Thursday, November 09, 2006

bsking and terri...

...made interesting comments under the Jim Wallis post. What to do? Do I stay in that comment section, trying to spark interesting discussion that 10 people will read, or go to a new post, which 30 people will read? Easy.

On the issue of the Religious Left in general and Jim Wallis in particular, I have located at least three earlier posts:When I Say Religious Left , That Religious Left That Doesn't Exist, and Jim Wallis In Sunday School. The second is quite long, as I got carried away with trying to nail down my point with massive evidence rather than write simply.

I will repeat some from those posts here. We hear a lot about the Religious Right, and there certainly are some folks who assume that political conservatism is a natural outgrowth of Christianity. Their shortcomings are oft-documented and familiar to us all. The Religious Left is claimed to not exist, or not exist in the same way. But every mainstream denomination is dominated by people of liberal political leaning. If their reasoning were new or based on consistent applications of Whole Scripture, I would be reluctant to dispute with them, as their study of Scripture and theology far exceeds mine. But I find that when they give evidence for why their political beliefs descend from the teachings of Jesus, they just recite 1960's liberal crap. That I can see through, having come out of that fever swamp myself.

As an example, every year when the Covenant puts out its missions and outreach material about helping the poor, there are always educational sheets about why we need to increase the minimum wage, with arguments taken directly from the DNC; statistics about how rich Americans are, not with an eye to encouraging giving so much as to claim that one person's wealth creates the poverty of others; and much advocacy of governmental redistribution of wealth, as if that were the same as charity.

So terri, I would say that your observation is correct, and there is certainly much to narrow one's eyes about with the Religious Right. But we are not in much danger of not hearing about it. The traditional media inundates us with it. The Religious Left is a Stealth Left however, controlling the enormous resources of the mainstream denominations. The Methodists (UMC) had scandal after scandal in the 80's and 90's about giving money to advocacy groups in other countries that were in turn giving it to the communists to buy weapons. Not that that stopped the Methodist hierarchy. It dervies from the whole idea that these people were "for" the poor, while the others were "against" the poor, and so gee, isn't it obvious that Jesus wants us to be for the poor?

In fact the fates of the rich and the poor in a society are far more closely related to each other than either is to the middle class. Job creation and public works are largely a result of creating wealth. Not possessing wealth, as by inheritance or actions of decades ago, but of creating wealth in the here-and-now. The fates of the new rich and the poor are perilously intertwined.

The Religious Left is absolutely convinced that what they think is what Jesus wants. They simply choose language that appears at first glance to be moderate and considered, but upon closer examination, is appallingly absolutist. See the comments of Copithorne in the previous Wallis posting as an example. He is not unusual. These folks really believe that the interests of the rich and the poor are diametrically opposed, that the Biblical call to peace means foremost to refuse war, etc.

Bethany, I have little doubt that your brother thinks Jim Wallis is next to God, so I would recommend you tread gently. Even though I think the company he keeps may lead hims astray into class warfare rather than actually helping the poor, I know Tim to be enormously sincere. I believe he will be one who will chart a new course, not caring a fig for liberals or conservatives, but drilling down to what actually works, and I would not take his liberalism from him, as I believe it will be an essential part of his greater work. Eventually, he will be charmed by what actually results in people having food and housing, rather than charmed by who says sympathetic things about the poor.

I have two objections to Jim Wallis: 1. He does not answer his better critics, but contents himself with claiming that his worst critics are selfish bums who hate the poor. He has been at this a long time, and has been challenged and refuted by thinkers of equal sincerity and compassion. He does not answer their challenges. He just keeps accusing his opponents of bad faith, rationalization, and non-adherence to the Gospel. Judge for yourself. Read Sojourners, his major forum of expression, and you will come away with the impression that here is a man of great sincerity and compassion, who wishes to apply the Gospel to real events. Then go over to First Things and see what they offer. All of a sudden, Wallis looks like a shallow, strident, Socialist Lite, still stuck in the 1960's.

2. My related objection is that he misrepresents what those who disagree with him believe. He picks out easy targets, low-hanging fruit, and thinks he has proved his point. He plays hardball against Little Leaguers and slaps hands all around when he strikes out the side.

Odd analogy: I have gotten into the pointless discussion with the King James Version Only crowd about textus receptus, how the Good News translation denies the Blood of Christ, and all the rest. No factual evidence will sway them, because their faith in Christ is tied up with their faith in the Old Ways Of Doing Things. They cannot make that separation. Because God is able to preserve one set of documents and highlight one set of translators, and they think that God would want to do that, they therefore believe that He has done that. They believe that God ordained the KJV, and to doubt that is to have inadequate faith and doubt God's power.

Wallis does the same thing with 60's liberalism. He highlights some verses and ignores others in Scripture, comes to the foregone conclusion of what earnest young seminarians believed in 1965, and thinks that to reject that is to reject the Gospel.

7 comments:

jw said...

