Jim Wallis: “Trump is operating in the spirit of the anti-Christ”

Wallis with politicians

Jim Wallis with John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama

Jim Wallis, the progressive evangelical leader of Sojourners, recently said in an interview with Publishers Weekly that Donald Trump “is operating in the spirit of anti-Christ.” (Wallis was discussing the themes of his new book Christ in Crisis : Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus).

I like Jim Wallis. I have never met him, but over the past two decades I have heard him speak at Messiah College.  I agree with him on many social issues and I share his evangelical faith.  I have written for Sojourners magazine.

At times, however, I think Wallis falls into the trap of mixing religion and politics.  Too often he wants to merely replace the power of the Christian Right with the power of the Christian Left.  I tend to follow University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter on this point.  Check out his chapter on the evangelical left in To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.  A taste:

When [Wallis] accuses Falwell and Robertson of being “theocrats who desire their religious agenda to be enforced through the power of the state,’ he established the criteria by which he and other politically progressive Christians are judged the same.  In its commitment to social change through politics and politically oriented social movements, in its conflation of the public with the political, in its own selective use of scripture to justify political interests, and in its confusion  of theology with national interests and identity, the Christian  Left (not least the Evangelical Left) imitates the Christian Right.  The message is obviously different, their organizational scale and popular appeal are different, and their access to media outlets are different, but in their framework, method, and style of engagement , politically progressive Christians are very similar to their politically conservative counterparts.

There is another point of similarity.  It is found in their relationship with the party system and the Democratic Party in particular.  With all sincerity, they aspire to broaden and deepen the values people bring to the political process.  But influence is never unidirectional in any relationship.  Given the resources of the Democratic Party and the special interests that drive it, there is little question that progressive Christianity is instrumentalized (or used as a means to an end) by the Democratic Party in its quest for power, just as conservative Christianity has been used for quite some time by the Republican Party. (p.147-148).

Over at The Anxious Bench, David Swartz, a historian of progressive evangelicals, shows us that Wallis’s strong criticism of Trump is fitting with much of his career as an evangelical activist.  Here is a taste of his piece:

It’s hard not to notice similarities in style between these radical evangelicals and the religious right. Both groups blurred lines between faith and politics. Indeed, this was precisely the point—to tie the sacred to the temporal so closely that the two were indistinguishable. Did Wallis and his comrades, who moved so contentiously into politics nearly a decade before the Reagan revolution, prefigure the political style of the religious right?

That’s probably going too far, but it does seem clear that Wallis’s most recent invocation of the anti-Christ is not a promotional ploy. It is an authentic and deeply grounded application of a profoundly felt theology that has been with him since the 1960s. It’s an attempt, as he notes in his twelfth book Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus, to ensure that “one’s identity in Christ precedes every other identity.”

Wallis’s rise to prominence was smoothed by his willingness to tamp down Manichean language. But during times of crisis—Watergate in the early 1970s, the rise of the religious right and the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s, and the Iraq War debacle and Islamophobia in the early 2000s—this more radical strain resurfaces. As Trump and white evangelicalism combine and self-destruct, there’s no question that we’re in another such moment now.

Read the entire piece here.

Progressive Evangelicals Revive the 1973 Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern

YMCA Wabash

The Wabash Avenue YMCA, Chicago

In 1973, a group of evangelical leaders gathered at the YMCA on Wabash Avenue in Chicago to affirm the Christian call to racial justice, care for the poor, peace, and equality for women.  The result of this meeting was The Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern.  The signers included Samuel Escobar, Frank Gaebelein, Vernon Grounds, Nancy Hardesty, Carl F.H. Henry, Paul B. Henry, Rufus Jones, C.T. McIntire, David Moberg, Richard Mouw, William Pannell, John Perkins, Richard Pierard, Bernard Ramm, Ronadl Sider, Sharon Gallagher, Lewis Smedes, Jim Wallis, and John Howard Yoder.

Historian David Swartz begins his excellent book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism with a discussion of this meeting.  I encourage you to read his extensive coverage of this important moment in the history of progressive evangelicalism.  I also highly recommend Brantley Gasaway’s Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice.

