Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Katha Pollitt vs. Jim Wallis

Here is a truly biting commentary on liberal evangelical Jim Wallis’ new book, God’s Politics.

Here’s Pollitt:

the case for Christianizing progressive politics is not just about quoting the Bible more, or framing healthcare as a religious value. It’s about lowering the wall between church and state, giving churches more power, more rights and more taxpayer money. The argument in favor often boils down to majority rule--most Americans claim to be devout Christians--but that’s actually the argument against it. Look what Christians did when they had the chance! Preventing religious wars and godly tyranny was the original purpose behind the Founding Fathers’ ban on the establishment of religion, and subsequent history has hardly outmoded their wisdom.

To hang the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition and Oliver Cromwell on conservative evangelicals is about as fair as saying that there’s no material difference between the editorial board of
The Nation and Stalin’s KGB. Let’s keep power away from the secular Left, because, after all, look what happened when they had it! C’mon Ms. Pollitt, you can do better than that!

Well, then, how about this?

[W]hat’s wrong with mustering support for these worthy goals by presenting them in the language spoken by so many Americans? The trouble is, the other side does that too. You can find anything you want in the Bible--well, almost anything. Thus, the more insistently people bring Christianity into politics, the more political argument becomes a matter of Christian hermeneutics. Does God say gays should be executed or married? "Spare the rod" or "suffer the little children"? I don’t see how we benefit as a society from translating politics into theology. We are left with the same debates, and a diminished range of ways in which to think about them. And, of course, a diminished number of voices--because if you’re not a believer, you’re out of the discussion. In this sense, Wallis’s evangelicalism is as much a power play as Pat Robertson’s.

Introducing theological and Biblical language into the public square offers us "a diminished range of ways to think about" political issues only if you assume that religious voices have to exclude or drown out others--Cromwell and the Inquisition again. She can’t get past that old canard.

One final snippet so that you can see what’s really on Pollitt’s mind:

Wallis cites the text antichoicers commonly use to justify their position: "For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb" (Psalm 139:13). Say what? Nothing about abortion there, pro or con. Nobody who wasn’t sure that somewhere in the Bible there must be a proof text against terminating a pregnancy would read that meaning into these words.

I beg to differ. If God knit you together in your mother’s womb, then in God’s eyes you are a person in the womb. Sounds like a Biblical basis for the personhood of the "fetus" to me. I don’t think, by the way, that that’s the only argument available to those opposed to abortion, but this is not the time and place to rehearse them. I cite this passage to suggest that the immediate source of Pollitt’s anti-theological ire is not centuries old, but rather one day (or 32 years and a day) old. To open the Democratic Party to religion requires that it be open to pro-life,
Bob Casey Democrats. That won’t happen on Pollitt’s watch.

Discussions - 2 Comments

Clearly, you’re at odds w/ Ms. Pollitt, but certainly you don’t appreciate Mr. Wallis much more, do you??

I think Wallis’ position is a plausible reading of what the Bible demands, but not the only plausible reading. I welcome liberal evangelicals and pacifist Anabaptists to the public square, along with representatives of all other religious traditions willing to engage in respectful conversation, by which I don’t necessarily mean using only secular language. Witness away, I say! But don’t persecute and don’t coerce.

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