Jim Wallis and Barack Obama: On Common Ground

by Joel McDurmon

This article is an abridged version of my 30-page REPORT:
“Obama’s Agenda Inside Evangelical Churches
For the full 30-page FREE report, click here.

Religious thinkers and activists like our good friend Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo are lifting up the Biblical injunction to help the poor as a means of mobilizing Christians against budget cuts to social programs and growing inequality. — Barack Obama

On August 16, 2008, Pastor Rick Warren hosted sequential cross examinations of Barack Obama and John McCain. He asked hardball questions that are of major interest to members of Protestant evangelical churches. He forced them to talk straight about the evangelicals’ agenda. This is as it should be: bi-partisan cross examination. They came to his party; he did not come to theirs.

This is completely different from ideological allies of either Obama or McCain coming into local congregations and promoting their candidate’s agenda in the name of the Bible, when in fact the Bible teaches the opposite of what their candidate says he stands for.

Yet this is happening today. To perceive what is going on, evangelicals had better be aware of three things: (1) what the Bible says regarding some crucial issues; (2) what the candidates are saying on these issues; (3) who these candidates’ allies are inside the churches, and how they are misusing the Bible to promote their candidates’ positions.

I begin with Barack Obama. His allies are more forthright, and they have maintained their positions for years. It is not so much that they are outright promoters of Barack Obama. It is that they have long been promoters of ideas that he espouses, and he just happened to win the nomination this year. Whether he wins or loses, his allies will continue to promote these ideas in the churches. That is why evangelicals need to understand who the allies are, and what they are promoting in the name of the Bible.

When liberal commentator “Rev.” Barry Lynn heard that Obama accepted Warren’s interview, he lamented it as a “big mistake” and said, “Barack Obama should not have agreed to do this.”1 Why? What do religious leftists like Lynn fear that Obama might say? We can’t be sure, but from what he already has said we get a pretty dark picture. What follows is a report of how liberal religious leaders have promoted and continue to promote their agenda in the name of the Bible.

The Audacity of Deceit
Baptizing the leftist political agenda in Christian language is nothing new. For theological liberals it has been the norm for a century, ever since the liberal philanthropist John D. Rockefeller began financing the “Social Gospel” movement in the 1890s. Rockefeller was enamored by the liberal preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick; he made him a Trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation and also hired his brother Raymond who subsequently ran the Foundation for forty years. In return for Fosdick’s services Rockefeller funded the construction of the famous Riverside Church in New York which has since been described as “a stronghold of activism and political debate throughout its 75-year history.”2

Continuing the wedding of liberal politics with a Christian façade, the latest minister of Riverside Church, Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, was invited to address the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Hardly a Forbes talk goes by in which radically liberal politics is not wrapped up in the swaddling clothes of twisted Bible passages. While speaking at an Awards ceremony for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Forbes called the Bible “homophobic” and said that “the institution of marriage is in danger of losing heaven’s endorsement” if the United States does not affirm and sanction gay marriage.3 Continuing the tradition of leftist politics, Forbes calls for every measure of government welfare under the guise of “Human Rights” and appeals to the Bible’s concern for poor to support government taxation. When U. S. political policies do not line up with his agenda, he accuses us of national hypocrisy. Reading the well-known passage from Matthew 7—“Judge not . . .”—Forbes adds, “Sounds like that is addressed to the United States of America.”4

Everyone has heard about Obama’s mentor and pastor of 20 years, Jeremiah Wright, who ended his pro-black-power racist preaching career with the cry “God damn America.” The media furor that followed has since waned, but in the midst of Obama’s scrambling for damage control his admiring church leaders did not flinch. Forbes himself defended, “Some of us wish we had the nerve that Jeremiah had. . . . We praise God that he’s saying it, so the rest of us don’t have to.”5 To nearly everyone who is not defending a radical agenda, Wright crossed a line so far as to warrant some kind of church and perhaps even civil discipline, but again the leftist church leaders spin: “I think if a person is a prophet and he’s not seen as ever crossing a line, then he has not told the truth as it ought to be told.”6 In this precarious logic, does the end justify the means? If a man is a prophet then a line must be crossed somewhere. Granted, Biblical prophets often did buck popular trends, but this does not mean that everyone who causes public unrest represents the voice of God. If Forbes’ line-crossing logic applies to Jeremiah Wright, then Osama bin Laden is the greatest prophet of our time.

