The Common Good

A Shifty Sojourner

Date: September 27, 2012

Jim Wallis of Sojourners is the chief icon for the Evangelical Left. In 2008 he was prominently supportive of Obama, about whom he rhapsodized in nearly messianic terms. He is commonly described as a spiritual advisor to the Obama White House. During last summer's debt ceiling crisis, he helped organize the "Circle of Protection" church coalition that effectively sided with Obama against congressional Republicans.

In the 1970s and 1980s Wallis was openly hard left, trumpeting the Sandinistas and global revolution. In recent years he's successfully developed a more left-of-center identity that's made him a player in mainstream Democratic Party politics while also allowing him to appeal at least to non-conservative evangelicals. Several weeks ago Wallis had an interesting opinion piece that was very nearly reasonable.

This Wallis column of course targeted the "radically anti-government ideology of the current right wing Tea Party ideology." But much of what he wrote did not contradict what most Tea Partiers and conservative evangelicals (the two demographics are intertwined) actually believe about the role of government. Wallis almost sounded like a traditional Constitutionalist.

Surprisingly, Wallis quoted St. Paul in Romans 13, where the Apostle famously declared that God armed civil authorities with the "sword" to avenge injustice. Wallis has long been a pacifist, although in recent years he has avoided directly admitting it to remain politically viable. The Religious Left does not typically like Romans 13 or, for that matter, St. Paul. But Wallis accurately noted that St. Paul, in what is "perhaps the most extensive teaching in the New Testament about the role and purposes of government," defined the state's two main purposes as to "restrain evil by punishing evildoers and to serve peace and orderly conduct by rewarding good behavior." True enough!