Thursday, December 15, 2005

On Jim Wallis, Progressive Christians and Hypocrisy at the Other End of the Political Spectrum

December 14, 2005, 115 religious activists were arrested in Washington for their protest of budget cuts to social programs in the U.S. The arrest was necessary because they refused to clear an entrance to a Congressional office building. The ring leader of these protests was none other than the darling leader of the religious left: Jim Wallis. In an effort to ride the tide of Wallis' movement to appeal for Christian votes for Democratic Representatives in the future, Representative Barbara Lee, D-California, is quoted as saying ""When you look at all denominations, you see a real commitment to address the needs of the poor, and here we have a budget that does just the opposite," in an article posted by the Detroit Free Press: 115 arrested in budget plan protest.

The problem with this gathering to protest "cuts" in social programs is that it is disingenuous and over-stated. The so called cuts will not cut anyone's social benefits, what it will do is slow the rate of funding increases for social programs. So, what aim does this protest really hope to gain? It hopes to usher in a media blitz to sell to America that Democrats are the party which cares about the poor and wishes to give them aid and comfort while Conservatives want to take food out of the mouths of the poor. Get it? Progressive Democrat Christians = good, Conservative Republican Christians = bad.

It is certainly not news that there is a concerted effort among Progressive Christians to promote the Democratic Party as the true compassionate Christian party, the party which cares about the poor, the diseased, the, to coin a phrase of a recent blog commentator I was debating recently, "last, the lost and the least." This past October 13-15 Values, vision and the via media conference promoted a Path to Action National Conference, I quote them here:

"Who speaks for "Christian Values" in America today? Does the Religious Right speak for all Christians or is there a progressive perspective on Christian Values that has been sadly lacking in the public discourse?

Since November 2004, progressive Christians across the country have been mobilizing to respond to those questions—organizing to claim their tradition, to work as a united front for social justice, and to publicly disavow the fringe radicals who have attempted to co-opt the name of the church in America.

Responding to that need "Values, Vision and the Via Media" was born. On October 13-15 at the National Cathedral in Washington DC this groundbreaking conference will reclaim the values debate from the Religious Right, exploring how Anglicans have historically made ethical decisions and take action in our Christian tradition."

Isn't it special that it took the re-election of George W. Bush in November 2004 to unite Progressive Christians to "take action?" Isn't it interesting that the Democratic Party suspects that Christians in America were the deciding factor in Bush's re-election, a suspicion which is debatable, and all of a sudden they are motivated to reach out to the Christian community to display how much they care about the values of Christians in America?

The Republican party certainly is a political animal as much as the Democratic party, and to be honest, I have even been considering changing my registration to one of an Independent rather than a Republican because I have difficulty in identifying with the politicized status quo of either party in the two party system in power in the federal government, but, I will have to give them this, though certainly by no means perfect, as none of us are, it is the Republican party which has championed moral values, ethical purity and responsibility in our Nation. Did Karl Rove covet the Christian vote in 2004? Certainly, he did! Karl Rove was able to work toward profiting from the Christian vote in 2004 because the Republican party was already the party identified as having moral values, ethical purity and responsibility, all that was needed of Rove was to promote the fact that that is, and has been the case. Democrats, on the other hand, have not been considered to be the moral, ethical and responsible party which best identifies with the Christian mission in recent years for a reason. Now, because they perceive the Christian vote is costing them elections, we are to believe that they care about Christian values? That they are moral, that they have family values, that they are not involved in as many ethical disputes as Republicans, that the party of Bill Clinton is the party of responsibility!?

Oh please!