Forty-five years after this Chicago YMCA meeting, progressive evangelicals have reaffirmed the Declaration.  Here is a taste of “The Chicago Invitation: Diverse Evangelicals Continue the Journey”:

As diverse evangelicals, our faith moves us to confess and lament that we have often fallen short of the biblical values and commitments proclaimed in the gospel and affirmed in the 1973 Declaration. In addition to the 1973 Declaration, many diverse evangelicals, including women, African-American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, and Indigenous leaders, have put out strong statements that have often been ignored. Millions of people, especially younger believers, have left the faith during a time in which evangelicalism has become increasingly partisan and politicized. People on both sides of the political aisle have demonized those who disagree with us and failed to love both our neighbors and our “enemies,” as Jesus instructs us to do. We should not be captive to any political party, because our allegiance belongs to Christ. Like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we believe the church is “called to be the conscience of the state, not the master or the servant of the state.”

Affirming the 1973 Declaration, as well as other historic statements from diverse evangelicals, we recommit to an evangelical faith that follows Jesus’ example of living and sharing a gospel that always proclaims good news to the poor and freedom for the oppressed. (Luke 4: 18-19)

We recommit to a biblical justice that demonstrates the reign of God as we strive for abundant life for all God’s children, which must include combating economic inequality and exploitation.

We recommit to more faithfully and courageously follow Jesus, who affirmed the sacredness and dignity of all human life.

Building on the 1973 Declaration as well as other historic statements from diverse evangelicals, we also commit to love and protect all people—including life at every stage, people of color, women, Indigenous people, immigrants and refugees, LGBTQ people, people who are living with disabilities or mental health issues, poor and impoverished people, and each one who is marginalized, hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, sick, or imprisoned. (Matthew 25:31-46)

We commit to care for and protect the earth as God’s creation.

We commit to resisting all manifestations of racism, white nationalism, and any forms of bigotry—all of which are sins against God.

We commit to resisting patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and any form of sexism and to always affirm the dignity, voices, and leadership of women.

We commit to defend the dignity and rights of all people, particularly as we celebrate and embrace the increasing racial and ethnic diversity in our nation and churches.

Signers include  Ruth Bentley (1973 signer), Tony Campolo, Sharon Gallagher (1973 signer), Shane Claiborne, Ruth Padilla-DeBorst,  Wesley Granberg-Michaelson (1973 signer), Lisa Sharon Harper, Joel Hunter, David Moberg (1973 signer), William Pannell (1973 signer), Richard Pierard (1973 signer), Ronald Sider (1973 signer), Andrea Smith, Jim Wallis (1973 signer), Barbara Williams-Skinner, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Read the entire statement here.  Jim Wallis discusses the statement here.

I have a hard time keeping track of all these religious “declarations,” but I took note of this one because of its connection to the historic 1973 meeting.

Chris King: “the case study of whether faith is a deal killer in the modern Democratic Party.”

Gillum and King

Andrew Gillum, the African-American progressive mayor of Tallahassee who recently became the Democratic nominee in the upcoming Florida gubernatorial race, has chosen a running mate.  His name is Chris King.  He is a thirty-eight-year-old white evangelical Christian who was raised in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, was active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in high school, joined Campus Crusade for Christ at Harvard, and once worked with progressive evangelical Jim Wallis.  He is currently an elder at the non-denominational Summit Church in Orlando.

Over at The New Republic, Mark Pinsky and Loraine O’Connell report on Gillum’s choice of King.  Here is a taste:

Chris King wasn’t the person most Florida liberals expected Andrew Gillum to name as his running mate in the state’s gubernatorial race. A white, evangelical Christian who made a fortune buying up dilapidated Florida apartment complexes after the 2008 crash and refurbishing them as affordable housing, the Winter Park businessman had run against Gillum in the Democratic gubernatorial primary earlier this summer—and lost spectacularly, finishing fifth in the primary, with less than 3 percent of the vote.

His religion might have had something to do with his loss. King has called himself “the case study of whether faith is a deal killer in the modern Democratic Party.” But Florida, like many states, has a highly secular Democratic base that dominates the primaries. With the evangelical community nationally so firmly aligned behind the conservative right, the mere fact that King, who had never run for office before, was an evangelical, and a proud one at that, may have hindered his chances.

Evangelicalism might have held King back in the Democratic primary, but in a statewide general election, his ties to the Christian community could be an asset, and Gillum’s decisions of late suggest he understands that. Gillum himself is Baptist, and in August he spoke to supporters outside the Bethel Church in Richmond Heights, the South Dade neighborhood where he grew up. Apart from than his numerous visits to African American churches and appearances with black preachers, Gillum did not explicitly raise religion, nor, for the most part, did his opponents or interviewers. Still, his choice for lieutenant governor suggests that he will lean into it in his quest to win the governorship.

