Jim Wallis and the "Moral Center" on Abortion
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Tue Jun 05, 2007 at 10:11:17 PM EST
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket As Rick Santorum, Hillary Clinton, Sam Brownback and Barack Obama packed to attend Jim Wallis' Pentecost 2006, some wondered about Wallis' true agenda.

The source of Wallis' appeal is his apparent moderation, both political and theological. His argument is compelling in its simplicity: An overriding commitment to social justice is more basic to Christianity than the issues championed by Christian fundamentalists. But to prevail he must avoid seeming too militantly progressive. "The country is not hungry, I don't think, for a religious left to counter the religious right," Wallis [said]. "The country is hungry for a moral center."

Before his elevation as an "evangelical progressive" celebrity, together with a Who's Who of the Religious Right -- Gary Bauer, Charles Colson, James Dobson, Robert George, William Kristol, Beverly LaHaye, Richard Land, Bernard Nathanson, Frank Pavone and Ralph Reed -- Jim Wallis signed a lengthy document that said plenty about his moral center, culminating in a call for a constitutional amendment to criminalize abortion entirely.

And to this day, Wallis has yet to repudiate a word of it.

Wallis, who describes himself as "a 19th-century evangelical" who was born in the wrong century, says that when he talks to Democrats, "it's straight talk about their lack of moral content. Martin Luther King never endorsed a candidate, he made the candidates endorse his agenda."

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAnd as this week's Pentecost 2007 rolled around, once again Jim Wallis issued the call, and presidential hopefuls dutifully packed their suitcases.

In the immediate aftermath of last November's election, Jim Wallis' Sojourners published "Spoils of Victory," originally at Christianity Today [emphasis in the original].

"The Religious Right's dominance over politics and evangelicals has come to an end," Democratic adviser and Sojourners/Call to Renewal leader Jim Wallis told Christianity Today the day after the election.
But it remains to be seen how Democratic Party leaders will react to new congressional members who don't vote pro-choice.

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, said Democrats learned in 2004 that discouraging pro-lifers was not helping their party. So Democratic strategists recruited a few social-conservative candidates for 2006. Day believes the change started when Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Sen. Charles Schumer supported Bob Casey Jr. in the Pennsylvania Senate race.

"He was the test case that proved successful," Day said. "The DNC was behind Casey and other winning pro-life Democrats 150 percent. It's very encouraging to see that you no longer have to support abortion to get the support of the party."

Day said the growing coalition of pro-life Democrats in the House and Senate--a new total of about 36--will make it more difficult for party leaders to "strong-arm people into voting pro-choice."
"It depends on how the Democrats act," said Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., an evangelical. "If they tend to the left, it won't take them 12 years to get kicked out. Nancy Pelosi is Speaker because pro-life, conservative Democrats have won, and I think she realizes that." Davis said voters and unyielding pro-life Democrats have sent the party's leadership a powerful message. "It tells Nancy Pelosi that if you don't have the pro-life Democrats in Congress, you can't be Speaker. You can't govern. You can't talk about the minimum wage" and other priorities.

"The Religious Right and the secular Left both lost on Election Night," Wallis said. The goal now? "We have to hold the new Congress accountable."

Wallis usually phrases his belief that his own religious convictions make for sound public policy somewhat differently: "[Y]ou've got to make an argument for the common good, you've got to persuade your fellow citizens that this is best for the country, that these are good things for all of us."

He expanded upon his concept of the common good in a letter to Chuck Colson.

What I'm saying around the country is that there is a new option for American politics that follows from the prophetic religious tradition. It is "traditional" or "conservative" on issues of family values, sexual integrity, and personal responsibility while being very "progressive," "populist," or even "radical" on issues such as poverty and racial justice.
It can be pro-life, pro-family, and pro-feminist all at the same time.
That's the message that is resonating around the country, Chuck. Not that all issues are "morally equivalent" but that, indeed, as you say, the "first one, the right to life, is non-negotiable." Perhaps the difference between us is that I believe that non-negotiable right continues after birth.

And that seems to be their only real difference of opinion on the subject.

