Saturday, June 1, 2013

Social Justice Watch: Verses And Curses (Pt. 3)

So I'm reading Jim Wallis again. Back in the 70s I was a young, impressionable, fatherless Canadian boy who ran away to California with the circus . . . y'know, the Jesus Movement. It soon spread to Texas, and I moved to its second epicenter in Lindale with Keith Green, David Wilkerson, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Dallas Holm, YWAM, Leonard Ravenhill and my homies, the Agape Force (Silverwind, Candle, Gingerbrook Fare, etc). Some of the locals we got to know in East Texas belonged to the Friends movement—also known as Quakers. It was my first brush with Pacifism and my introduction to Sojourners Magazine.
Who knew a clenched fist was the universal symbol for faith?
In the mid-70s, Wallis moved his new magazine, The Post-American (what does that name tell you about his starting point?), from the Deerfield, Illinois campus of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to Washington, DC. He also changed the publication's name to SojournersI wasn't very political during the Jesus Movement, and his magazine wasn't speaking my language. So after reading a few issues, I gave up on it.

Did you happen to read the scratchings written on the clenched fist for Sojourners' 40th Anniversary banner above? Does that sound like a call for Christians to good works? Not to me. I read it as a Leftist, big-government rant using Matthew 25 as a pretext. Not to mention putting those whiny words in Jesus' mouth. Ironically, the magazine's mission statement includes this: ". . . to lift up those whom Jesus called 'the least of these.'" Fresh off our previous exploration of the Olivet Discourse, Wallis plainly hasn't read Matthew 25 very carefully—despite stating that the passage is what converted him to Christianity.

Early in the Preface of his new book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets And Politics Hasn't Learned About Serving The Common Good (Brazos Press), he quickly plays the-least-of-these card, referring to the poor. Guess I better get used to it, he'll likely misuse it many more times in the pages ahead. But just two pages into chapter one he writes this: ". . . God's politics is most concerned with the powerless—the least of those among us . . . the poor and vulnerable." Okay, now I know he's cherry-picking scripture without reading the passages. To be charitable, he may think the-least-among-us is a re-phrasing of Matthew 25. But Brazos' editor should have recognized it as a quote from Luke 9:46-48, and should have pointed out that Luke's passage is talking about Jesus' own disciples, not "the poor and vulnerable." 

But I don't think it's a simple error. Wallis' book is full of misdirection, unsupported assertion and overly broad generalizations. His most frequent trick, which seems to come as naturally as breathing, is to transform the scriptural "you/us" from Christian believers to American taxpayers. He seems to be advocating a sort of Social Theocracy. And the constant refrain about money spent on things other-than-the-poor reminds me of Judas' complaint about the expensive perfume poured out on Jesus' feet.

Wallis' first chapter is entitled "A Gospel for the Common Good." In elevating Social Justice to the level of a different gospel, Wallis enters dangerous territory. Saint Paul was pretty clear about that sorta thing in Galatians 1:6-9. Walking straight into a New Testament curse would make me uncomfortable. But maybe that's just me.