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The Left's Trinity of "Prophets" By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, March 05, 2009

Recently, Religious Left icon Jim Wallis preached about the virtues of Big Government to the already converted at Yale University’s chapel, from which the late chaplain William Sloane Coffin had inveighed against America during the tumultuous 1960’s and 1970’s.

“Change requires people of faith,” Wallis intoned from the pulpit in the style of Coffin, whose “spirit and…legacy live on,” Wallis later discerned. “If you have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed, you can move mountains.”

The “mustard seed” quote came from Jesus, who was referring to faith’s exponential power in building the Kingdom of God. Wallis, like Coffin before him, dreams of a different, more earthly kingdom, built around an expanded welfare state, socialized medicine, confiscatory tax rates, suffocating environmental regulation, and subordination of U.S. interests to international control.  For the moment, Wallis has made himself court prophet to King Obama, at least until the disillusionment sets in, when the prophet inevitably realizes that the monarch has fallen short.

As a prophet of Big Government, Wallis, as Coffin before him, preaches a gospel denuded of the transcendent and centered on political change. “It is time to start an adult Sunday school curriculum on economics from a biblical point-of-view,” Wallis unremarkably insisted to the Yale crowd, according to the Yale campus newspaper. That paper reported that Wallis “promoted the current economic crisis as an opportunity for change” and that the economy should be “restructured around Christian values” [i.e. statism],” which Wallis “claimed would shift focus away from greedy self-interest and onto the plight of the American poor.”

That Wallis should proclaim such bromides from Rev. Coffin’s pulpit is entirely appropriate. Coffin was also hailed as a prophet for wrapping the political clichés of left-wing academia into superficially religious pronouncements. For Coffin, the Gospel meant burning draft cards, running interference for the Viet Cong, demanding unilateral disarmament, apologizing for the Ayatollah, praising the Sandinistas, demonizing American presidents, and reliving old anti-war nostalgia by protesting against the Iraq War.  

In a recent column, Wallis waxed nostalgic about Coffin and another old Religious Left friend, Bill Moyers, the ordained Baptist minister who served as chaplain to the Great Society under Lyndon Johnson, and later as PBS prophet in residence. Apparently Moyers’ whole life was transformed thanks to Coffin’s powerful spiritual influence. While serving in the Johnson White House, still defending the Vietnam War, Moyers was confronted by a religion reporter who kept quoting from Coffin’s ostensibly theologically penetrating objections to the war. Flummoxed, Moyers demanded from aides a sheaf of Coffin publications, so as to understand the Yale holy man better. That night, as Wallis told it, Moyers’ “conversion” began.

Evidently Moyers first shared this story of “conversion,” as only a former Baptist minister can tell it, at a Washington appreciation dinner for Coffin several years ago before Coffin’s death in 2006. It must have been a spiritually potent evening, because other prophets were there, including prophetess Marian Wright Edelman, protector of the children, and Dan Rather, former truth teller of CBS. As Wallis recalled, Rather hailed Coffin as a “moral voice” who had deeply influenced Rather.  Then Union Seminary President Joe Hough hailed Coffin as a “prophet in our time.” Washington Episcopal Bishop John Chane chimed in with his own adulation.   But apparently it was Moyers who was most profoundly sculpted by Sloane’s radical left pseudo-religious activism. “The encounter with Coffin's prophetic critique was the beginning of Moyers own change of heart on Vietnam and, eventually, many other things,” Wallis momentously remembered, as though he were describing a visitation of the Holy Spirit. “The influence on Moyers was stunning to all of us in the room.”

Wallis regaled that audience of fellow prophets with his own nurturing in the Religious Left faith by Coffin. Wallis had been a “young evangelical with a growing social conscience had failed to find many in his own contemporary faith tradition to learn from.”  But Wallis, also thanks to his SDS activism, had discovered that “this liberal chaplain at Yale” was “more faithful to the gospel at the point of its social and political implications.” Indeed, Wallis was tearfully able to testify: “On the biblical matters of justice and peace, Bill Coffin was one of the most evangelical Christians of our time." That Coffin, like much of the Religious Left, did not believe in many of Christianity’s historic doctrines is irrelevant. He was politically left-wing, which trumps theological truth, as least for the prophets of the Religious Left.

Perhaps Wallis sees himself as the great Prophet Elisha, who was an anointer of kings (Obama?) was discipled by the more senior Elijah (Coffin?), and received of him a “double portion of his spirit,” before Elijah was swept into Heaven on his fiery chariot. Or is Bill Moyers actually Elisha? It’s hard to know who is who when so many prophets are still walking the earth.

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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