It's not surprising that Wallis should endorse the DFLA and its 95-10 Initiative -- a piece of Trojan donkey legislation that uses long-overdue social justice measures as camouflage for anti-abortion regulations so repressive that 95-10 is endorsed by every major organization of the Religious Right. After all, despite his pro-feminist rhetoric, Jim Wallis has been literally signed on to the Religious Right's anti-abortion policies for at least the last dozen years, so it's no surprise that he thinks 95-10 is such a great proposal.

Why shouldn't all Democrats join Jim Wallis in endorsing 95-10 as part of the search for "common ground" on abortion?

Maybe it's because 95-10 calls for preventing pregnancy, but mentions contraception only in regard to failure rates -- anti-choice dog whistle code for "abstinence-only." Maybe it's because 95-10 also calls for the imposition of repressive legislation upon every physician in the country. Maybe it's because 95-10 mandates federal funding for a nationwide network to funnel unsuspecting women seeking information about abortion into crisis pregnancy center "ministries."

Maybe it's because most Democrats have scruples about crawling into bed with Concerned Women for America, Priests for Life, the March for Life, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, Lutherans for Life, CareNet, Heartbeat International, Project Rachel, the "abortion is genocide" Abortion in Black America, Life Issues Institute, LifeSite, Joe Scheidler's Pro-Life Action League, Americans United for Life, the American Life League's Stop Planned Parenthood International, Human Life International, Feminists for Life, National Right to Life, and the same Life Dynamics that lists every provider of abortion care in the country as "American Death Camps" -- all of them directly linked from the DFLA site.  

Maybe it's because DFLA opposes embryonic stem cell research. Maybe it's because DFLA is still spreading the discredited lie that abortion causes breast cancer. Maybe it's because DFLA officers publicly refused to support the Democratic presidential ticket in 2004, calling John Kerry the "Hitler of the Unborn."

Yes, maybe those are some of the reasons -- the reasons that 95-10 is a Trojan donkey.

Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice took Wallis to task for his refusal to talk straight about abortion in his current role as "progressive evangelical" adviser to Democrats in search of "values voter" support.

He is one of those religious leaders who set the teeth of feminist religious women, particularly Roman Catholics, on edge. He identifies himself as a progressive pro-life evangelical, but his heroes are ... the Catholic bishops. ... He claims to speak for "millions" of progressive Catholics who are eager to support the Democratic Party but balk at its stance on abortion. His pronouncements on Catholic teaching about abortion and what Catholics actually believe are firm and unshaken by facts.
Wallis' views are hard to pin down. Attempts by interviewers to get Wallis to go beyond his well-rehearsed and often-repeated sound bites on the issue are met with politician-like repetitions of homespun theology. He thinks abortion itself is morally wrong but does not want to see it criminalized. His reason for such generosity is classically patriarchal beneficence: He doesn't want poor women who are victims of poverty and injustice to suffer. There is no acknowledgment that a woman who is not a victim, but a thoughtful moral agent who could continue a pregnancy, might make a good decision to have an abortion.

In his attempts to seek "common ground" with others, Wallis focuses on the "too many abortions" argument. But his common ground is very shaky. It does not, for example, include contraception. Wallis has said he is in favor of contraception, but after a fairly extensive review of his writing and transcripts of speeches and sermons, I can find no reference to contraception as a common-ground means of reducing abortion rates.

This is what Jim Wallis himself says about where the Democratic Party needs to go on abortion policy in order to find what he calls "common ground" with "values voters."

Democrats must offer new ideas and a fresh agenda, rather than linguistic strategies to sell an old set of ideologies and interest group demands.
On the issues that Republicans have turned into election-winning "wedges," Democrats will win back "values voters" only with fresh ideas.

Abortion is one such case. Democrats need to think past catchphrases, like "a woman's right to choose," or the alternative, "safe, legal and rare."

