In Body Politic, but Not in Spirit

THE DISPUTATION

By David Klinghoffer

Published April 15, 2005, issue of April 15, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Reverend Jim Wallis, editor of the idiosyncratically Christian journal Sojourners, has spent the past 30-plus years advocating what he calls “a progressive and prophetic vision of faith and politics.” His latest book, “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong,” has struck a chord, spending 11 weeks so far on The New York Times’s bestseller list. Since John Kerry’s presidential candidacy suffered from the Massachusetts senator’s inability to speak in a convincing way about the relevance of faith to his leadership goals, the idea has been floated that Wallis could be the one to illuminate for Democrats a spiritually influenced path to the White House in 2008.

Is that notion remotely realistic?

To be sure, Wallis emphasizes that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, and he even blasts “liberal secularists who want to banish faith from public life and deny spiritual values to the soul of politics.” As he asserts in “God’s Politics,” the agenda truest to the authentic politics of the Bible would include both liberal and conservative solutions to domestic and foreign-policy problems.

On the topic of war, for example, Wallis adduces the support of Micah, his “favorite prophet of national security.” Micah looked forward to a time when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” From the passage — which, incidentally, describes the messianic era not our own — Wallis learns that the key to reducing the threat to peace from Islamic terrorists lies in giving everyone his own vine and fig tree: “If the tremendous gaps on our planet [between rich and poor] could be leveled out just a little, nobody would have to be so afraid.”

The most scripturally supported case he presents is on the subject of poverty. Wallis counts 3,000 biblical references to the plight of the poor, many of dubious relevance, such as Amos’s “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteous like an ever-flowing stream.” He praises an outfit called Bread for the World, “the Christian hunger organization, [which] does some of the best work on Capitol Hill, focusing the energy of faith communities on budget priorities for hungry people around the world.” True, it is clear that the Bible wants us to care for the unfortunate.

When he comes to abortion, the practical political purpose behind his book is made explicit. As Wallis points out, “A respect of conscience on abortion and a less dismissive approach to conscientious dissenters to Democratic orthodoxy would allow many pro-life and progressive Christians the ‘permission’ they need to vote Democratic.”

On the wider topic of sexuality, he quotes with approval the view of a Duke Divinity School professor: “Let us stop fighting one another, for a season, about issues of sexuality” and instead “call the church to fasting and prayer in repentance for the destruction our nation has inflicted upon the people of Iraq.”

If Democrats follow Wallis’s lead, the tone of their next national convention will certainly differ from this past year’s. Often, his rhetoric sounds like an exaggeration of the Bible-thumping style associated in the red-state imagination with hardcore fundamentalist preaching. Thus “when the government offers to take away our vulnerability” by claiming that terrorism can be defeated, this “borders on idolatry.” When President Bush pledges to “rid the world of evil,” a task reserved for God, this “borders on idolatry or blasphemy.” Taking “unilateral” action against Saddam Hussein was an act “bordering on the idolatrous and blasphemous.”

Padded with sermonizing, the book is weighted heavily toward such extreme off-putting rhetoric. When it comes to interpreting the Bible, Wallis is ineffective in other ways.

On the question of poverty, none of his scriptural quotations indicates who God wants as the party primarily responsible for that care. Can it really be that God is most pleased when, instead of digging into our own pockets to help the needy, we use the power of taxation to force other people to dig into their pockets? Jewish tradition, at any rate, emphasizes the importance of each individual voluntarily giving away 10% of his after-tax income to private charities.

As the national-security argument from Micah suggests — the one where the definition of a just war excludes even a struggle against an admitted peril “to the entire world” — Wallis’s purported left-right fusionism dissolves into a wholesale conceding of philosophical and political ground to the hard left.

On abortion, his idea of being “anti-abortion,” as he puts it, would oppose “criminalizing an agonizing and desperate” decision — the classic position of pro-choice advocates. On same-sex marriage, conventionally thought of as a family-values issue, he would grant civil unions — gay marriage under a different name. For the churches, or the country, to “stop fighting” over sex would mean institutionalizing the gains the left has already made in normalizing behaviors once considered corrosive of society’s moral health.

His political outlook, in short, is straightforward left-wingery dressed up in phrases — “national security,” “anti-abortion,” “family values” — associated with conservatism.

One could imagine an aggressive politician like Senator Hillary Clinton taking a lesson from “God’s Politics.” Yet there is little reason to think that Democrats will rescue their electoral prospects by disguising familiar arch-liberal policies in Christian-flavored language. Liberals may figure conservative Christians for fools, probably because they have met few if any live specimens.

The truth is that conservative evangelicals are plenty smart enough to see through a charade of piety. Even Kerry, who could have adopted the full Wallis stance if he’d wished to do so, was shrewd enough to intuit that.

David Klinghoffer is author of “Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History” (Doubleday).






Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.