Posts tagged with: jim wallis

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
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Why listen to the new Radio Free Acton podcast? Because you’ll have the opportunity to hear news analysis before old media gets around to reporting it.

Here’s a case in point. In the inaugural January 11 edition of Radio Free Acton, I say the following:

I think what’s resonating with people in Michigan is Mike Huckabee as an example of what’s being called the “new evangelicals.” The mainstream media has really missed this, I think, because they’re associating “new” evangelicals, young evangelicals, with the so-called evangelical “left,” like Jim Wallis. What they’re missing there is Huckabee’s stalwart stance on traditional social conservative issues like abortion and gay marriage. And what differentiates Huckabee and new evangelicals from the so-called Religious Right traditionally is focus on other moral issues such as stewardship of the environment and international development and these sorts of things. So it’s really an evangelical “moderate” [category], which covers a lot of young people who are just as conservative on life issues as their forebears, but have a lot of concerns across the board in terms of public policy.

It’s two whole days later that the New York Times reports, “Huckabee Splits Young Evangelicals and Old Guard.”

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Blog author: jballor
Thursday, May 31, 2007
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Jim Wallis: “I’m believing more and more that politics alone cannot overcome poverty and our other great social problems.” (See also: Pentecost 2007, featuring Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama.)

But, since the Sojourners forum isn’t the pulpit, Tony Campolo should have no problem with it: “It is time for us to name the hypocrisy of the Left in complaining about how the Religious Right is violating the first amendment while turning a blind eye to their own candidates’ use of churches as places to campaign.”

And for just how different the social gospel is from the Christian gospel, see Joseph Loconte: “The Christian confession of faith, by itself, offers no guarantee that either individuals or societies will be transformed. But, for believers, not even the smallest steps forward can be taken without it.”

There is clearly a "Christian Left" growing among evangelicals in America. We have heard a great deal about the "Christian Right" for more than two decades. I frequently critique this movement unfavorably. But what is the Christian Left?

The Christian Left is almost as hard to define, in one certain sense, as the Christian Right. And it is equally hard to tell, at least at this point, how many people actually fit this new designation and just how many potential voters this movement really represents. Is there real political power in this movement? Time will tell. It seems to be a small right group now but the movement is clearly gaining in terms of public notice. It is especially appealing to some evangelical Christians who draw a lot of attention to a select set of issues that they have linked to the Bible in a certain way.

There can be no doubt that since the 2004 presidential campaign  this movement has grown in popularity. It is becoming increasingly outspoken in how it frames the political issues of the day in terms of Christianity. The father of this movement is Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, a magazine read by several thousand. Wallis is also the author of one of the most misnamed books I know: God’s Politics (Harper, 2006). If someone my age and background wrote a book with this title I think I would be maligned for my sheer audacity and incredulity. But Wallis is a kind of hero among many young zealous Christians thus his title seems quite acceptable to them. His book is a manual of solutions and social views that represent an activist role for government in solving the issues of poverty, education, and international peace. In fact, if one issue represents the core of Wallis’ interpretation of Scripture it is the issue of ending, or at least of drastically reducing, poverty. (more…)

German theologian and philosopher Michael Welker describes in his book God the Spirit (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994) the biblical relationship between the prophet and majority opinion:

The prophet does not confuse truth with consensus. The prophet does not confuse God’s word with the word of those who happen to hold power at present, or with the opinion of the majority. This is because powerholders and the majority can fall victim to a lying spirit—and this means a power that actually seizes the majority of experts, the political leadership, and the public (88).

He previously outlined some of these lying spirits that have dominated recent decades. Welker writes,

“Water and air are inexhaustible natural resources”; “Dying forests are not connected industrial and automobile emissions”; “With permanent armament we are making peace more secure!”—those were some of the many astoundingly public opinions of the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s that, as has become clear in the meantime, can be ascribed to a lying spirit (85).

But if we were to ask what is the increasingly dominant opinion of the experts, the political leadership, the media, and the public of the ’00s, what would the answer be?

I have little doubt that the answer is, “Human beings are causing global climate change.”

