Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How Far Left is Evangelical Left?

Last week I wrote from a politically conservative Christian point of view on the missing Evangelical concern for a common biblical concern: oppression and the oppressed.

Well, lo and behold, the next day Jim Wallis writes on the same subject but from his politically leftist Christian point of view. ("What is 'biblical politics'?" is on his God's Politics blog, Sept. 15, 2011.) I call his position "leftist" rather than "liberal" because it seems to go well beyond anything that a liberal Democrat in Congress would say, Christian or otherwise. Notice also that he calls it "biblical politics" in general. To Wallis, that's all that politics is about. Or so it seems.

If Wallis is left of the left-wing Democrats, where is he? As a starting point, compare these two statements.


I was talking the other day to a Christian leader who has given his life to working with the poor. His approach is very grassroots — he lives in a poor, virtually all-minority community and provides basic services for low-income people. He said, “If you work with and for the poor, you inevitably run into injustice.” In other words, poverty isn’t caused by accident. There are unjust systems and structures that create and perpetuate poverty and human suffering. And service alone is never enough; working to change both the attitudes and institutional arrangements that cause poverty is required.

Here is Marxist liberation theologian, Gutavo Gutierrez:

Charity is today a ‘political charity’ . . . it means the transformation of a society structured to benefit a few who appropriate to themselves the value of the work of others. This transformation ought to be directed toward a radical change in the foundation of society, that is, the private ownership of the means of production. (A Theology of Liberation [Orbis, 1973]; p.202)

Granted, Wallis also says some biblical things, but mixes them with the same radicalism:

This is what the Bible teaches us. The scriptures reveal a God of justice, not merely a God of charity. Words such as oppression and justice fill the Bible. The most common objects of the prophets’ judgments are kings, rulers, judges, employers — the rich and the powerful in charge of the world’s governments, courts, economies, systems, and structures. When those who are in charge mistreat the poor and vulnerable, say the scriptures, it is not just unkind but also wrong and unjust, and it makes God angry. The subjects of the scriptures’ concern are always the widow and the orphan, the poor and oppressed, the victims of courts or unscrupulous employers, debtors whose debts need to be forgiven, strangers in the land who need to be welcomed. And the topics of the prophets’ messages to the powerful are things like land, labor, capital, judicial decisions, employer practices, rulers’ dictates, and the decisions of the powerful — all the stuff of politics.

But then later he comes back to the radicalism:

But biblical politics is never just about the candidates either, and some have made that mistake in recent elections. Putting one’s hopes in political candidates and parties has only led to disappointment, frustration, and dangerous cynicism. There are systems and structures that undergird and shape the limits of the political agenda, and challenging those limits to get to root causes and real solutions is always the prophetic task.
He also pours scorn on private charity. It leaves the powerful accountable. It's hopelessly inadequate to the task and it does not address the root of the problem: structures and systems, and nasty capitalist swine.

So is Jim Wallis a Marxist? A secret Marxist? That may be going to far. But what I can tell from these passages, there is more Karl Marx mixed in with his view of politics than he is willing to admit. The same thing happens on the political right, of course. Many Christian conservatives espouse elements of Enlightenment liberalism that I think are incompatible with a Christian view of the world. From what he says about me in the foreword to my book, Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (a foreword for which I am grateful), Jim Wallis sees me as part of that philosophically compromised group. "At times in this book, Innes sounds much more like Ayn Rand, the Russian atheist and apostle of the virtue of selfishness, than he does Jesus Christ" (p.11). You can read the book and decide for yourself.

To read up on Wallis's history with Marxism, read Ronald Nash, Why the Left is Not Right (Zondervan, 1996). To read Wallis's account of politics and of his turn to what he claims is a third way that is neither left nor right, read The Soul of Politics (Mariner Press, 1995).


Anonymous said...

Your article now has an Error not found message. Interesting. It was there earlier in the day and I tried sending the link to a friend to read and poof, gone.

David C. Innes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David C. Innes said...

It was little over the top. I could have used another day to think about it. It didn't say what I really meant it to say. That's why we have editors.