On the issue of reproductive freedom and abortion rights, there is no older "set of ideologies and interest group demands" than that of the Religious Right and, it seems, of Jim Wallis. Yes, all of the above are part of Wallis' agenda -- although he leaves out not only contraception, but his signed endorsement of a federal constitutional amendment to make abortion a crime in all 50 states.

Frances Kissling goes on to say, "While he repeatedly has said that Democrats need not change their position on abortion, just the way they talk about it  ... Wallis is now out of the closet."

If the position paper that Wallis and assorted self-professed abortion abolitionists from the Religious Right signed twelve years ago is anything to go by, he's been out of the closet on reproductive freedom for women for a long time. Here is a favorite Wallis sound bite: "God is not a Republican or a Democrat. I want Republicans to talk about more than gay marriage and abortion. I want Democrats to talk about abortion and poverty in moral terms."

And here, courtesy of Priests for Life, are only a few of the "moral terms" -- prefaced with the blatant lie that "abortion on demand ... is legal at any time of pregnancy, for virtually any reason, in every state " -- to which Jim Wallis signed his name.


The women of America do not need abortion to be full participants in our society. To suggest otherwise is to demean women.
[T]he abortion license cuts to the heart of America's claim to being a law-governed democracy, in which equality before the law is a fundamental principle of justice. ... Thus, the abortion issue is the crucial civil-rights issue of our time.
There are also disturbing signs of the corrupting influence of the abortion license in other professions. History has been rewritten to provide specious justification for Roe v. Wade. The teaching of law has been similarly distorted, as have political theory and political science. Such extremism underlines the unavoidably public character of the abortion license. The abortion license has a perverse Midas quality--it corrupts whatever it touches.
Our goal is simply stated: we seek an America in which every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. ... [W]e bear a common responsibility to make sure that all women know that their own physical and spiritual resources, joined to those of a society that truly affirms and welcomes life, are sufficient to overcome whatever obstacles pregnancy and child-rearing may appear to present. Women instinctively know, and we should never deny, that this path will involve sacrifice.
Promotion of the pro-life cause also requires us to support and work with those who are seeking to re-establish the moral linkage between sexual expression and marriage, and between marriage and procreation.
We believe that Congress should adopt [abortion-restricting] measures and that the President should sign them into law. Any criminal sanctions considered in such legislation should fall upon abortionists, not upon women in crisis.
The right to life of the unborn will not be secured until it is secured under the Constitution of the United States. ... [T]he Supreme Court could reject central finding of Roe v. Wade. ... A more enduring means of constitutional reform is a constitutional amendment both reversing the doctrines of Roe v. Wade and Casey, and establishing that the right to life protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments extends to the unborn child. Such an amendment would have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states: a requirement that underlines the importance of establishing a track record of progressive legal change on behalf of the unborn child at the state and local levels.
Such a process does not, we emphasize, amount to the determination of moral truth by majority rule. Rather, it requires conforming fundamental constitutional principle to a fundamental moral truth.
The renewal of American democracy according to the highest ideals of the Founders requires us to stand for the inalienable right to life of the unborn.

A partial list of signatories includes such luminaries of the Religious Right as Gary Bauer, Family Research Council; Charles W. Colson, Prison Fellowship; Guy M. Condon of Care Net; James C. Dobson, Focus on the Family; Clarke D. Forsythe, Americans United for Life; Wanda Franz, National Right to Life Committee; Robert P. George; William Kristol, Project for the Republican Future; Beverly LaHaye, Concerned Women for America; Richard Land, Southern Baptist Convention; Bernard N. Nathanson, MD; Richard John Neuhaus, Institute on Religion and Public Life; Frank A. Pavone, Priests for Life; Ralph Reed, Christian Coalition . . . and Jim Wallis, Sojourners.

Since he must know that in every civilization since the beginning of recorded time -- including pre-Roe America -- the only alternative to safe and legal abortion has been illegal and unsafe abortion, one can only conclude that Wallis is all right with that, too.

In his painfully honest account [pdf link] of his own visits to a clinic that provided abortion care, Catholic theologian Daniel Maguire said that while he knew that this experience would not give him a woman's understanding of the abortion decision, he hoped that it would "empty me a bit of my inculcated masculine insensitivity" and help him to "lie less" when he wrote about abortion.

