I Met Jim Wallis Today

Jim Wallis came to Denver Seminary today to speak about his new book and do a book signing. Since I work in the bookstore I got paid to go to his lecture and then help out with the book signing. Wallis spoke for about a half and hour and then fielded questions the rest of the time. It was interesting to here him speak about how much of his journey began at 14 years old, when a white Detroit pastor told him that Christianity was totally private and had nothing to say about the horrors of racism or discrimination.

To sum up most of what he said I quote what I wrote about his book “Great Awakening” about a month ago when I saw him on John Stewart.

I think what Wallis was trying to say is that there is a new movement in younger Evangelicals to turn out and value such moral issues as poverty, the environment, and human rights. There seems to be a growing tension that has developed between my generation of Christians and the Baby Boomers. Both have locked into different paths of how our faith plays out in the political realm and what issues should compel them into action. I think this is a healthy change that will hopefully allow for some of the tired stereotypes that have long been attached to Evangelicals to fade away.
It was nice to hear Jim Wallis talk about the extremism of Presidential candidates during primary season, and how he has had personal conversations with each Presidential candidate about moving to a more centrist position during the general election. He also touched on the fact that great reform and social change does not occur and come about because we elect a certain candidate to the office, as it is not politics that brings change, but movements. This might be why Obama has taken on the word “movement” instead of “campaign.”He is right about the fact that politicians are usually inept without a strong wave of social outcry. He stated that “Lydon B. Johnson did not become a social reformer until Martin Luther King made him one.” Interesting idea that as Christians we should be more passionate about getting candidate to endorse biblical causes, rather than getting Christians to endorse their candidacy…

4 Responses

  1. Matt, in response to your comment about our new place in multnomah village-we found our place just in driving around the neighborhood. craigslist is a great way to find houses as well around here…

    hope you can find a good place out here! Let me know if you need any help on your trek to portland when the time comes

  2. I saw Jim Wallis at Forth Presbyterian Church when he passed through Chicago, and I was much less than impressed. I found him to be full of chestunuts and bromides like: “We need to find common ground by going to higher ground.” One the one hand, how can you disagree with that, but on the other, what the hell does it mean?

    So, when it came time for questions, I asked him: “I’ve read your book, I’ve heard you speak, and I still feel that I don’t know what your program is. What measures, exactly, do you favor?” He then offered these issues that he wanted to see addressed:

    1] Abortion is a divisive issue with people of faith on both sides of the issue, but we can all agree that it would be a good thing to decrease the number of abortions. So he favors better access to birth control, easier adoptions, more support for single mothers.

    2] The British government has vowed to reduce poverty by 50% over the next ten years. We should do that.

    There he is, ladies and gentlemen, Jim Wallis on the record trying to bridge the gap between right and left and lead us up to higher ground. Is this really a new path, or just more Bourgeois Liberalism? Let’s see …

    Abortion: Okay, reducing abortion is a laudable goal, one that just about everyone would sign on to. But these measures: aren’t they all liberal measures? Where are the conservative measures like parental consent laws, bans on late-term abortion, or rigorous enforcement of statutory rape laws (as a high percentage of teenage pregnancies are caused by older men)? And, aren’t all of these measures like pushing on a string? Aren’t they all let’s do this and then hope that people don’t have abortions?

    Poverty: Yeah, poverty’s bad and, hey, I’m against it. But so is welfare. Wallis isn’t very clear here and that makes me suspect that what he’s calling for is more government hand-outs (like that aforementioned “support for single mothers”). Being working class myself, I favor full employment as a cure for poverty. That’s right: government public works and make-work programs. I think this is much more in line with the Biblical injunction “if any man will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10) than doling our way out of poverty.

    To conclude: I have always found that whereas conservatives are blind to issues of social justice, liberals are blind to issues of personal sin. Poverty, for instance, is caused both by an unfair economic system that exploits the working classes and personal irresponsibility. Conservatives never acknowledge that the system is stacked against the worker, while liberals never admit that even in a perfect world numbers of people are simply shiftless and don’t deserve to be prosperous.

    Which pattern does Jim Wallis fit?

    I think it’s clear. Far from advocating a third way “above right and left,” Jim Wallis is simply a bourgeois liberal of the old school who has dressed up the same old tired nostrums in Christian garb.

  3. Schultz, I don’t know you, but I like the cut of your jib, sir. Please come around here more. Well said, well said.

  4. R.M. thanks for elevating this blog with your comments. I found your comments to be convicting and spot on accurate.

    Wallis used that line of “common ground through higher ground” a few times during his lecture and a found it to be rather nebulous. I do wonder though if he his a healthy antidote to a church that has for far to long been self-centered and unwilling to love their neighbor…

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