Friday, August 14, 2009

The Hypocrisy of Sojourners

A decade ago, Jim Wallis’ criticisms of the “Religious Right” seemed to me to have some merit. Here were some of his most telling points:

1. The Church qua Church should not be in politics. Evangelical churches that allow voter registration in services, that distribute voting report cards and allow Republican candidates to speak during the campaign risk allowing their primary mission of preaching the gospel to be compromised by their political involvement.

2. Conservative Evangelicals have sold their souls to the Republican Party and support it even when it is wrong for the sake of influence within the party. They thus have lost the ability or will to be prophetic and critical of the Republican Party. Not everything the Republican Party stands for is consistent with Christian morality.

3. The Religious Right is self-righteous and strident. It projects an attitude of “My way or the highway” and thus alienates sinners for whom Christ died who think the Church is not for them. People get tired of being hectored and lectured by self-righteous prigs.

4. The Religious Right does not bear a specific witness to Jesus Christ; it has embraced a bland form of civil religion that reflects the general culture rather than the Biblical gospel.

In my book Rethinking Christ and Culture, I took what I thought was a balanced approach to criticizing the failings of both the secular left and the secular right equally. And I tried to be critical of my own Evangelical tradition, as well as liberal Protestantism. I took some of the criticisms of the Religious Right from Wallis and others to heart and let them shape my thinking about faith and culture.

Now I’m sorry I did. Now I’m sorry that I let Wallis and co. make me feel guilty for being a conservative. I feel embarrassed that I fell for the line that Evangelicals are all wrong and that we should apologize for taking a stand for conservative beliefs and morals. I feel that Jim Wallis has let me down. In fact, I feel like I’ve been played for a fool.

He never was interested in developing a distinctly Christian position and most of those who hammered the Religious Right have now simply revealed their true colors as the Religious Left. I’m embarrassed because I should have seen it coming. What has happened to Sojourners over the past two decades is simply a repeat of history. Nineteenth century Evangelical Protestantism was invaded and distorted by theological liberalism imported from Germany and European socialism took the form of the Social Gospel movement that emptied churches, muted the preaching of the true Gospel and led to the dying hulks that dot the ecclesiastical landscape today called liberal Protestant denominations.

The latest e-mail blast from Sojourners contains further evidence, as if any more were needed, of the fact that the Religious Left has now become a perfect mirror image of what it once criticized in the Religious Right. Take the list above and apply it to the contemporary Religious Left. Change the names from Pat Robertson, James Dobson and Charles Colson to Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren. Then go through the list; they have imitated everything about the Religious Right that they once criticized.

1. Every e-mail urges congregations to distribute “how to vote” materials in their churches and when Barack Obama and other candidates for office speak in churches while on the campaign trail, Sojourners cheers them on and says “See, he is a Christian so you can vote for him.”

2. Wallis, Campolo and McLaren have totally sold out to the Democratic Party. You never hear a peep of criticism of either Obama or the Democrats without it being framed with an excuse. Every problem is the fault of “America” or “Conservatives” but the problem is never with Obama or the Democrats. Wallis and co. are deeper into the Democratic Party and more partisan than Robertson and co. ever were. I used to admire Wallis for being one of the few left-wingers to take a pro-life stand; but his uncompromising support for Obama shows how important abortion is to him today. Sojourners can't even stand up for marriage anymore lest their liberal supporters be outraged.

3. If you thought the Religious Right types could be moralistic scolds, just try listening to Wallis tell you what “God’s Politics” is! He knows and will enlighten the rest of us. The latest article by McLaren “An Open Letter on Health Care to Conservative Christians in the US” is a condescending, ad hominem attack on conservative Christians that does not debate the issues; it just directs conservatives to liberal websites where they are supposed to find enlightenment. But the idea that conservatives are interested in being made to feel guilty for holding to orthodoxy and traditional morality and for resisting the encroachments of an out-of-control federal government is just wishful thinking on his part. There is no reason for Evangelicals to listen to him anymore.

4. As for point four, just note that in the magazine and in his writings Wallis hardly mentions Christianity any more. It is always “people of faith.” Jesus is often mentioned, usually along with Ghandi. It doesn’t get much blander than this. The moral position from which Wallis operates is not specifically Christian, yet he tries to twist the Bible and the teachings of Jesus into supporting it. His overall worldview, however, owes more to the French Revolution and Jeremy Bentham than to the Bible or Jesus.

Sojourners has convinced me of one thing, however, and that is that you can’t live in this world without taking sides. It may be morally gratifying to take a position above the fray and to look down on all the poor benighted souls who are wrong in some way while you hover in the air never getting involved or taking sides. But it is not responsible or morally right. There really is a battle going on in this world between the Church and the forces of modernity and neutrality is not possible. Sojourners made its choice years ago and now conservative Christianity is its sworn enemy. I’ve made my choice too, but I’ve come down on the other side.


Andrew said...

Something from my hero (is it bad that I agree with just about every word he writes? ah well...), which I tend to like when I'm in a really polemical mood:

Being Scary

By Peter J. Leithart

Many among today’s media and political elites find conservative Christians frightening, and we quickly reassure them we’re just folks.

We want to carry on a culture war wearing a happy face. By trying to improve our image, we have squandered a blessing from God, the blessing of being scary.

Throughout Scripture, it’s a good thing when God’s people terrify the wicked. Yahweh promised Israel that "all the people of the earth . . . shall be afraid of you" (Deut. 28:10). Egypt drove Israel out because they feared continuing plagues (Exod. 12:33). Forty years later, Canaanites couldn’t stop talking about the exodus and trembled when Israel pitched camp in Moab (Josh. 2:8—11). David rejoiced that the same was true of his enemies (Ps. 8:45).

We find the same in the New Testament: that new Jericho, Jerusalem, was full of fear on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:43), and this became a "great fear" after Ananias and Sapphira died (5:11). No wonder. The apostate Jews were the new giants in the land, and the Spirit had just formed a band of "giant-slayers."

Terror is a proven evangelistic method. Like Rahab, the Gibeonites allied with Joshua because they were afraid of him (Josh. 9:24). When the Lord overturned Haman’s plots, "the dread of the Jews fell on all the peoples" of Persia (Esth. 9:2—3), and as a result "many among the peoples of the land became Jews" (8:17). The Jews didn’t wring their hands, fretting about their "negative" image. While the peoples of Persia melted in fear, the Jews enjoyed a day of light, gladness, and joy (8:16).
Christians can be scary for wrong reasons—because we lack self-control, or because we are foolishly militant, or because we are just plain foolish. The mere fact that we scare people doesn’t mean that we’re blessed. Godly fearsomeness is a product of faithfulness, a reflection of the fearful God who dwells among us.

We can do little to mollify these fears anyway. Calvin said the wicked are startled by a falling leaf. How much more will they be frightened of a faithful church.

mark E roberts said...

How have your changes of mind otherwise revised your arguments and/or conclusions in Rethinking Christ and Culture; and where have you detailed these (if enough to merit detailing)?