To me, my objection to Wallis is that he pretends to be a peace maker offering a way to join the right and the left. His book claims to offer a union of the left and right.

Yet, all of his actions are pro-left. All of his writing is pro-left. There is no union here, there is no attempt to listen to the right.

I'm a centrist ... I am very interested in both the left and the right. Wallis offers me nothing.

bs king said...

Good points all AVI. I'm curious though, when's the last time you talked to Tim? Wallace offered him a job (actually a couple times) and he's turned him down, in part because of some of his issues with Wallace and the organization. Additionally, Tim and I never tread lightly around each other when it comes to faith and politics.

My point previously about Wallace was one from my own experience. I enjoyed him on the first read through because he didn't like the same things about the right that I didn't like. For someone born post-1980 with no perspective on the 60s, that was appealing. Then second time I read God's Politics however, I focused on what he was actually proposing, and I discovered I didn't like that either.

To digress for a moment, the pastor of my church makes the excellent point that frequently in cultural/ethical battles, the problem is most often that the two sides are arguing subtley different issues. Ex: Pro-choicers make abortion about choice and women's rights. For pro-lifers, it's about whether or not abortion is murder. The problem arises when they try to equate the arguments...i.e. pro-choicers saying that the pro-life movement is anti-woman.

To relate it back, when I hear Wallace criticized, it still takes me a minute to remember that you're not saying that the "low-hanging fruit" on the Right are right. What you are saying is that Wallace is wrong. I wish that I could see that clearly from the get go, but for right now, my age and upbringing make it difficult to do so. That's why I'm practicing patience before responding to things that make my blood boil too quickly. That whole perspective and hearing what people are saying rather than what you want them to be saying thing is one hell of a lot harder to master than anyone ever warned me it would be.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Interesting about Tim and Wallis.

We mentioned before about how your background at CCHS put you in contact with many people who were reflexively conservative because they were sure that was what God commands. And some of them were idiots, which you gradually came to learn as you grew older. It's hard forever after to believe that many conservatives have really thought things through.

And of course, the day you decide to give them another chance, some bufflehead will cross your path claiming that liberals are demon-possessed, reminding you why you quietly slipped out the back door of this restaurant the last time.

bs king said...

You'd be fascinated to know I'm sure that it was one of Wallace's more liberal characteristics that turned Tim off of working for them. The big criticism is that Sojourners has a sub par internship program, because Wallace spends more time being a figurehead than a trainer. Tim's current organization believes that this is all wrong (and criticizes the civil rights movement as a big example of a movement that should have spent more time training new leaders, and less time focusing on one or two charasmatic individuals). From what Tim's told me, the heads of his organization are required to spend a large amount of time with the "next generation" workers, and they expect to have trained Tim and the others enough so that they could, in theory, be running things themselves in a couple years. They discourage their heads from working over 40 hours/week. They very much shun the thought of figureheads and charasmatic leaders. Tim loved that, and felt Sojourners was lacking that. The fact that this is revolutionary in the nonprofit sector relates very interestingly back to your theories about Dems being personality based, no?

As for my background, I've given those points a lot of thought since you first brought them up. It's true. Luckily for me, my general misanthropy has made it clear to me that bufflehead-ism popultates both sides of the political spectrum. Stupid buffleheads.

terri said...

Charismatic leaders....perhaps it's just my own theory, but, I find that the more charismatic a leader is, the more likely they are to experience some sort of tragic fall. Ted Haggard comes to mind. Perhaps it is their ability to empathize and connect with people that draws them into precarious situations that usually disintegrate quickly.

Anytime I come across a christian leader who is followed with such devotion and loyalty I begin to worry. Power, especially in the church, can be a dangerous thing. But, I digress.

I do think that many liberal social causes had their roots in christian thought. Slowly over time people forget the origins and all of a sudden it's the secualrist left that thought slavery was unjust, and not the religious abolitionists. Government will never be "christian," but that doesn't mean that we can't try to influence it to do the most good for the most people that it can.

lelia said...

Man, I skip looking at you for two days and you write a book of a blog.
I was once into Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. I became disaffected for a variety of reasons and then I started reading Thomas Sowell who used to be a marxist. Maybe Tim should read some of his books, I'm trying to think what he should start with. How about the one with Economics, Politics and Race in the title, though I can't remember the exact order.
It's official. I'm going to Rwanda after Christmas on a fact-finding tour and relationship building time to determine the best way I can teach widows and orphans how to put together efficient and nutritious kitchen gardens. I'm trying to learn kinyarwanda which is a fun language.

Jonathan Wyman said...

That KJV discussion is mind-numbingly awful. There is no fact that can penetrate. CCHS probably would have driven me to raving leftism if I had not stumbled upon National Review. Witty, urbane conservative discussion that did not begin and end with the KJV was so refreshing.

Bethany- interesting about the Wallis internship. I can see how that style would be a real turn-off to someone like Tim.