Sunday, August 29, 2010

Olasky vs. Wallis -- who's really the divisive one?

You may have heard about the recent flap between two Christian magazine editors -- World's Marvin Olasky and Sojourners' Jim Wallis. As reported by, Olasky recently asked Wallis if he had received money from George Soros, the Hungarian-born billionaire who has financially supported liberal and progressive causes since 2004 (and, of course, since has been designated a bĂȘte noir by the political right). Originally Wallis said no but, after consultation from Sojourners' staff, later admitted that his D.C-based ministry to the poor indeed had.

Well, that was all World and other conservatives needed to brand Wallis as not only a liar but also someone who shared responsibility for the political polarization that we see in this country today. Trouble is, that description is completely unfair -- and I would also say that World, not Sojourners, deserves more of the blame, if not all of it, in this case for such "polarization." I mean, can't a guy make an honest mistake from time to time?

Apparently not if you're ideologically progressive, if you read World (which is ideologically hard right and even leans toward heretical "dominion" theology) on a consistent basis, which I used to on-line until about six years ago -- it seems that the magazine targets even Christians who stray from the standard conservative line. The magazine damned Wallis' 2004 best-selling book "God's Politics" as "Democratic talking points" and for not being sufficiently evangelical, never mind that its intended audience was other Christians alienated from the "religious right" for not addressing what Wallis might consider a consistent Biblical vision.

Some years ago interviewer Gene Edward Veith tried to paint Evangelicals for Social Action's Ron Sider, who had recently published "The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience," as a "socialist" for similar reasons. (Ironically, 90 percent of what Sider actually wrote would have gotten an "amen" from those same conservatives, and Veith made no mention of the contents of the book in the interview.) Also some years ago, an article also chided students and faculty at Calvin College for protesting an appearance by President George W. Bush.

Now, that last item is more problematic than at first glance. Olasky, a longtime journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has regularly attacked the media for liberal bias; however, Olasky himself served as an adviser to Bush when he was governor of Texas. Ten years ago, in the midst of the presidential campaign, the late New York Times columnist William Safire reported that a copy of World -- with what he considered an unflattering, front-page story about candidate John McCain -- was sent to every member of Congress; Safire, a McCain supporter, called it "religio-political sleaze." The magazine's response? Essentially, "Shove it." It certainly appeared that the magazine was a shill for Bush, all the while conservatives have complained for years -- without merit -- that the major media are in the pocket of the Democratic Party.

On the other hand, Wallis has had to weather other attacks from the political right, such as the late Jerry Falwell insulting him as "as evangelical as an oak tree"; however, on Sojourners' "God's Politics" website he even eulogized Falwell as a man who brought issues to the table. (I doubt that World will be so charitable when Wallis goes to his reward.)

Interestingly, had the reviewer from World read the book "God's Politics" more closely he or she would have noted a story of reconciliation, which to me was as important as anything Wallis has ever written.

In the 1970s, due to a story that Sojourners had published, Wallis had a falling out with the late Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ International whose politics leaned right; the resultant feud lasted for decades. But it was Wallis that made the first move toward Bright to heal the breach -- and those men, after sharing each other's conversion stories, became fairly close friends.

One day Wallis received a check for $1,000 from Bright, who wrote in a note that "I wish I had the means to add three more zeros" -- and learned just moments afterward that Bright had died. He said that he couldn't hold back the tears, not just because a friend was dead but because he personally witnessed God at work bringing former enemies together for the sake of the Gospel. (In fact, I'm also tearing up as I write this.)

I have never seen any of that desire for reconciliation from either Olasky or World -- it seems that they would rather be right (in both definitions) than reconciled. Remember, World has a theonomist streak to it, which means that, from their perspective, "compromise" is not only unwarranted but undesirable. Which I find to be sad, because while the magazine may maintain a loyal readership base by taking on "enemies" it may miss what God really wants to do with His Body. Such as turning "enemies" into friends.

1 comment:

JD said...

Thanks Blue Deacon for your blog!
I read your last 3 entries and AMEN brother!
Being a Canadian evangelical means not being used to the God talk that prevails in much of American politics. Like you, I have been encouraged by the role Jim Wallis and others assume to ensure Christians are not overlooking the social implications of the gospel. In Canadian history, many of the foundations laid in building our social welfare system (medicare, pension legislation) were laid by Christian evangelicals - Tommy Douglas and others, obviously of a different ilk than Beck and others.
Keep up your good work!