So here is exactly the deceit of the social Gospel: the end is always to advance the liberal political and social agenda no matter what package it comes in. In whatever ways Scripture, tradition, and reason must be mangled and wrested to fit this agenda, the liberal leaders, theologians, seminaries and preachers stand ready with whatever color wrapping paper and bow the season calls for. For them, it is not God’s Word that matters, but the leftist agenda. To them, however, God’s Word is useful for giving the appearance of God’s approval for the leftist agenda.

The Hope of Evangelical Audacity
It is old news, however, that leftist politics is the core message of the liberal churches. A somewhat more recent and more frightful development was the wedding by some evangelicals of liberal politics with Biblical language. Beginning in 1977 with the publication of Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, the liberal politics of guilt-manipulation began sweeping through evangelical churches, seminaries and especially colleges.

While Sider’s rhetoric, originally verging on marxism, has changed considerably over the years (after reams of criticism), his core belief that government must redistribute wealth and provide welfare remains central to his continued publications.7 Worse yet, he has several popular and quasi-evangelical clones including Bill Clinton’s former spiritual counselor Tony Campolo, and the editor of the liberal magazine Sojourners, Jim Wallis.

The subtitle of Wallis’ New York Times Bestseller God’s Politics,8 provides some insight into Wallis’ agenda: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. Do you catch the subtle innuendo? Reading the book will make it clear. While Wallis makes the point of saying that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat—appealing language to the non-denominationally minded—his conclusions always end up sounding decidedly leftist, especially on economic issues. Wallis’ prejudice is clear: the Right is wrong when it speaks of religion, but Leftists (so far) have only been asleep to the possibility of leveraging religion. In other words, the Left needs only to wake up to the opportunity of hijacking religious language for the furthering of its goals. Wallis is not at all shy in fusing his leftist politics with religion: “Democrats must get religion on the budget,” he writes.9 This is Obama’s agenda, too. He says, “[I]f we don’t reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, then the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and Alan Keyeses will continue to hold sway.”10

It is clear that there exists a growing trend of liberal activism in the guise of evangelical language. Obama is afraid that the left will “forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice.”11 He doesn’t want religious language to speak for itself; it needs a liberal “progressive” interpreter. Wallis is on the job, and your church is his target. Once again, this is the deceit of the social Gospel, only it is the Social Gospel II, or the New Social Gospel. It is being repackaged as an evangelical hope, and it is just as audacious as its predecessor. . . .

The “Common Good”
Wallis and his leftist idols including Obama continually talk about the “common good.” Closely related to the hijacking of religious terminology, “the common good” is a way of looking religious and deceiving religious people into signing up, yet denying the Bible itself any mention that is not already censored and sanctioned by the socialist agenda. So when Wallis seems to speak boldly for the faith when he refers to “prophetic politics,” he immediately smothers the idea under a leftist pillow: “We must find a new moral and political language that transcends old divisions and seeks the common good. . . . Prophetic politics would not be an endless argument between personal and social responsibility, but a weaving of the two together in search of the common good.”12

Question: how does individualism survive any “weaving together” with mandated social programs? Exactly. To the extent that government grows individual liberty shrinks. This is the clever trick of “common good.” Who can argue against the “common good”? Are you saying you prefer the “common evil” or the “uncommon good”? That’s unchristian! Then whenever a program is put forth as “for the common good,” you must either vote for it or declare yourself public enemy number one. Wallis defines it in softer language: “new civic partnerships in which everyone does their share and everybody does what they do best.”13 The attentive student will hear Karl Marx ringing in the background, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” Yes, it was the great father of modern communism’s visionary banner unfurled over a society where “In a higher phase of communism society . . . all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly.”14

That Wallis is pushing the left’s agenda and code language is again obvious. Obama says, “Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality.”15 This really means evangelicals must leave the foundation of their religion outside the doors of city hall, and Obama is honest about this: “Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice.”

