not isolated ones. Wallis recently accused World magazine’s Marvin Olasky of being a liar — a claim Wallis had to retract after Olasky provided indisputable evidence that it was Olasky, not Wallis, who was telling the truth.

My point here isn’t so much to call attention to the hypocrisy of Wallis, though that’s worth taking into account. Nor is it to argue that Wallis, based on his shrill outbursts, should never be able to make the case for civility in public discourse, though it would help if Wallis were to acknowledge his complicity in what he now decries.

Read the whole thing at Contentions.

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.


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  • Nathanael Snow

    I comment regularly at Sojo. Whenever they yak about civility in discourse I point out the Public Choice analysis Involved.
    Discourse will vary in civility inversely to the value of the pile of goodies in contention.
    Want more civility? Work to reduce the percentage of GDP managed through government back to something less than the 43% we are currently dealing with.
    This argument resonates well even among Sojo readers.
    Secondly, we ought to be glad for contentious discourse provided the alternative is overt violence. Again, the appropriate question is always: “Compared to what?”. In this case vigorous public debate is a good alternative to guns.
    Finally, given that public debate is primarily symbolic in nature, and symbolism is cheap, and easy to yield on, the costs of contention are low. That is, it is cheap to argue about things that don’t really matter much.
    I have often recommended that Sojo hire an economist to explain these simple concepts to them. My phone, alas, has not rung yet.

  • Thanks, Nathanael. I was making the same point in my review of Wallis’ book on “economics” that doesn’t seem to have any economic content.

    Wallis is just back from another trip to Davos where he reports this:

    Business leaders have come to talk to me like “Nicodemus in the night,” telling me how they are trying to find the values they lost along the way. I hear the stories of business students who are committing now to social responsibility, and of a councilwoman who opened a county budget meeting by reading a passage from the book. I’ve been moved by how this message is making a difference.

    He’s still posing as the father confessor to guilty CEOs, who dare not venture out in broad daylight among the skiers and beautiful people at Davos, where business execs would probably be stoned for not having an up-to-date sustainability charter. Does Wallis promise to take away the sins of CEOs? What might those be?

  • Roger McKinney

    I blogged on Sojo for awhile, until they blocked me. And I was much more civil than my opponents. However, they blocked me when I began to suggest that Wallis was nowhere near being an evangelical in theology. And I stand by that based on the posts on theology on his site.

    Wallis has made it clear that he is opposed to all economics. He considers economics to be evil and has called for people to abandon the science of scarcity (economics) and embrace the science of abundance (socialism). That’s why he never has an economist write for Sojo or his books.

  • Roger: They blocked you? Intolerant and uncivil, I would call it.

  • Roger McKinney

    John, And I was being civil. I would guess that Wallis depends on fooling evangelicals into believing that he is evangelical. He can tolerate all kinds of opposition except revealing his money-making deception.

  • OFT

    That Wallis is not an evangelical is beyond dispute. Furthermore, I would question his faith immediately. Off the cuff, I know he doesn’t believe in Biblical inerrancy, to which compromises the entire text, enabling him to cut up the scriptures akin to Thomas Jefferson.

    I liken Wallis to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

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