After last week, we even have a clear “consensus” opinion on human-induced climate change from the Supreme Court. But while Welker himself might be inclined to concur with this particular opinion rather than those of previous decades, his warning about the dangers of consensus are well-taken.

And those who have taken up the prophetic mantle of climate change, like Jim Wallis and Rev. Richard Cizik, would do well to heed Welker’s words.

What does it truly mean to be “prophetic” about the issue of climate change? Does it mean the partnering of the Evangelical Climate Initiative with the Union of Concerned Scientists?

Or might a “lying spirit” behind the “consensus” position on climate change? How are we to tell?

Scripture itself gives us a pretty good rule of thumb to discern the spirits. In Deuteronomy 18:14-22, we read the answer to the question, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?” Verse 22 contains God’s answer to the people’s question about discerning the true prophet: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”

So with this in mind we might have an avenue to respond to the sorts of predictions and claims about climate change popularized most notably by Al Gore. The advocates for government action to combat human-induced climate change ought to provide a specific set of predictions and criteria for the verifiability of their claims. Let them decide in which predictions they have the most confidence and which are the most easily provable. Give us a set of clear benchmarks for the next 1, 2, 5, or 10 years. Then perhaps we can begin to judge whether the prophets of climate change have “spoken presumptuously” or not.

But to demand such explicit and verifiable criteria is to expose what is perhaps the greatest weakness of the theory of human-induced climate change: its patent lack of testability. It is at once a theory that can account for any and all future climate contingencies, and is therefore really no theory at all. It is a theory of everything and of nothing.

In the most recent Interfaith Stewardship Alliance Newsletter (April 5, 2007), Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, adjunct scholar at the Acton Institute and spokesman for the ISA, links to a story that includes the following quote from an organizer of a mountain-climbing expedition intended to bring attention to the problem of global warming (which had to be canceled because of low temperatures): “They were experiencing temperatures that weren’t expected with global warming,” Atwood said. “But one of the things we see with global warming is unpredictability.”

Beisner writes,

Re-read that last paragraph and let its epistemological implications soak in. Now literally everything constitutes evidence for global warming. Something you predicted? It’s evidence for global warming. Something you didn’t predict? It’s evidence for global warming. Something you couldn’t possibly have predicted? It’s evidence for global warming. Can you spell tautology? American Heritage Dictionary gives as its second definition, specialized use in logic: “An empty or vacuous statement composed of simpler statements in a fashion that makes it logically true whether the simpler statements are factually true or false; for example, the statement Either it will rain tomorrow or it will not rain tomorrow.” Likewise tautological: “If what we predict happens, that’s evidence for global warming; if it doesn’t, that’s evidence for global warming.”

That of course is the beauty of the favored phrase “climate change,” because that term doesn’t necessarily imply warming or cooling. It could be either. And perhaps in some places neither, since we are so consistently reminded that these changes are really regional phenomena.

As so many of our scientifically-minded friends have been more than ready to remind us in the context of other debates, this raises the question: If it isn’t verifiable, is it really science?

And the theory of human-induced climate change isn’t science, what is it and what are the implications for the political debate about action to combat climate change? Welker gives us fair warning that the answer to the former question might well be, “A lying spirit.”

John Armstrong’s thoughtful post below reminds me of the critiques of Jim Wallis offered in this space, here, here, and here (by Armstrong himself).

And over at FirstThings today, Joseph Bottum, courtesy of David Brooks, gives me a term that I hadn’t encountered and that serves well as a moniker for the phenomenon Wallis embodies: “beyondism.” As in the effort (or rather the claim) to “get beyond” partisan polemics. As Bottum astutely observes, the program of the beyondist usually can be summed up thus: “The way to get beyond the liberal/conservative divide is for all of you on the other side to agree with me.”

Now there’s a sense in which I’m in favor of beyondism, meaning two sides coming to agreement so as to progress toward a shared goal. The key point is that those in favor of a given policy must accomplish two things: articulate the desired end in a way that shows that both sides are striving for a common goal; and convince opponents that the policy in question will better achieve progress toward that goal than the alternatives. The problem with beyondists is that they attempt to short-circuit this process by ignoring the imperative to demonstrate the superiority of their advocated policy and, instead, try to achieve consensus (or at least neutralize opponents) by rhetorical flourish—i.e., “My program takes us beyond the old divide of right and left.”

Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks challenges perceived mainstream social orthodoxy in his new book, Who Really Cares: America’s Charity Divide – Who Gives, Who Doesn’t and Why It Matters. For generations it has been assumed that political and social liberals are generous towards the poor while conservatives are proverbial tightwads. At least since the days of Charles Dickens’ Scrooge this has been the popular view. Liberals continually remind us that they are the ones who really care about welfare since they promote the grandiose government solutions to the problem.

No one should doubt that government has a role to play in finding solutions. Private charity cannot do it all. But the question has always been what role government should have and how the solutions it creates should be paid for and then properly delivered. I believe government does best in this area when it administers welfare at the local level, where people know people and thus get involved with them personally. When welfare comes from a large bureaucratic government trickling downward through numerous agencies it repeatedly fails to accomplish what is promised. This is one reason why the Clinton reforms worked so well, even though there are still problems to solve.

Brooks challenges conventional wisdom about who really cares for the poor, showing that it is conservatives who give more to the needy. Each year, he notes, conservatives give 30% more to charity than liberals. And the more religious people are the more charitable they are likely to be. Believers are actually 57% more likely to help the homeless, for example, than secularists.

All of this leads me back to my observation above. Modern liberalism has come to equate compassion with large-scale federal solutions through government run programs. This has eroded a sense of personal responsibility and leaves many liberals out of touch with the truly poor and weak among us. (There are numerous exceptions thus I say “many” and not all.) We will have no sense of responsibility for our neighbor if the government is to do the job for us by using taxpayer money. And, as the National Review recently noted, “When conservatives say that low taxes and spending should be supplemented by a safety net that is privately funded, they put their money where their mouth is.”

In short, this research by Arthur Brooks underscores why I am repeatedly unimpressed with the solutions offered by Sojourners and Christians like Jim Wallis. Their heart is in the right place for sure. And they rightly remind us that the prophetic witness of Scripture matters profoundly to serious Christians. But what they mistakenly do is equate larger government involvement with actual solutions to the problem. I suggest a great gathering of religious conservatives and progressives might go a long way to airing out these differences for much good. I would love to see the good folks at Sojourners, and parallel conservative groups, stage such a meeting. The present stalemate, between the ideologies of the two political parties and their advocates, has created a false sense that each side clearly knows the real answers to these complex social and economic problems. I believe that we can have both free markets and morality. In fact, I believe this is the only way that we can retain personal freedom and social justice joined with real compassion and concern for the poor that will make a long term difference. Christians can do better and leaders ought to seek such solutions.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

As a follow-up to John Armstrong’s post, I point you to this excellent response to Gerson’s article by Joe Knippenberg at No Left Turns (HT: Good Will Hinton).

Knippenberg raises the relevant question whether “the ‘new evangelicals’ he describes will have sound practical judgment to go along with their decency and moral energy.”

I think it’s true that the potential is there for the “new” evangelicals to go the Jim Wallis route, who is proclaiming the election as “a defeat for the Religious Right and the secular Left,” which leaves, you guessed it, the Religious Left.

On this eve of the mid-term elections in the United States, it’s worthwhile to reflect a bit on the impetus in North American evangelical Christianity to emphasize the importance of politics. Indeed, it is apparent that the term “evangelical” is quickly coming to have primarily political significance, rather than theological or ecclesiastical, such that Time magazine could include two Roman Catholics (Richard John Neuhaus and Rick Santorum) among its list of the 25 most influential “evangelicals” in America.

When the accusations came to light about Ted Haggard, which led to his resignation from the National Association of Evangelicals and eventual dismissal from New Life Church, the first instinct by many was to see this as primarily a political event. Late last week James Dobson said of Haggard, “It appears someone is trying to damage his reputation as a way of influencing the outcome of Tuesday’s election.” Perhaps the timing of the charges did indeed have political motivations, but Haggard’s admission of guilt carries with it implications that reach far beyond mere politics, into the realm of the spiritual.

