Jim Wallis offered his opinion on the government shutdown via YouTube on Tuesday. As it happens, I rarely agree with Jim Wallis, biblically or theologically. I did read his book On God’s Side and found myself agreeing with him on several issues pertaining to achieving what he calls “the common good.”
That aside, Jim Wallis and the so-called Evangelical Left (or is it evangelical Left) that he represents are generally Leftists first, evangelicals second. That is to say, the people who embrace this nomenclature (evangelical left), particularly Wallis, have allowed their political ideology- which happens to be very left of center, affect their religious beliefs rather than having their religious beliefs affect their political ideology.
This video proves that very point.
I agree with his assertion that most of the talk regarding the government shutdown has been political. The majority of it should be since by nature, government is political. But I don’t agree with his position that there is a theological problem regarding the partial government shutdown. There definitely is a moral problem that consumes our political culture and political class that’s responsible for- and has contributed to- the partial shutdown. No question in my mind about that. We can and should talk about the morality- or lack thereof- being a contributing factor to political discord and the current government shutdown, but we don’t need to discuss theology to do so.
According to Wallis, shutting down the government is, in his words, “unbiblical.” And to drive the point home, he repeats the assertion. To buttress his position, Wallis cites Romans 13, noting that government’s role is to protect its citizens from evil and to promote the good- labeling it the common good, which is a backhand promotion of his book.
Wallis then appeals to several other books of the Bible, saying that not only is government responsible for how they treat the poor but that divine judgment of government will be based on this treatment.
I happen to believe Wallis’ sentiment regarding government’s role as protector and the arbiter of good and by extension, the punisher of evil. I also believe in divine punishment for our actions- personal and corporate.
But he undermines himself by calling those he claims are responsible for the government shutdown, “political extremists.” He doesn’t specify who these “extremists” are but it’s very clear based on Wallis’ political persuasion and public history, that he’s clearly referring to congressional Republicans. Ok, fine, we all have our opinions.
But then Wallis gets away from himself. He asserts that these political extremists, or “these people,” who are against government are unbiblical for two reasons. The first is that “these people” want to “destroy the House and shut it down.” This is a flat out lie, period. The second is that because government has a biblical responsibility to care for the poor, and “these people” want to shut government down- by definition, they’re against poor people. That’s right- based on Wallis’ convoluted thinking- hostility to the government equals hostility to poor people and thus, it’s unbiblical.
Lastly he says that the political extremists are guided by ideology triumphing over what “we” label good theology (who’s we, btw?).
I’m sorry, but isn’t there something unbiblical about lying? I can’t imagine invoking straw men arguments is in keeping with loving one’s neighbor. I also don’t think that disingenuously projecting or attributing malicious beliefs or actions onto people with whom one disagrees, hardly qualifies as treating others in similar ways in which one wants to be treated.
I don’t remember Wallis invoking Romans 13 when Barack Obama pushed an unread bill that forced (taxed) Americans into purchasing an unneeded or unwanted product through Congress without bipartisan support. I also don’t remember him citing the directives against theft, coveting and envy when the president was campaigning for and receiving increased taxation on “the rich,” those who he incessantly demonized and maligned.
Where was Wallis warning or chiding the president and his party about the unbiblical nature of same-sex marriage as the president’s party undermined state and federal laws to push their ideological agenda? Surely that wasn’t biblical or sound theology. Although, Wallis would probably counter this proposition as being “sound theology” because he supports same-sex marriage, or “marriage equality,” claiming it is God’s way of “re-covenanting” marriage, whatever that means.
Why hasn’t Wallis articulated a theology of being created in God’s image and the directive against murder when the president’s party continues to worship abortion in the manner they do? Surely he sees and understands the effects abortion has on the poor?
Further, aside from Wallis intentionally distorting the situation on Capitol Hill, who exactly is against government? How does he know? What was said and when was it said that gave him the understanding that these “political extremists” are against government?
Where is it biblically stated or theologically understood that being against government- which again, is an intentional distortion- is being against the poor? Where did Paul say that? Where did Jesus say it? We can- and should- look to the prophets as Wallis asks. But the political and cultural context discussed and lamented in the prophetic texts is in no way similar to our political or cultural context, period. The poor in our context are rich by both biblical standards and by the world’s standards.
This doesn’t absolve us to give by any means, but it is reality.
For Wallis to conflate the notion of reduced government (which is what is actually sought) with being “against” or “hostile” to the poor isn’t just bad hermeneutics, it’s also bad theology and bad religion.
More specifically, it’s actually a transparent, ideological attempt to justify not only the size of government but the status quo of governmental dispensing of provisions to the poor.
Not many people are against giving to, or caring for, the poor. At the same time nowhere in the Bible is caring for the poor- or being our brother’s keeper- predicated or dependent on the government being the primary facilitator. Jesus and Paul both teach that we are to have a personal involvement in giving- which is relational in nature and spiritually edifying. The medium of government robs us of the subjective nature of giving, objectifying the recipients and destroying any interpersonal relationship that could potentially be gained.
“Giving” through government absolves us from the very spiritual act and responsibility of giving in that the government doesn’t “give” per se, it redistributes; and what it redistributes, it takes through punitive taxation through threat of fine or imprisonment. I would argue that the nature in which government “gives” is the cause and source of much resentment when it comes to providing for the poor through social entitlements.
Wallis is guilty of the same thing the Left is guilty of- using poor people as political pawns to obtain ideological objectives- and both couch those objectives in religion to give their motives credibility and cover. That’s a sin. To understand this biblically, people have intrinsic worth because they’re created in God’s image, not because of the potential political capital they may hold.
I would say to Wallis that being against government expansion isn’t the same as being against the poor; that’s a foolish, foolish argument. We are not called to give to the poor through the mechanism of government. Having government temporarily shut down, though inconvenient, can’t in this case be qualified as unbiblical or political extremism.
Wallis does a tremendous disservice to those who attempt to faithfully employ their religious convictions in the political arena by lying the way he does here.