Since Gillum named him his running mate, King has insisted that “this is not a political marriage—this is not a marriage of convenience.” Regardless, it makes strategic sense. Barack Obama carried Florida with help from the young white evangelicals in the state. They may not be the voters who decide the primaries, but they are an important and often overlooked demographic in general elections within Florida and throughout the South. With King on the ticket, Gillum can craft a campaign message that mixes evangelicalism and left policies—a powerful combination that could provide a path forward for Democrats looking to win back seats in the Sun Belt.

Read the rest here.

Jim Wallis on the Wheaton Consultation on Evangelicalism

Wallis Jim

John Kasich was invited, but did not attend.  Mark Noll was there.  So was Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners and one of the primary architects of the evangelical left.

In his most recent piece at the Sojourners website, Wallis sees some continuity between the issues addressed at the Wheaton consultation and the issues addressed at some of the earliest gatherings of the so-called “evangelical left.”  He does not see progress.

A taste:

That was 45 years ago. Reading it again at the Wheaton meeting was heartbreaking — realizing how far in the wrong direction “evangelicalism” has now gone, so diminished and distorted. In my tradition, we would call that spiritual “backsliding.” Read the declaration now — all of it — and see how much we have gone backwards.

Also take a look at the list of signers back in 1973. We were “young evangelicals,” including black evangelicals, the first evangelical feminists, some global evangelical leaders, but also some of the leading establishment white evangelical leaders at the time — including some who were invoked at the Wheaton meeting last week, like the founding editor of Christianity Today Carl F. H. Henry. As the final editor of the Chicago Declaration, I can attest that Henry and I we went back and forth on every “jot and title” as those who knew him would expect! This was a multiracial and intergenerational statement unanimously agreed to after two days of retreat together. We all felt it was work that God had done.

At the time, the “Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern” gained great attention in the evangelical world, schools, and seminaries, and it was a big news story. And until 1980, we were called the “young evangelicals” in a “new evangelical” movement.

So what happened?

Read the entire piece here.  Then go get some historical context by reading two books:

Brantley Gasaway, Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice and David Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.

Jim Wallis: “America First” is a “theologically heretical statement”

Trump court evangelicals

Jim Wallis of Sojourners offers his take on the recent “Values Voter Summit.”  Here is a taste of his piece “The Religious Right Will Rise and Fall with Donald Trump“:

President Donald Trump is the logical hero for the “religious right,” judging by how he was welcomed to their Values Voter Summit last weekend. These Christians rallied around the billionaire playboy, political bully, ethno-nationalist, and purveyor of racial bigotry. As a result, he has become the moral definition of their movement.

The religious right will now rise and fall with Donald Trump.

Trump is the natural conclusion to how the religious right movement began, and what it has become. When it comes to this movement, the operative word is clearly not “religious” (or even “Christian”), but “right.” (And for the vast majority of “values voters” who are white Christians, the operative word is not “Christian” but “white.”)

The longest applause for President Trump from the right-wing white evangelicals gathered in Washington D.C. last Friday was when he brought up the flag, not the cross. Those standing and shouting “USA! USA!” were making a clear statement against black athletes who have been protesting racial injustice and police brutality during the national anthem.

Steve Bannon showed up, too, and his revivalist message of economic and cultural nationalism also wowed the crowd, with an altar call to make “war” on the Republican establishment, because “you are the transmission of the best values of the Judeo-Christian West.”

Bannon’s far-right media platform makes clear what the racial implications of this cultural nationalism are. Of course, the fact that Jewish and Christian values actually abhor the exclusion of other human beings, and hold every society accountable for how we treat the poorest and most vulnerable, was not mentioned. Muslims, of course, were also not mentioned, except for accusations of false religions and implied terrorist threats to America.

Let’s be clear. “America First” is not just a political statement — it is a theologically heretical statement. The body of Christ is the most international and racially diverse community on the planet, in keeping with the teachings of Jesus’ gospel. But that got passed over for another gospel — that of white American ethnocentrism, a worldview hateful of “others” including immigrants, refugees, Muslims, and black athletes who take a knee. Curiously, Jesus didn’t come up very often at the Values Voter Summit, except tangentially, in Trump’s pledge that everyone will once again say “Merry Christmas” at our shopping centers—where we revere the one born in a manger by lining up for holiday sales.

Read the entire piece here.

