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Jim Wallis' New Gospel By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Sojourners chief Jim Wallis is leading a new “Great Awakening” in America, according to his new book by the same name. 
 
America’s first Great Awakening was in the mid-18th century, when revivalist preachers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield preached a Christian revival that won thousands of converts. Later great awakenings in the19th century likewise strove to win lost souls for Heaven. 
 
As the Religious Left’s modern “prophet,” Wallis is interested not so much in Heaven but in expanding the welfare state, restricting the free market, reducing American influence around the world, and apologizing for the Islamist tyrants and Marxist dictators who are ostensibly victims of American imperial overreach.
 
In his new book, Wallis envisions a new Great Awakening” in which America’s religious believers, especially its evangelicals, abandon their conservative beliefs in favor of his own proposed pathways to a secular utopia. Great Awakenings of the past fueled support for abolitionism, child labor laws, and women’s suffrage, he observes. Now he wants his awakening likewise to mobilize religious support for causes of the left that he believes are the moral equivalent of fighting slavery and guaranteeing civil rights.       
 
Wallis recently told The United Methodist Reporter that he hopes to enlist a new generation of “abolitionists to “apply their faith to some of the biggest challenges that we face, like the moral scandal of poverty, the degradation of the environment—that’s a huge issue for them, global warming, Darfur, other human-rights violations, HIV-AIDS, malaria, pandemic diseases. And the need for a new foreign policy more reflective of our best values, that doesn’t see war as the exclusive method or way to fight evil in the world.” 

As Wallis explained, “When politics fails to address—let alone resolve—the biggest moral issues of the time, these social movements rise up. And the best ones have spiritual foundations. It’s happened before; I think it could be happening again.”
 
Wallis once identified more clearly with the Religious Left. He was a young organizer with the radical Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s. In the 1980s, he touted the Sandinistas and other Marxist liberationist movements. As recently as 1996, he condemned the Clinton administration for endorsing welfare reform.
 
But realizing that the old Religious Left was becoming nearly politically irrelevant, Wallis shrewdly focused as evangelicals and portrayed himself as a new “moderate” alternative to the Religious Right. “I don’t think the country is really hungry for a Religious Left to replace a Religious Right,” he equitably told The United Methodist Reporter. “They’re hungry for a moral center, which isn’t a mushy midpoint between the extremes. That’s kind of bland and boring. It’s more a, ‘Don’t go left, don’t go right. Go deeper.’” 

Wallis senses a “new agenda here that would challenge the selective moralities of the right and the left.” And as a newly refashioned “moderate,” he is generously offering to place himself at the head. “A lot of young evangelicals think Jesus probably would care more about the 30,000 children who will die today because of poverty and disease than he would about gay marriage amendments in Ohio,” Wallis piously intoned. 
 
At once, Wallis repeated his usual canard that “poverty and disease” are simply one government check away from elimination and that prudish conservative evangelicals care only about abortion and same-sex marriage. Contrary to his supposedly new moderate image, Wallis still shares in the Religious Left assumption that the poor are poor only because others are rich and greedy. But the default position for most of humanity has been poverty. Escape from it has always depended on economic growth, property rights, honest government, and limited taxation. All of these depend upon restricting the power of the state. In contrast, Wallis’ brand of old-time Social Gospel equates Christian compassion with unlimited expansion of the State.
 
As to Wallis’ broad assumption that conservative evangelicals have cared only about sex issues, he relies on Religious Left stereotypes, not reality. Religious conservatives were instrumental in backing the Reagan defense build-up, in championing human rights behind the Iron Curtain, in opposing Liberation Theology, in lowering taxes, in supporting welfare reform, and in prioritizing human rights promotion in U.S. foreign policy. Wallis and the Religious Left were largely, and loudly, on the other side on nearly all these issues. His professed concern about Darfur, while admirable, contrasts with his near indifference to the same Sudanese Islamist regime’s war against mostly Christian Sudan, which resulted in two million dead over 20 years.
 
Defeating Soviet communism and resisting radical Islam, both of which have murdered millions, have been the great moral issues of the last three decades. Religious conservatives fulsomely addressed both; Wallis and the Religious Left, blinded by their captivity to pacifism and guilt over Western Civilization, have been largely silent about both.  
 
Instead, Wallis and the Religious Left would prefer to talk about global warming. “It’s been very interesting to watch how this issue has just grown in the last decade,” Wallis enthused in his interview with The United Methodist Reporter. “I noticed 10 years ago there were new environmental initiatives coming from young evangelicals. The only sign of that most people saw was this campaign, What Would Jesus Drive? Now you have people like Rich Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals. Rich is like the prophet Amos. This is like a conversion for him—an epiphany.”
 
Yes, accepting the Left’s worst case, apocalyptic scenarios about global qarming has become the new “epiphany or definitive conversion experience. Wallis reports that he senses a “real calling, a real passion for being a revival preacher and doing justice revivals across the country.”   
 
But neither the Hebrew prophets of old, nor the Christian revivalist preachers of American history, defined their revivals in political terms, much less in the statist and neo-socialist terms that Wallis and the Religious Left prefer. For the legitimate prophets of God, social justice began with personal repentance before the Almighty, about Whom the “prophetic” Wallis rarely if ever speaks.


Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.


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