Hubris before a fall: ending poverty as we know it

politics | Aug 27, 2009 | By Stephanie Block

One of President Barack Obama’s longtime friends is the evangelical minister Jim Wallis who founded the Sojourners organization (and a magazine by the same name, not to mention a now-defunct commune). The two took a “traveling seminar” together in the late 1990s, visiting community programs across the country. “He and I were what we called back then ‘progressive Christians,’ as opposed to the dominant religious-right era we were in then,” Mr. Wallis said. “We didn’t think Jesus’ top priorities would be capital gains tax cuts and supporting the next war.” [Laurie Goodstein, “Without a Pastor of His Own, Obama Turns to Five,” New York Times, March 14, 2009]

Sojourners focus began in the antiwar movement of the 60s. A decade or so later, it shifted its focus to the political unrest of Central America, co-creating the Witness for Peace Tours to generate pro-Sandinista (Marxist) support in the United States. Delegates were taken to Nicaragua and treated to staged “pep rallies,” supposedly demonstrating popular enthusiasm for the Sandinistas. Meanwhile, the magazine wrote glowing articles about liberation theology’s inroads into the spiritual life of Latin Americans, portraying the US military and US Latin American foreign policy as “anti-Christ,” and claiming that US economic assistance went exclusively to countries that repress and torture their citizens. By contrast, one researcher observed that, as of 1983, Sojourners had not criticized one Marxist country for human rights violations.

Twenty years later, Jim Wallis and Sojourners helped establish Faith in Public Life, dedicated to assuring the secular world that pro-life and traditional moral values are not associated with mainstream religion. These groups have, among other things, backed a “New Sanctuary Movement” that seeks to decriminalize violation of immigration laws,
give undocumented workers the same rights and privileges as legal immigrants, and spread the idea that the current immigration problem is caused by unjust US foreign policies.

They also helped to get Obama elected by crafting the media message that even if a religiously-minded citizen disagreed with a given candidate on this or that social issue (specifically abortion or homosexual “rights”), one had to take into account global warming, foreign policy, and the economy – which Wallis plainly felt trumped the rest. “Wallis decried those leaders’ [of the Democrat and Republican parties] fixation on fighting abortion and gay rights.” [Dan Gilgoff, “Evangelical Minister Jim Wallis Is in Demand in Obama’s Washington,” USNews and World Report, March 31, 2009]

To the victor belongs the spoils – which in this case has awarded Wallis a very influential position on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. From that position, for instance, Rev. Wallis has presented the “moral case” (according to Gilgoff) for the Employee Free Choice Act.

He has dined with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. One of the President’s Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is a commitment to these UN goals:

The faith-based office became a band-aid instead of a partnership with a really solid commitment to reducing poverty on a policy level. This time, that will be corrected. . . . Barack himself committed to the pledge that we asked politicians to make to cut poverty in half in 10 years and to commit to the millennium development goals. [Dan Gilgoff, “Jim Wallis on How Obama's Faith-Based Initiatives Office Is Shaping Up,” USNews and World Report, January 07, 2009]

Two years ago, Wallis wrote about Ban Ki-moon, when the General was new to his position at the UN, and was a guest speaker for the Global Leaders Forum hosted by the National Association of Evangelicals and the Micah Challenge, “a global advocacy campaign focused on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs):

”Last night, [Ban Ki-moon] was listening to gospel music, speaking of his own faith, quoting scripture, celebrating a new alliance with 'the evangelical church' on the critical issues of poverty and global warming, and bringing the conservative Christian crowd to its feet in smiling agreement with the secretary's agenda.

Indeed, leader after leader insisted this was a biblical agenda. A prominent leader from the Religious Right came up to sit right next to me, and then engaged me in an amazing conversation about finding common ground. This dramatic shift in the public agenda of the evangelical community is affecting American politics in very significant ways and promises to change them, especially if the political labels of left and right slowly slip away and are replaced by a common commitment to focus on the key moral issues of our time. Those issues are now defined more broadly and deeply than before and include the plight of God's poorest children and the fragile state of God's creation." [Jim Wallis, “Dinner with the Antichrist,” God’s Politics blog, October 12, 2007]

The Micah Challenge, along with the Millennium Development Goals and the Millennium Project that claims, “We are the first generation that can end poverty” and has the informative website address of, and a host of other enthusiastic, related organizations around the world have big plans…and Rev. Jim Wallis is helping to forge them.

Stephanie Block is the editor of the New Mexico-based newspaperLos Pequenos and a founder of the Catholic Media Coalition.



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