So, what can we learn about the leader of this new Progressive Christian movement, Jim Wallis?
  • He is the editor of Sojourners magazine
  • An anti-war activist who berated American soldiers in Vietnam while never uttering a word of condemnation over the exterminations of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge.
  • Supporter of Nicaragua to the point of calling Americans who supported the Contras "terrorist sympathizers"
  • Founder of Call to Renewal in 1995 whose mission statement claims ""We do not promote any particular ideological method or partisan agenda," but which clearly espouses the political views of the left
  • A registered Democrat

According to David Horowitz's discoverthenetwork website, in a profile of Jim Wallis, found here:

"Just a month before the 2004 Presidential election, Wallis embraced a rabid partisanship that in form and content was indistinguishable from the venomous harangues delivered daily by the more animated Democratic Party loyalists. In an October 2004 anti-Bush diatribe for Sojourners called "The Religious Right Era is Over," Wallis (after making his obligatory point that "God is not a Republican, nor a Democrat") proceeded to make the case that religious believers should be deeply uncomfortable about voting for President Bush....Wallis further held that if Christian voters considered the war from a theological perspective, they would find it—and, by extension, the President who chose to wage it—unjust....

...This eagerness to enlist religion in the cause of bashing the Bush administration made Wallis a much sought-after interviewee in the days preceding the election....

...Democratic strategists and politicians turned to him as the man who could sell the Democratic Party to the coveted religious demographic. In January 2005, at the beginning of the Congressional session, Senate Democrats invited Wallis to address them in a private discussion. Meanwhile, some fifteen Democratic members of the House made Wallis the guest of honor at a breakfast confab whose subject, according to The New York Times, was devising ways to instill support for the Democratic Party into the hearts of the religious faithful. James Manley, a spokesman for the Senate Minority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, acknowledged that Wallis was actively working with the Democratic political leadership to lure religious voters into the party's fold. "He can help us communicate with the rising number of evangelicals in the country, which is right now a Republican constituency, but which Wallis argues could easily become part of the Democratic constituency as well," Manley told the Times." (emphasis mine)

So, since I have spent a good amount of my time in the last recent months having discussions with Progressive bloggers and the commentators at their blogs, some of whom I hold in deep respect, I spent some time this morning searching those blogs to examine the thoughts of Progressive Christians regarding Jim Wallis. None of them seem to view him as a political hack or a partisan tool of the Democratic party. They seem to believe that this past Communist sympathizer and anti-war activist is simply promoting God's true work, failing to see the political activism that lies behind his words. What they hate about the Republican party, their perception that the party has sold itself to the Christian community and has gained more confidence among the Christian community in America because of some political activism selling it as such, when actually it was more of an natural occurrence which the Republican party utilized, is what they champion in the personage and mission of Jim Wallis. Will they wake up to the fact they are being duped by a man who has been a political activist, anti-war, anti-freedom, anti-capitalism, American troop demonizer, partisan hack since the 60's who has recently repackaged himself, or tried to, as a loving, non-partisan Christian who merely seeks to do what Jesus would do, or will they continue to buy his rhetoric?

What is interesting is that I will admit that the Republican party used every possible means to reach out to a Christian community which already supported them to get the vote out in 2004, but they did not recreate themselves in an effort to sell their party to the Christian community, that is strictly a Democratic trait. Will Progressive Christians condemn the selling of the Democratic party as the "Party of Faith" in the same way they have condemned, what they have perceived as, the Republican party selling itself as the "Party of Faith" in an effort to gather the Christian vote, or do they reserve that ire only for the Republican party? I hear much gnashing of teeth from the Christian left, and from the Christian right concerning statements made by Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rev. Pat Robertson and Dr. James Dobson. Perhaps in this new Progressive Christian movement it will take some time before they recognize they have sold out to Jim Wallis in the way early Christian righters sold out to Falwell, Robertson and Dobson. Maybe a few years from now they'll realize that everything they despised about the Christian right they have become at the other end of the political spectrum.


Mini Me said...

Hi Jacke,

I read "bad christian" on occasion and thought I would hop over and check you out. You make some good, valid points although I consider myself 'progressive' and do not fit into any of the categories you mentioned. (I'm an independent and while I lean toward the 'Soujourners' side of things, I don't look at them as the last word on issues.)

It is interesting reading both sides, everyone is so passionate about 'their opinion'. Me, I'm just trying to figure it out and don't have any answers, just lots of questions.

I'll be back :-)

Jacke M. said...

I agree with you Mini Me, it is very interesting reading both sides! Glad you stopped by and look forward to your comments in the future! :)