'I did not have sex with that woman'

religion | Mar 12, 2009 | By Stephanie Block

“I did not have sex with that woman,” he says.

To understand what the speaker is communicating presumes a common language between him and one to whom the words are spoken. What does “having sex  – or not having it – actually mean?

Most English speakers would insist the expression entails more than merely an exchange of personal fluids, or a blood transfusion would be an infinitely more interesting than it is. However, they would tend to find the term awfully anemic as a description of loving, committed intimacy.

So, what behavior precisely has not been had? I know what I would have meant had I said such a thing, but it’s conceivable that another speaker sincerely intends something else. Language is a small vessel for the riches of meaning.

With that in mind, I received the following email:

Hello Stephanie – I handle media relations for Sojourners and Jim Wallis and read your article entitled, “Religious Progressives applaud Kathleen Sebelius.” Could you please issue an online correction clarifying that Jim Wallis had NOTHING to do with establishing Faith in Public Life. That group was actually est ablished by John Podesta’s non-profit group – Center for American Progress. Sojourners and Jim were not involved in ANY way with the creation of that group. Much appreciated, Jason [Jason Gedeik, Deputy Press Secretary, Sojourners]

To say the least, I am flabbergasted by this revelation. The Faith in Public Life website’s current version of the organization’s history is slightly different from what it offered in 2007 so I am reproducing below FPL’s earlier account of its founding – the account that caused me to believe that Jim Wallis was very much connected with establishing Faith in Public Life:


The 2004 elections brought a resurgence in religious advocacy for social and economic justice. Yet the Religious Right continued to dominate20public discourse on issues of faith – primarily targeting issues of abortion and homosexuality – and virtually ignoring issues of justice and the common good. In December 2004, national religious leaders – including Jim Wallis, Rabbi David Saperstein, Rev Jim Forbes, Rev Bob Edgar, Sr. Catherine Pinkerton, Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, and Rev. Timothy McDonald – gathered in Washington, DC to confront the challenges facing the burgeoning social justice faith movement. They recognized the critical need for increased and effective collaboration, coordination, and communication on the national, state, and local level.

The meeting resulted in the creation of Faith in Public Life – a permanent organization providing critical organizing and communications resources to strengthen diverse faith movements that share a call to pursue justice and the common good. [Emphasis added]

How do we reconcile this Faith in Public Life document with Jason Gedeik’s correction “that Jim Wallis had NOTHING to do with establishing Faith in Public Life?”

There are three possibilities. One would be that Gedeik has no compunction about issuing revisionist history when a past account of FPL’s founding is no longer useful – a foolish endeavor when there’s a substantial public paper trail.

Or, it’s possible that Gedeik is ignorant of the relationship between Wallis and FPL.

Or, perhaps Gedeik and I use our words differently.

To me, “establishing” an organization might refer to all sorts of activities. Besides being one of the “fathers” to conceive of such an organization in the first place, a person might be said to “establish” an organization if he were one of the primary intellects driving the organizational “vision.” He might also be said to “establish” an organization if he assisted its networking, or helped place the organization in the public eye through blogs, speeches, and articles. Wallis has been engaged with FPL in all these ways.

But, that’s just me. Could Gedeik define “establishing” in such a way that his statement “Jim Wallis had NOTHING to do with establishing Faith in Public Life” might be true? Is there a legal sense to the term, say, in which only those who sign the papers of incorporation are said to be those who “establish” it, and no one else?
Could Gedeik’s further insistence that “Jim [Wallis was] not involved in ANY way with the creation of that group [FPL]” then be given such a narrow and precise meaning – “creation” equaling legal incorporation, say – that Gedeik can use his words in some honest sense that might, in a less charitable frame of mind, appear to obfuscate the fact of Wallis’ founding contributions to FPL?

I hope so, for the sake of Gedeik’s integrity.

In which case, for the sake of clarification and as an act of good will, here is a revision of the offending paragraph from the March 5, 2009 article, “Religious Progressives Applaud Kathleen Sebelius:”

Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical activist, was instrumental in founding Faith in Public Life to organize the “religious left” (in contrast to the “Christian right”). One of the works of that organization is to reshape public perception that defending the personhood of preborn children is a moral position when so there are “people of faith” – particularly those associated with FPL – demanding not only the legal right to rip these children in utero to shreds (or burn them to death) but societal approval, as well. 

Stephanie Block is the editor of Los Pequenos - a New Mexico-based publication. Her columns are made possible by the sponsorship of generous individuals who believe information about the development and dissemination of progressive ideology needs to be more widely understood. Please fell free to share -- acknowledging authorship -- these articles with others. If you would like more frequent publication of Stephanie Block's work, tax-deductible donations can be sent to: Catholic Media Coalition - PO Box 427 Great Cacapon, WV 25422 Attn: Progressive Watch

(Ed. note: the preceding article is an update of one that first appeared on March 11, 2009)



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