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Jim Wallis Drops the Sham Civility

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Jim Wallis: Paul Ryan is A Bully & Hypocrite

Not so long ago, the Rev. Jim Wallis was positioning himself as the Chief Apostle of Civility, issuing bland pronouncements about all of us needing to get along. His “A Christian Covenant For Civility,” barely a year old, is now looking more tattered than a Dead Sea Scroll. Of course, he took up the civility meme back when he was hoping to brand the Tea Party as a horde of un-Christian, poor-hating libertarian bullying racists who enjoy nothing more than kicking widows and orphans with their hobnailed jackboots. Here he is last year warning America about the hostile Tea Party threat: “Honest disagreements over policy issues have turned into a growing vitriolic rage against political opponents, and even threats of violence against lawmakers are now being credibly reported.”

Ah, but the Apostle of Civility fled the agora. Right about the time that the vicious and violent attacks started on elected officials like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. It’s routine anymore to hear thuggish threats at state capital protests such as, “The only good Republican is a dead Republican” — and worse. (see video at bottom of post but be warned: rough images and language.)

Now, Wallis has returned, wearing the robes of an Old Testament Prophet, the scourge of those who would oppress the poor and bargaining unit members in threatened civil service classifications. The tip off was the title of his latest Huffington Post article, “Woe to You, Legislators!” Nice touch, that. More, from Wallis, who channels Isaiah:

You may think that my language sounds too strong: “bullies”, “corrupt”, “hypocrites.” But listen to the prophet Isaiah:

“Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims — laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children. What will you have to say on Judgment Day, when Doomsday arrives out of the blue? Who will you get to help you? What good will your money do you?” (Isaiah 10:1-3, The Message)

Ryan’s budget seems to follow, almost line by line, the “oppressive statues” Isaiah rails against. Ryan’s budget slashes health care for the poor and elderly by gutting Medicaid and undermining Medicare, and cuts funding for food stamps, early childhood development programs, low-income housing assistance, and educational programs for students.

Phrases such as “gutting Medicaid” are not designed to inform, but to inflame. This is the work of a demagogue.

Heritage Foundation analyst Curtis Dubay, in a Tax Day commentary, reminds us that it’s no longer possible to live in Wallis’ fantasy world.

In 2010, the federal government collected about $2.2 trillion in total tax revenue. Income taxes accounted for $900 billion of collections, or about 40 percent of all tax receipts. The federal government spent around $3.5 trillion, with the resulting deficit of $1.3 trillion made possible by borrowing.

If Congress, rather than borrowing or cutting spending, raised income taxes by the $1.3 trillion necessary to pay for 2010 deficit spending, it would need to more than double income tax collections.

For a family of four earning $50,000 that takes the standard deduction, its current tax bill of $766 would increase by almost $4,000. A similar family of four that earned $75,000 a year would see its tax liability of $4,500 increase by over $9,000 a year. If the same family earned $100,000, it would pay more than $15,600 above the $8,800 it actually paid in 2010.

The top rate in this depressing scenario would be 85 percent! A top tax rate at that level would grind economic activity to a halt.

This won’t make any impression on Wallis, who wrote a book on economics but remains stupendously ignorant of its lessons. He would have us magically dismiss the reality of scarcity from our economic and fiscal deliberations. All we have to do is find the right bit of Scripture, or the proper sentiment, to devise the incantation — or sound bite — which will relieve us all from want.

The market’s fear of scarcity must be replaced with the abundance of the loving God. And the first commandment of the Market: “There is never enough,” must be replaced by the dictum of God’s economy: namely, there is enough, if we share it.

The view is held widely on the religious left. According to a report from Eric LeMasters at The Institute on Religion and Democracy, the president of the National Council of Churches insisted recently that we drop the “paradigm of scarcity” for “values of abundance and inclusion.” According to LeMasters:

[President] Chemberlin argued that if we somehow “understand ourselves as living in abundance meant for everyone, as a community, [and] as a country… then we can all be free of the threat of scarcity.” She optimistically added that most of the world’s problems could be solved simply by applying these. She enthusiastically concluded: “Let us demand… that we will not be satisfied with a paradigm of scarcity, a paradigm of exclusion. We will not be satisfied, because we know better. We know better. There is enough grace to go around.”

Yes, there is enough grace to go around. But there aren’t enough dollars to finance our reckless government spending and service these mountains of debt for much longer, not in the way we’ve been doing it. You can’t make the dollars appear through wishful thinking to repair a hole in the federal budget, the church budget, or the family budget. Most people would understand that as common sense.

But we’re also dealing with politics, not just economics, and politics will ride roughshod over common sense. As Thomas Sowell put it: “The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.”

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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.


  • Another absolutely spot on article, Mr. Couretas! You’re rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers–right up there with Thomas Sowell and Victor Davis Hanson (in their respective fields).

  • Roger McKinney

    Wallis is a dishonest theologian, too. He knows very well that the unjust laws Isaiah preached against were taking the private property of widows and orphans. The modern laws he rails against are taking other people’s money and giving it to mostly middle class Americans, not the poor.

    You will know them by their works, and Wallis can’t be honest about anything.

  • I suppose much depends upon how you define private property, Roger. The prophets’ warnings were in the context of Deuteronomy’s own warning that the Israelites held the land in trust from God and that he could and would take it away from them if they didn’t obey his laws, central among which were the commands about gleaning. Among other passages Isaiah had in mind may well have been Deuteronomy 21:24:

    “When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.”

    Did the grapes belong to the widows and orphans, even though they were grown on land which did not hold?

  • Roger McKinney

    Luke, no, the grapes did not belong to the widows and orphans. They belonged to the land owner whom God commanded to provide for the poor, but left the choice to do so to the voluntary actions of the owner.

    The Torah provides no agency or mechanism to enforce the poor laws. If the grapes belonged to the poor, then they could go before a court and demand payment. And God would have provided specific penalties for those who refused to obey the court orders.

    It’s very important to distinguish spheres of sovereignty when interpreting the Bible. God is sovereign over everything and owns everything, but that doesn’t mean that no one owns anything. In our vertical relationships with God, we are to act as if God owns everything we have, but our horizontal relationships between mankind, what we have a right to is very limited and ownership takes on very specific meanings.

  • Roger McKinney

    PS, reading the historical background of Isaiah it becomes clear that the princes of the land were bribing judges to steal the land and wealth of orphans and widows, just as God predicted they would when the people rejected the anarchy under the judges and demanded a king. Of course, anyone who would steal is not going to be very charitable either.

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