Critics on Our Left, Meet the Critics on Our Right

By Ryan Beiler 10-09-2009

Every now and then someone to our right or left posts an article excoriating Sojourners or Jim Wallis for not being _____ enough, infuriated that we still claim to be _____ even though we're really just _____. You may want to play along with this Mad Libs game at home. The comments on this blog often do, filling in those blanks with terms like "conservative," "liberal," "evangelical," "progressive," "pro-life," "pro-abortion," "anti-abortion," "pro-gay," "anti-gay," "radical socialist," "closet conservative," "Obama shill," and "White House hijacker" respectively, depending on whether it's the right or left wing that's doing the flapping.

While we don't shy away from honest debate, we generally prefer not to respond to attacks that are unfair, inaccurate, or ad hominem. However, I've always had a tremendous desire to introduce our critics on the left to our critics on the right. I would love to be a fly on the wall as they debate which one of them is wrong about our position on hot button issues, of which abortion is the easiest example: "He's anti-choice!" "He's certainly not pro-life!"

Of course, they might just find common ground -- that they both don't like Sojourners or Jim Wallis. But at the risk of fanning the flames, I want to make at least one virtual introduction as an example: Adele Stan of Mother Jones, meet Keith Pavlischek of First Things:

From Stan's "White House Religion Adviser Trying to Hijack Health Care For Anti-Choice Cause":

[Wallis] says he's progressive, and has some credentials to back up the claim: anti-poverty work and opposition to the Vietnam War. But he's opposed to legal abortion ... Despite his talk about not allowing abortion issues to "derail" health reform, that seems to be exactly what Wallis is up to ... It's a chip-away strategy, a nuisance plan on Wallis' part to gum up the health-care works ... what the heck is Wallis doing advising the White House, when he appears to be working against the president's health-care agenda?

From Pavlischek's "Back to Zero Cheers for Jim Wallis":

[Wallis] has become little more than a flack for the Obama administration ... Wallis has never really been serious on abortion ... Wallis said that the abortion issue should not "doom the chances" of healthcare legislation ... Back to zero cheers for Jim Wallis.

So which is it? Are we hijacking Obama's health-reform policy with our radical anti-abortion agenda? Or are we uncritical lackeys of the Obama Administration that don't really care about abortion? Do we really get zero cheers? And multiple jeers?

Of course, this brings to mind the old joke that being a bridge builder means you get walked on from both sides. And though being beaten up by both sides doesn't necessarily make you the happy medium, there is something deeply gratifying about having the attacks of one set of critics offset by the arguments of their ideological counterparts. I suppose that's the price for taking nuanced, common ground positions in a world of fundamentalists on both the left and the right.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is the Web Editor for Sojourners and a photographer whose work can be seen at www.ryanrodrickbeiler.com.

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