In his reflections on Falwell's Legacy, Jim Wallis of Sojourners/Call to Renewal notes that "I am with him" regarding having what Wallis calls a "public faith." There is more in common between the work of the two men, who often debated, than even Wallis indicates.
Wallis in his commentary notes that Ralph Reed said that Jerry Falwell presided over the âmarriage ceremonyâ between religious fundamentalists and the Republican Party. Today Wallis seems to be trying to preside over a marriage ceremony between Christian social justice activists and the Democratic Party. Wallis has even served as the Democratic Party spokesperson in the weekly radio addresses featuring the President and someone designated by the other major political party.
The Sojourners/Call to Renewal annual "Pentecost" conference this year features a forum of three leading Democratic Presidential candidates - Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. Clinton and Obama are repeats from last year's Pentecost conference. Candidates representing alternative points of view from these very establishment candidates, whether they are Democrats or outside the two-party system, are not welcome at Wallis' forum.
The three candidates being featured by Wallis have a lot in common, including:
With the exception of support for abortion, generally the same was true for the politicians with whom Jerry Falwell associated. While both Falwell and Wallis have claimed to be prophetic, in fact both represent the Constantinian approach of associating with the power structure, which represents a fundamental compromise with the values of Jesus Christ. This is the opposite of being prophetic.
There does seem to be some difference in Falwell's approach and that of Wallis. Falwell tried on insist on certain things from the candidates whom he favored. Wallis appears to give support and comfort to the most establishment wing of the Democratic Party with no pre-conditions. The fact that their positions have so little in common with Wallis' stated values doesn't seem to bother him.
The issue about which Wallis talks most is poverty, although I've never seen from him a coherent platform to deal with it. I guess his association with Democrats relates to them speaking a better game on poverty than do the Republicans. What they actually do is much less than their rhetoric. In addition to their personal wealth and backing by the privileged, there is another key reason for their lack of effectiveness on poverty, eloquently expressed by former President Dwight David Eisenhower more than half a century ago:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
All these candidates support a larger military budget. This is the Democratic Party position. Democratic House candidates last year ran under a Party platform of six points, the first of which was increasing the size of the military. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid immediately after the election called for a $50 billion increase in the military budget. They are right in sync with the Republicans on that. The Democrat-controlled Congress has approved a budget which ratified the President's proposed military budget figure to the penny! There is literally not a dime's worth of difference between these two parties on this crucial issue.
For a professed follower of the Prince of Peace, Wallis is strangely silent on this. He has not been heard criticizing the Democratic Party's push for a larger military. Last year, Sojourners/Call to Renewal ran a major campaign proclaiming that Budgets Are Moral Documents. Well that is true, but Wallis' organization during this campaign never even mentioned where most of the budget was going - for wars and preparations for wars. While claiming to be for more going to help the poor, he wouldn't support a change in priorities from death to life.
I wonder if Jim Wallis is not a greater threat than Jerry Falwell was. I'm inclined to think that Falwell tended to influence mostly those who leaned in the direction of his politics anyway. Falwell's stated political priorities were mostly close to those of the candidates to whom he gave aid and comfort.
Wallis has often written and spoken like a social justice and peace advocate. Thus he has managed to attract many Christian peace and social justice advocates. But he seems to be trying to lead these good people into supporting establishment Democrats who represent very different values. He is nominally consistent life ethic, but the politicians to whom he gives a platform are mostly consistent death ethic. Thus I'm afraid he may divert many promising young Christians who feel a call to the Biblical prophetic tradition towards being workers for politicians to whom they should be speaking prophetically.