Christians are frequently accused of conflating politics and religion. And not surprisingly, Christians like me are often frustrated by such claims. Whenever I hear such slurs my first inclination is to push back by asking who exactly can rightfully be accused of such confusion. Can they name even one person who does that?
And then I remember, “Oh yeah, there’s Jim Wallis.”
In the 2004 presidential election season, Wallis’ group, Sojourners, put out a bumper sticker with these words: “God Is Not a Republican, or a Democrat.” Wallis frequently repeats that claim yet he always makes it sound like God is a moderately pro-life Democrat. Take, for instance, his most recent claim that the government shutdown is “unbiblical.”
Wallis claims that those who support the government shutdown are “against government per se. They want to destroy the House.” The most generous thing that can be said about such a claim is that it is idiotic. But I can’t be that generous to Wallis because I know he is an intelligent gentleman. He’s not an idiot, he’s just dishonest. He knows that supporters of a government shutdown (and for the record, that does not include me) are not anarchists. Yet that is exactly what he is claiming. He knows it’s a lie and yet repeats the claim anyway.
His second claims is equally stupid. He says, “Because the government has a Biblical responsibility to care for the poor, they are against poor people. They get hostile to the poor because they are hostile to government. That’s also wrong. It’s unbiblical.”
By Wallis’ logic, opposition to the government of the Soviet Union was unbiblical since hostility toward a government is hostility toward the poor.
(It’s rather telling that Wallis has no problem with the government providing funding for abortions or forcing citizens to pay for abortifacients, yet thinks that laying off non-essential government workers is “unbiblical.”)
I couldn’t to a better job of countering Wallis’ claims than James R. Rogers has done, so I’ll quote from his devastating rebuttal:
Where to begin with Wallis’s argument? First, despite the rhetorical styling of a “government shutdown,” the national government is not shut down. Reports are that approximately 80 percent of those who work for the U.S. government will continue working during the “shut down.” That’s approximately 3.3 million Federal workers showing up for work out of a total of around 4.1 million. To be sure, non-essential parts of the national government funded through the annual appropriation process are temporarily shutdown, but wide swaths of the national government that are deemed “essential’ continue unabated, as are the parts of the national government not budgeted through the annual appropriation process. And state and local governments are largely unaffected as well.
Normally I’d take folks who speak of the government “shut down” as using short hand to mean “the temporary and partial shutdown of nonessential parts of the national government budgeted through the annual appropriation process.” Using a short-hand expression to refer to a more-complex reality is not a problem – even an acronym in this case would be unwieldy. (Referring to the TPSNPNGBTAAP really does not help matters.) But because of his next claim, Wallis seems to suggest to his viewers that the U.S. government has literally shut down. Wallis says that the shutdown is prompted by politicians who are “against government per se” and that “they want to destroy the house.” That the government has been “shut down” is the evidence Wallis draws on for his claim that extremist Republicans really want to destroy the entire national level of government in the U.S.
Rogers concludes by saying, “Despite Wallis’s claim to be advancing a ‘theological’ criticism of what’s happening, what’s happening in Wallis’s YouTube video is not theology, it’s ideology in theological clothing.” Indeed, Wallis long ago abandoned any theological credibility. For the past couple of decades he has used his role as “Christian leader” to provide a religious gloss to the largely secular agenda of liberalism.
Wallis provides a cautionary example of what happens when Christians get so involved in politics that they truly do begin to conflate theology and ideology.