That is the leftists’ answer: “We have no choice.” The vaunted side of pro-choice is anti-choice when it comes to Biblical faith being explicit. They want the name “Biblical faith,” and they want the voting appeal of “Biblical faith,” but when it comes to actual policy-making the Bible must be removed from the table. It must be replaced by “the common good.”

What you will never hear them ask let alone affirm is this: “Are less spending, lower taxes, and minimal government involvement in the common good?” This question is never asked because it is antithetical to the left’s platform which Wallis pushes. One reviewer notes, “I have never read an issue of Sojourners without finding at least one (and usually many more than one) demand to increase the power and scope of the state.” The author continues in an open letter to Wallis, “[T]here is no one in the world of organized Christianity who has championed Leviathan more than you. I have come to believe that you oppose U.S. conflicts not so much because they are immoral, but rather because they take resources away from the government’s being able to wage war on productive people at home.”16

In fact, Wallis (ironically and ignorantly) even calls cuts in the size of government “draconian.”17 (“Draconian” comes from “Draco” who was the first legislator of Athens. His laws were famous for prescribing harsh penalties, often death, for minor offenses. “Draconian” refers to too much government, not reductions in government power.)

What about explicit Biblical commands, are those for the common good? How about, “You shall not steal”? That’s obvious; but could we say, “You shall not steal through legislation”? Is that stretching it, or does that fall under “enacting evil statutes” (Is. 10:1)? Wallis cannot remain Biblical and continue to argue for unequal tax burdens and government confiscation of wealth. The Bible demands no theft, which means no financial favoritism of any kind (it fully means no income tax or social security tax at all, but that’s for a different report).

What? Is the Bible against the poor as Wallis blames conservative Christians? Solomon doesn’t think so. Even when a poor man steals out of hunger, though men might be tempted to sympathize, God, Solomon says, yet considers that a punishable crime: “Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is hungry; But when he is found, he must repay sevenfold; He must give all the substance of his house” (Prov. 6:30–31). This is because laws should not be written to favor either the rich or the poor.

This is why Wallis and his colleagues always talk about “common good” and undefined “biblical principles.” This has been the strategy since Ron Sider first began dousing evangelicals with guilt in 1977. Even though affirming God as sovereign over every area of life, we are continually told that the Bible provides no “blueprints” for society. Sider wrote, “We do not find a comprehensive blueprint for a new economic order in Scripture . . .”18 Wallis echoes, “The Bible doesn’t propose any blueprint for an economic system. . . .”19 The matchless critic David Chilton had the proper response:

This, of course, means that Sider is free to devise his own blue-print, while using vague “biblical principles” to justify his thesis to the Christian community. Sider’s blueprint calls for socialistic redistribution of wealth and government intervention—a blueprint not countenanced in Scripture, but which Sider claims to find in the fact that “biblical revelation tells us that God and his faithful people are always at work liberating the oppressed, and also provides some principles for apropos justice in society.”20

Wallis concurs: the Bible has no blueprint, “but rather insists that all human economic arrangements be subject to the demands of God’s justice, that great gaps be avoided or rectified, and that the poor are not left behind.”21 Neither Sider nor Wallis say where the Bible allows government to extract private money for these causes (it doesn’t), nor do they even compare their “biblical principles” to the blueprint provided in Old Testament law (yes there is a blueprint there). Sider has since replaced his appeal to “Biblical principles” with the more sophisticated sounding “holistic Biblical vision” and “normative framework,” and yet continues his slogan, “[T]he bible does not offer a detailed blueprint for political life today.”22 Nevertheless, we are left with Chilton’s conclusion (a good one) that these men are merely using the Bible to advance leftist social agendas. There is no other explanation.

This transparency does not stop these men from fighting for their cause. Anyone who opposes their view and cites particular Scripture verses as “normative” or proposes a different “framework” they simply label as “theocracy”23 or “theocrats.”24 Wallis warns that these theocrats are found among “the Religious Right’s leaders” and they “would impose their versions of morality on the nation if they ever had the chance.”25 The laugher holds great irony. It is the Biblical view which seeks to minimize the size of government intervention in our lives and hopes to maximize prosperity through honesty and freedom. Meanwhile, Wallis wants to “impose” a government that extracts vast quantities of private wealth and manage a behemoth network of welfare agencies. “Theocracy” by any Biblical definition makes Wallis’ leviathan look like a Soviet Corrective Labor Camp.

