Jim Wallis’ Egregious “Memo to Nation’s Leaders” on Stupak

I take a lot of heat for not liking the things Jim Wallis says, but I have to say in all honesty that his piece yesterday in the Huffington Post was about the most egregious thing he’s published in a long, long while. It’s like a primer in all the ways Wallis’ approach to religion and politics is flawed. It’s so textbook, in fact, that I think I’ll dispense with a conventional review and just list all the howlers for you, in no particular order:

A Commitment To “Compromise”:

Those of us who have worked hard to find some common ground in this debate, to help forge some compromise that might let health-care reform proceed for the tens of millions of low-income families who desperately need it, are still trying to find some middle ground that both sides could live with (even if not happily)…

Here, Wallis tries to portray himself as a prominent leader in a process of reconciliation, rather than a partisan in the conflict. In fact, he was all too happy to stake out a position on one side of it. This isn’t principled and it sure isn’t reconciliation. It’s simply Wallis trying to rally around a “compromise” that turns out to look an awful lot like his own position.

Making Charges Without Substance: Wallis says of the debate over what led up to the Stupak Amendment, “Well, people are just making stuff up, misrepresenting in such outrageous ways that you could just call it lying.” Who? How are we to evaluate the truthfulness of claims without knowing exactly what was said? In the same way, later in the article: “some members of the Left long for the good old days when their party was avowedly secular and properly hostile to religion and all this talk about those annoying moral values voters.” Again, who? Fred Clarkson very properly called this out in a Public Eye piece some months back.

Sanctimony: There are almost too many examples of this to name. Here’s one: “Though Sojourners is now under attack from some angry pro-choice zealots…” and another: “The problem with not compromising is that when you lose, you can end up with less than you might have gotten otherwise.” And another: “Leaders who refuse to talk to their opponents are not “principled”; they maybe [sic] also be unwise or unable to actually get things done.” And another: “I have fought against religious fundamentalists most of my life, but it’s quite sad to see this new assault of secular fundamentalism against religion of all kinds—even against progressive religion.” Does Wallis believe he’s the only principled participant in this debate?

Claims to Represent the Religious Left: It’s true that Wallis states, “The religious community has different views on abortion.” But then he goes on to speak in the name of the “faith community.” Worse, he says that “some of the most hysterical comments from the Left this week have suggested the problem is that progressive religious groups have been listened to by the Democratic Party.” This structures the controversy as Progressive Religion (meaning Jim Wallis and other anti-choice moderates) against the Secular Left. Never mind the pro-choice religious progressives who sat on their hands, as instructed, while Wallis and other Democratic-party anointed faith representatives sold their interests down the river in the name of compromise: Jim Wallis is the Religious Left, and the only bulwark against the frothing-at-the-mouth secular hippies. [This isn't the first time this has happened, either.]

Patriarchy: “I would humbly suggest that both sides in this debate need to remember the very small number of women who in real life will be involved in this dilemma, compared to the impact on a very large number of women who will be denied their “health” if the reform bill does not pass.” This relies on a disingenuous interpretation of statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, which that organization has been decrying for a good week now. Many more women would be affected than Wallis assumes. But really: we’re going to use moral calculus to decide which rights ought to get thrown overboard? Really? And believing that women ought to be able to own their own bodies makes you “hysterical,” a “zealot”? It’s nice to know that we have Jim Wallis to talk sense into such people.

There’s much more, but I just don’t have the stomach for it. It would take all day to properly fisk a piece like this. Why people continue to listen to Wallis, I do not know. In his passion for health-care reform, he seems not only willing to toss aside basic questions about human rights without a second thought, but unable to understand that some people might have a problem with that. Even worse, he’s quick to blame the people who got screwed for not making a compromise more quickly. Despite what the media establishment might tell you, however, neither Wallis nor his allies such as Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good can claim to speak exclusively for religious progressives. There are many of us who feel that Stupak is a compromise too far. In fact, it seems to me that the further you get from the Beltway, the more likely you are to not accept the diminishment of reproductive rights as the cost for health-care reform.

But then I’m just a hysterical pro-choice zealot not interested in compromise. What do I know?

pastordanschultz@gmail.com'

Daniel Schultz, a.k.a. pastordan, is a minister in the United Church of Christ. He serves a small and very patient church in rural Wisconsin. He is the author of Changing the Script: An Authentically Faithful and Authentically Progressive Political Theology for the 21st Century, forthcoming from Ig Press.