Jim Wallis and Eric Metaxas Discuss Evangelicals and Trump

Eric Metaxas says that over the past “twenty or thirty years” evangelicals have come to understand that “even in public life, the Christian faith is about grace and forgiveness, more than it is about moralism….This doesn’t mean that morality and character don’t count, but at the end of the day, Christianity is not a faith that is principally focused on one’s sins but on forgiveness and on grace.”

In the first part of this statement, Metaxas makes an appeal to recent history.  So I wonder, have conservative Christians over the past twenty or thirty years really come to understand that their faith is not about trying to bring evangelical-infused moral values to the culture?  Metaxas seems to be implying that over the past few decades evangelicals have come to terms with the fact that their faith is apolitical and no longer driven by “moralism.”  Trump is a sinner. Christians should forgive him.  And they should vote for him.

Where has Metaxas been these past few decades?  Does he listen to his own radio show?  I have listened to it on occasion.  In nearly every segment Metaxas makes it clear that he does think Christianity is about moralism.

Has Metaxas read his own book If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty?  I have read it and reviewed it here at The Way of Improvement Leads HomeThe book is about all the ways in which the Christian faith has contributed to the moral fabric of the country.  In fact, anyone who reads If You Can Keep It would come away believing that Metaxas thinks the mission of Christianity in the United States and the mission of the United States itself are identical.  In other words, he is as much of a Christian nationalist as David Barton.  The only difference is that Metaxas went to Yale, lives in New York City, and has a better tan.  (They are both fast talkers).

Metaxas embarrasses himself in this video.

He calls Wallis silly, sloppy, and wrongheaded (rolling his eyes) because Wallis thinks that the government of the United States will be held accountable for racist policies and its treatment of the poor.  Metaxas suggests that biblical commands of this nature do not apply to governments.

And then later in the interview Metaxas says that God will hold the United States accountable for abortion.  So does God hold the United States government accountable for its sins or not? Will God hold the United States accountable for abortion and not for its failure to care for the poor and oppressed?

“I’m depressed by the dialogue.”

Why Didn’t Hillary Reach Out to White Evangelicals?

6258d-clintonatmessiah

Clinton at Messiah College in 2008

Two days before the 2016 presidential election I wrote a piece in the Harrisburg Patriot News titled “Here’s What Hillary Clinton Has To Do To Win Over Evangelicals.” In this piece I argued that Clinton has said very little to win over white evangelicals concerned with abortion and religious liberty.

My piece was written very late in the election cycle.  At the time I wrote it was clear that Clinton was not really trying to win over white evangelicals during the campaign.  As journalist Ruth Graham writes in a fascinating piece at Slate, Clinton seemed to almost ignore white evangelicals.

Here is a taste of Graham’s piece:

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama sat down for an interview during the primary with the evangelical magazine Christianity Today. He spoke about his conversion, his longtime church membership, and his belief in “the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” He said abortion should be less common and that “those who diminish the moral elements of the decision aren’t expressing the full reality of it.” The interview was a valentine to evangelicals, and inside it read: “I’m listening.”

This election cycle, Christianity Today made multiple attempts to request an interview with Hillary Clinton, according to Kate Shellnutt, an editor there. The campaign never responded. Of course, campaigns turn down interview requests all the time. But the Clinton campaign was the only one that didn’t reply at all. And this wasn’t the only sign this year that the Democratic candidate had no interest in speaking to evangelical Christians. She spent little energy explaining her views on abortion to them and little time talking about religious freedom. She didn’t hire a full-time faith outreach director until June and had no one focused specifically on evangelical outreach. She didn’t give a major speech to the evangelical community and never met publicly with evangelical leaders. Religious publications reaching out to her campaign with questions were frequently met with silence. Some evangelical insiders are now asking: Why didn’t Hillary Clinton even try to get us to vote for her?

White evangelicals make up about one-quarter of the electorate, a huge group to ignore in an election that turned out to be won by very narrow margins in a handful of key states. In the end, according to exit polls, only 16 percent of that cohort voted for Clinton, compared with Obama’s 26 percent in 2008 and 20 percent in 2012. Trump’s share of the white evangelical vote, 81 percent, exceeded that of Mitt Romney in 2012 (78 percent), John McCain in 2008 (74 percent), and George W. Bush in 2004 (78 percent). “Not to have anyone reaching out to a quarter of the electorate is political malpractice,” the Obama campaign’s 2012 faith outreach director, Michael Wear, told me. Wear, whose book Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned from the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America will be published in January, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post recently that argued that the “simple difference between Obama’s two presidential campaigns and Clinton’s 2016 campaign is that Obama asked for the votes of white evangelicals and Clinton did not.”

