Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Liberal Christians still too Christian for the Left

I will admit a certain preoccupation lately for the way the media and other lefties depict Christians, although I had previously assumed that they confined their mistreatment to conservative Christians. But it seems that even liberal Christians are heretics to the left-wing gospel. (Hat tip: Blue Goldfish)

Jim Wallis is a Christian, the founder of Sojourners (and editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine), and holds the sort of political positions that would make Michael Moore proud. Just take a look at this list. Democrats have apparently invited Wallis to help them figure out how to reconnect with the evangelicals in "Jesusland."

So what is it about him that still freaks out lefties? It's that God thing.

Writing in The Nation, columnist Katha Pollitt takes a look at Wallis's recent book God's Politics -- and at Wallis himself.

I admit I approached the book with a bit of an edge, having just seen the new film version of The Merchant of Venice, in which the callous anti-Semitism of the Venetian smart set is rendered with unusual vividness. This led me to further gloomy instances, from the Crusades and the Salem witch trials to the Magdalene laundries and the anti-evolution policies of the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board. After all, the case for Christianizing progressive politics is not just about quoting the Bible more, or framing healthcare as a religious value. It's about lowering the wall between church and state, giving churches more power, more rights and more taxpayer money.

Whoa! I mean, after that opening, is there any reason to read the rest of the column? But, she's just warming up.

The argument in favor often boils down to majority rule--most Americans claim to be devout Christians--but that's actually the argument against it. Look what Christians did when they had the chance! Preventing religious wars and godly tyranny was the original purpose behind the Founding Fathers' ban on the establishment of religion, and subsequent history has hardly outmoded their wisdom.

Okay, this is standard "wall of separation" boilerplate. I'd poke away at it, but I won't because Pollitt piques my interest a few paragraphs later.

Wallis's God calls on Christians to fight racism, poverty, war and violence--what's wrong with mustering support for these worthy goals by presenting them in the language spoken by so many Americans? The trouble is, the other side does that too. You can find anything you want in the Bible--well, almost anything. Thus, the more insistently people bring Christianity into politics, the more political argument becomes a matter of Christian hermeneutics. Does God say gays should be executed or married? "Spare the rod" or "suffer the little children"? I don't see how we benefit as a society from translating politics into theology. We are left with the same debates, and a diminished range of ways in which to think about them. And, of course, a diminished number of voices--because if you're not a believer, you're out of the discussion. In this sense, Wallis's evangelicalism is as much a power play as Pat Robertson's.

She really makes me want to read Wallis's book. I, too, worry about the combination of politics and faith, not because I think Christians shouldn't hold public office or have a voice, but because I think power brings with it strong temptations. I have also known too many people who think that becoming a Christian means becoming a Republican, and vice-versa. This close association can sometimes create a false impression that God is a Republican.

But Pollitt's chief complaint seems to be that, for all of Wallis's liberalism, he fails the one litmus test of the left. He opposes abortion -- and on religious grounds.

Wallis often points out that the Bible mentions poverty thousands of times and abortion only a few. I'm not sure what this tells us--first we eradicate poverty and then we force women to have babies against their will? But in any case, Wallis is wrong: The Bible doesn't mention abortion even once. Wallis cites the text antichoicers commonly use to justify their position: "For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb" (Psalm 139:13). Say what? Nothing about abortion there, pro or con. Nobody who wasn't sure that somewhere in the Bible there must be a proof text against terminating a pregnancy would read that meaning into these words.

That so many Christians are firmly persuaded that the Bible condemns abortion suggests that God's politics tend to be the politics of the people who claim to speak for him.

If Wallis was a non-believing liberal, he might get a pass. But he argues for liberal policies from a Christian worldview, and this makes him no different than conservative Christians who use the same religious framework.

Pollitt would rather have none of this God stuff -- not even if it supports her own politics.


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