Meanwhile, the preachers at the church Obama spends so much time in have a little different view of whose ground is common. The liberal Catholic priest, Michael Pfleger, who has at times filled the pulpit in Jeremiah White’s absence, has a strong racist beef. To whites who say, “Don’t hold me responsible for what my ancestors did,” he prescribes this:

But you have enjoyed the benefits of what you ancestors did! And unless you are ready to give up the benefits—throw away your 401 fund, throw away your trust fund, throw away all the money they put away and company you walked into . . . unless you’re willing to give up the benefits, then you must be responsible for what was done in your generation. . . !26

What Pfleger proposes fits very squarely into Wallis’ “Biblical principles.” Turn over rich white money and give it to poor black folk. This would certainly eliminate a gap and alleviate some poverty for a while. Is this a just proposal? How can we judge if it presents “common ground” or not? If the Bible provides no blueprint, then who does? And why should we respect their blueprint? If Pfleger is sitting across that table from you, you’d better hope that Biblical law arbitrates that discussion, else the compromise might get painful to listen to.

So when these new social gospellers say “common ground” they really mean that they want your ground to be held in common. You give ground and they’ll tell you how you can use it. You write the check and they’ll spend it. “Common ground” is a liberal’s dreamscape where Biblical monuments are leveled (Deut. 19:14, 27:17) and wealth flows into the coffers of the State where liberals can spend it (minus 20% for administrative fees). When you hear common ground think of a drawbridge inviting an invading army into your castle. Wallis wants to cross the moat of Biblical boundaries. He calls, he promises, he cries, “Peace, peace.” The bridge is yours to lower. Or not.

Eric Rauch is the Director of Communications for American Vision.

Are you interested in leaving a comment on the American Vision blog related to this article? Click here to type in your comment directly into the blog.

3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jj2tnZEtJO4, accessed August 19, 2008.

4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4_La_nL1oQ, accessed August 19, 2008.

7 Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in American, 2nd Ed. (Grand rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007 [1999]); The Scandal of Evangelical Politics: Why Are Christians Missing the Chance to Really Change the World? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008).

8 (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005)

10 Barack Obama, keynote address at Call to Renewal’s “Pentecost 2006: Building a Covenant for a New America,” June 28, 2006; available at http://obama.senate.gov/speech/060628-call_to_renewal/, accessed August 20, 2008.

11 Barack Obama, keynote address at Call to Renewal’s “Pentecost 2006: Building a Covenant for a New America,” June 28, 2006; available at http://obama.senate.gov/speech/060628-call_to_renewal/, accessed August 20, 2008.

12 Wallis, God’s Politics, 75–76.

13 Wallis, God’s Politics, 76.

14 Karl Marx, “Critique of the Gotha program,” Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, ed. Lewis S. Feuer (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1959), 119.

15 Barack Obama, keynote address at Call to Renewal’s “Pentecost 2006: Building a Covenant for a New America,” June 28, 2006; available at http://obama.senate.gov/speech/060628-call_to_renewal/, accessed August 20, 2008.

16 William Anderson, “An Open Letter to Jim Wallis and the Sojourners Movement,” LewRockwell.com, November 17, 2004; available at http://www.lewrockwell.com/anderson/anderson107.html, accessed August 20, 2008.

17 Wallis, God’s Politics, 242.

18 Quoted in David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators: A Biblical Response to Ronald J. Sider, 3rd Ed. (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), 19.

19 Wallis, God’s Politics, 273.

20 Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, 20.

21 Wallis, God’s Politics, 273.

22 Ron Sider, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics, 42.

23 Jim Wallis, “Dobson and Obama: Who’s deliberately Distorting?” The Huffington Post, June 25, 2008; available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/dobson-and-obama-who-is-d_b_109193.html, accessed August 20, 2008.

24 Wallis, God’s Politics, 82.

25 Wallis, God’s Politics, 82.

26 Quoted in Freddoso, The Case Against Barack Obama, 162.

One response

  1. brandy

    Good 235rter2rwer23r

    September 12, 2008 at 9:10 pm

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