March 28, 2005


Gospel for Both Sides of the Aisle: The evangelism of the Rev. Jim Wallis defies stereotypes: He preaches a conservative morality but condemns 'pro-rich, pro-war' views. (Teresa Watanabe, March 28, 2005, LA Times)

On a recent rainy night, an evangelical Christian preacher held 900 people spellbound at a Pasadena church. He roared about evil and sexual morality. He quoted Jesus and the Hebrew prophets. He shared his story of conversion, recalling the fire-and-brimstone minister who first drew him to Christ.

But the Rev. Jim Wallis, 56, saved most of his thunder for matters not typically found in evangelical Christian sermons: poverty, environmental protection and peacemaking. To Wallis, such issues are dominant biblical mandates that deserve as much attention as abortion, gay marriage and other hot-button issues.

"What's at stake is the meaning of being evangelical," Wallis told the crowd at First Congregational Church. "The monologue of the religious right is over, and a new dialogue has begun!"

Stout and silver-haired, Wallis is a longtime social activist, author and executive director of Sojourners, a Washington-based Christian ministry best known for its monthly magazine on faith, politics and culture. He confounds stereotypes of evangelical Christians by arguing for conservative social morality but a dovish foreign policy and an economic agenda focused on helping the poor.

Urging common ground, he has chided the right for views that promote "pro-rich, pro-war and pro-American" policies and the left for bowing to "secular fundamentalists" who dismiss the public import of faith. In the past, his views had gained a loyal but limited following, along with criticism. But intensified national debate over faith and politics since the November election has propelled Wallis to the forefront as a possible bridge between left and right.

All well and good except that he's trying to bridge a false dichotomy and differs little from a stereotypical evangelical in his concern for the poor. The FBI and Ownership Society are directed squarely at the impoverished.

That leaves only his willingness to accommodate foreign tyrannies rather than overthrow them. A perfectly legitimate politics but a dicey theology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 28, 2005 7:38 AM

Jim Wallis has been around for a long time - many of my college friends venerated him back before Reagan, when "Sojourners" was more popular than it is today.

One would think the events of the past 25 years might have changed his mind, but I guess not. If Jim Wallis wants to proclaim the Christianity of Jimmy Carter, have at it. But that type of faith, blind in even a literal sense, winds up embracing Kofi Annan, Castro, Chavez, Mugabe, and even Saddam Hussein.

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 28, 2005 8:38 AM

Generally speaking, I believe that the events of the past several years have prompted theologically right of center folks (such as myself) to re-examine and reform where necessary their theology and their views on issues such asstewrdship of the enviornment, assisting those in need and peacemaking. Regretably, this seems not to be the case for theologically left of center folks.

What is an evangelical? It is one who is "of the (gospel) good news". (Since it's good news as well, I'll take theo. lisence and include those "of the torah" as being evangelical.) If there's going to be theological dialogue amongst Jews and Christians (separatly and together) about how we can faithfull live out the good news of gospel and torah, then here are some questions for us to discuss:
What is the good news of the gospel?
What is the good news of the torah?
What does it mean for a Christian to faithfully proclaim and live out the good news of Jesus Christ in today's world?
What does it mean for a Jew to faithfully proclaim and live out the torah in today's world?

Posted by: Dave W. at March 28, 2005 10:21 AM

Much of my family is pacifist (being Mennonite). It is a difficult position to argue against if you wish truly to convince the pacifist.

The fact is that we must engage and convert our neighbors or else face death. Mennonites refused to engage their neighbors in the Ukraine and it resulted in communism. Ironically, that is exactly what they, themselves, preached except they paid for it with their lives in Siberia and the atheists took over.

Community is not the same as country. This is what confuses the likes of Jim Wallis.

Posted by: Randall Voth at March 28, 2005 10:22 AM

that type of faith, blind in even a literal sense, winds up embracing Kofi Annan..."

A love of thugs is nothing new. Back in the 80s I cut the few ties I had to the Anabaptist pacifist church of which I was nominally a member when they discovered that church teaching required one to venerate the Sandinistas, and then send churchmembers on Potemkin tours throughout Central America. Couple of years ago II heard that their website showed them among the leading churches in being opposed to removing Saddam. So nothing changed in the last few decades.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at March 28, 2005 11:56 AM

Dave W.,

Actually, Wallis did write a fairly soul-searching piece sometime after 9/11 that appeared in.... hmm, I forget where, but at any rate the rethinking certainly didn't have much lasting effect.

Posted by: Kirk Parker at March 28, 2005 12:59 PM

Randall: The sad truth is that, life being what it is, we don't actually need to convince pacifists of anything.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 28, 2005 1:10 PM

Randall: The sad truth is that, life being what it is, we don't actually have to convince pacifists of anything.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 28, 2005 1:12 PM