Read the entire post here.

Clinton campaign did not seem to learn anything from John Kerry’s failed 2004 presidential run.  In the wake of Kerry’s loss, the Democrats found religion. They turned to progressive evangelical Jim Wallis to help them develop a faith-based strategy.  Wallis, who had been toiling for faith-based progressive causes in relavative obscurity during the 1980s and 1990s, suddenly became a religious celebrity.  His 2005 book God’s Politics became a best-seller and unofficial blueprint for the Democratic appeal to religious voters.  During the 2008 primaries Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama made appearances at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California and at Messiah College.  In 2008, Obama won nearly 25% of the evangelical vote.  No such forums took place in 2016.

Clinton’s failure to reach out to white evangelicals continues to baffle me, especially when this election was so close.

Schrag Lecture Recap

David Swartz

David Swartz’s Schrag Lecture on Thursday night was very well-received by the 70+ members in attendance in Messiah College‘s Alexander Auditorium. Swartz’s lecture, “Anabaptists, Evangelicals, and the Search for a Third Way in Post-War America,” focused on some of the main themes of his book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.  Swartz talked extensively about how the so-called “Evangelical Left,” represented by Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, Doris Longacre (author of the More-With-Less Cookbook), John Howard Yoder and others, struggled to navigate a middle ground between the Christian nationalism and free market principles of the Religious Right and the secularism and pro-choice stance of the Democratic Party in the 1970s.  

The audience was filled with people interested in the history of Messiah College, Anabaptism, evangelicalism, and the Brethren in Christ Church.  Their questions focused on the relationship between the Evangelical Left and the largely secular New Left, the role that the Internet is playing in strengthening the followers of the “third way,” and how many evangelical pastors such as Bruxy Cavey and Greg Boyd are either finding a home in Anabaptism or seriously considering moving in that direction.
It was fascinating to chat informally with some members of the audience after the lecture.  So many of them had lived through the early days of the Evangelical Left.  They followed Jim Wallis and the Post-American (later Sojourners) community, supported Ronald Sider’s Evangelicals for Social Action, or used the More With Less Cookbook.  They had come to hear Swartz, a young historian from Asbury College, treat their 1970s evangelical world as a subject worthy of historical investigation.  It was a great night.
My comments were brief.  I wondered aloud what role Catholic Social Teaching might have played in the thinking of the Evangelical Left.  I also noted, borrowing from James Davison Hunter, that it appeared that the Religious Right and the Evangelical Left were both trying to “change the world” through politics.  In other words, they both wanted to create their own version of a “Christian nation.”  I also wondered what role Messiah College played in the Evangelical Left.  Ron Sider wrote his famous Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger while he was directing the Messiah College Philadelphia campus.  How did the administration of a very apolitical Anabaptist school like Messiah College handle Sider’s willingness to use politics as a means of social change?
It was great to finally meet David Swartz.  I am so glad that Devin Manzullo-Thomas, the director of the Sider Institute, invited him to deliver this year’s Schrag Lectures on Anabaptism.  Both of them hit a home run on Thursday night and I was glad to be a part of it.

Gerson and Wallis Agree on "The Common Good"

Gerson

Michael Gerson, a Wheaton College graduate, former George W. Bush speechwriter, and Washington Post columnist, is an evangelical Christian of conservative political sympathies.  Jim Wallis is the founder of Sojourners, a progressive evangelical organization and an outspoken leader of the Christian left.  I would imagine that Gerson and Wallis share a common faith in the Christian gospel, but have profoundly different political convictions.

Except on their mutual commitment to “the common good.”  Gerson has several nice things to say about Wallis’s latest book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good.

In yesterday’s column Gerson writes:

…But the book has broader value in challenging a variety of shallow modern ideologies. 

Contra libertarianism: The common good is not identical to the triumph of market forces. Constructing it is the shared duty of communities, corporations and government. 

Contra modern liberalism: The common good is not identical to the triumph of autonomy and choice. Humans flourish in the context of binding moral commitments such as marriage and family. And the most vulnerable members of the human community deserve special concern and protection. 

Contra secularism: The common good is not achieved by banishing religion from the public square. Religious institutions perform works of mercy, carry ideals of justice and should be sheltered by a generous interpretation of religious liberty.

Wallis

Wallis’ argument, offered by a man of the left, reaches well beyond the left: In a political era of rights talk and special-interest pleading, a greater emphasis on the common good would make American politics more civil, admirable and humane.

Read the entire column here.