It should be noted that after Haggard’s guilt came to light, Dobson did say that the scandal had “grave implications for the cause of Christ,” and Pastor Larry Stockstill, head of the oversight board in charge of Haggard’s investigation, said “that politics played ‘zero’ role in the haste of the process that led to Haggard’s removal, and that the oversight board received no political pressure from anyone.” But even so, the fact that Haggard has been portrayed as a political heavyweight (with access to the President) and the National Association of Evangelicals has been called “a powerful lobbying group,” rather than an ecumenical and ecclesiastical organization, speaks volumes. (more…)

Blog author: jarmstrong
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
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We have had a book called God’s Politics, by Jim Wallis. Now we have one called The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted, by Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. Does anyone on the Left, who so freely decries the Right for their excessive claims to truth, ever stop to think that they have no more claim on God’s truth than the Right does?

While the Left assaults the Right for partisanship they continue to produce books that tell us “how to rediscover the true revolutionary nature of Jesus’ teachings.” The hubris in such a claim is quite staggering. Hendricks spends most of this book arguing that the two primary culprits in our lifetime, men who both attacked the true revolutionary teaching of Jesus, were Ronald W. Reagan and now George W. Bush. Surprise, surprise!!!

Former moderate Republican senator John Danforth (MO), an Episcopal priest, gets a lot closer to the truth in his new book, Faith and Politics: How the “Moral Values” Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together. Danforth suggests that it is simply wrong to equate “faith with political agenda.” The Right has done its fair share of equating God’s law with their politics for the past twenty-five years but the Left was doing this for fifty years before the Right decided to join the partisan parade that now badly polarizes America.

The sad reality is that the Left now acts like they have always held the moral high ground and the Right is thus a movement filled with self-righteous idiots who want to take over America for God. I sure wish these folks would talk to the intelligent conservatives I converse with day-to-day but they often choose to focus on a few public figures in the Christian media (Falwell, Robertson, et al.) that are not true representatives of thoughtful and serious conservatism. (It is much easier to demonize your opponents than to face hard and serious issues honestly. Just accuse Republicans of not caring for the poor and the game is over if you buy this approach.)

I am sometimes asked why I am not impressed with Sojourners magazine and the editor, Jim Wallis. My answer is that when Wallis endorses this kind of book by writing, “In The Politics of Jesus, Obery Hendricks articulates a critical prophetic message that interrogates our nations politics according to the values of Jesus…. This book is a must-read for everyone who seeks to understand and live out the revolutionary implications of following Christ,” I am frankly staggered by how much he lacks credibility as a Christian thinker or serious political voice. And he claims, cleverly times ten I would add, that “God is not a Republican.” I agree! But Mr. Wallis, please, God is not a radical liberal Democrat either!

A touch of humility in all of this public philosophical debate would be a helpful step toward fruitful discussion among Christians. I have a number of real friends who disagree with me politically but the reason they remain my friends is that they treat me with respect. I think I return the favor. I wish people on the Right and the Left would stop this kind of moral triumphalism. It is poison to the nation.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Yesterday the Detroit News ran an op-ed in which I argue that corporate America should apply the fundamental insight behind President Bush’s faith-based initiative and open up their charitable giving to faith groups, since they “often provide more comprehensive and therefore often more effective assistance than purely secular or governmental counterparts.” A number of large corporate foundations either explicitly rule out donations to faith groups or refuse to contribute matching funds to them.

One of the advantages to liberalizing the corporate playing field is that such an effort would avoid potential church-state and constitutionality issues that have plagued the president’s plan. It could also potentially de-politicize charitable giving, which has become a hot topic especially in light of the recent charges levelled by David Kuo (who now blogs here, conveniently enough).

A brief side note: I had to stifle a laugh when I read Jim Wallis’ reaction to Kuo’s book. Wallis concludes that we must “beware of those who would manipulate genuine faith for partisan political purposes.” Amy Sullivan, a guest blogger on Wallis’ Beliefnet blog, posting at Faithful Democrats, writes that “at some point, being a person of good faith shouldn’t get you off the hook, it should require something of you.” Hello, pot? This is the kettle calling…

In any case, for those that are interested, after the jump I have posted a longer version of my commentary on faith groups and corporate giving, complete with links to relevant external sources. (more…)