One review of God's Politics deprecated the importance of Wallis' opposition to what he calls the Democratic Party's "highly ideological and very rigid stance on this critical moral issue." It was Katherine Mangu-Ward's opinion that "Pro-choicers will have no trouble shrugging off this breach in an otherwise nearly flawless leftist litany."

This pro-choicer has a whole lot of trouble shrugging off what Jim Wallis has said about abortion, and along with Mr. Maguire, most people in this country of all faiths -- or even of none -- would like to hear a lot less lying about it from both religious leaders and politicians.

Wallis says, "The biblical prophets were in the presence of the king, but never in the pocket of the king."

Let us be vigilant lest, in our zeal to find "common ground," we end up in his own.

Portions of this material appeared previously at Talk to Action.

Title image: World Security Network, in a story republished from the International Herald Tribune
Pentecost 2007: Sojourners

questioning the views of others about abortion. But when it comes to his own, he answers to no one.

Last night, three contenders for the most powerful office in the world auditioned for him like high school kids hoping for a role in the school play.

Q: What is wrong with this picture?

A: Just about everything.

by moiv on Tue Jun 05, 2007 at 10:15:25 PM EST

tend to win in districts that are rural and certainly not progressive when it comes to gendered issues. We have many such in MO.

The moral center of this country vis-a-vis abortion is "hypocrisy" - as in, "I / my daughter have special circumstances, not like those sluts in the waiting room".

by NancyP on Wed Jun 06, 2007 at 12:49:26 PM EST

antiabortionists talk about being feminist.
They can call themselves whatever they want.
As I always say, I can call myself a garage but that does not mean you can drive a Mercedes-Benz down my throat.

by nogodsnomasters on Wed Jun 06, 2007 at 09:20:29 PM EST

about Wallis is not his articulated opposition to abortion for whatever ethical or religious reasons, just as I don't mind politicians saying that they think abortion is horrible and that they'd never have one.  What I do mind is Wallis signing petitions and working in coalitions with people who are trying to impede women's access to safe, legal abortions, just as I mind politicians curtailing women's access through legislation or funding restrictions.

by Rusty Pipes on Wed Jun 06, 2007 at 10:41:21 PM EST

As my son says, start with the reality that it ends a potential life. All by itself, there is a moral dimension to that reality. Then step back from the sound bytes. For the Christian community the biblical record and historic Christian community provides a starting point for the discussion. When does life begin? In the mind of God? With the fusion of egg and sperm? With the beating of a human heart? When breath first enters the lungs? Not as easy to answer as most quick responses would indicate. Old testament law requires a life for a life, yet proscribes a cash settlement for injuring a woman who then aborts. Don't fully understand it. Don't know if I even agree with it, but am willing to restrict my judgments to what God's word clearly teaches. For me this has lead to a maturing position on abortion. As a grandparent I am more saddened by abortion than ever. Children can bring such joy. Still years of living, loving, serving, and growing in Christian community has moved me increasingly to see abortion not as the lesser of two evils (sin boldly, trust Gods grace) but as a wise and permitted choice which should be available legally to all women, not just to the wealthy and powerful. My daughter is desperate to have a child, like suicide, abortion can be a too permanent a solution to a temporary problem, but the bitter divide between pro-choice and pro-life is no a help to anyone. The whole of the pro-life movement increases the demand for abortion through its restrictions on sex education, birth control, and economic security for young and poor women who are pregnant. The pro-choice in your face argument fails to help create what Hillary described as a available, legal, safe, and rare (and I do mean rare) procedure. Jim might be wrong, his position isn't mine, but his emphasis will help further the conversation between people who might otherwise never become exposed or challanged to grow in this area.

by chaplain on Thu Jun 07, 2007 at 10:09:47 AM EST
given the current attitude of the anti-abortion leaders that  the most commonly used contraception is equivalent to abortion, and that contraception in general is bad and shouldn't be available. And increasing numbers of rank-and-file anti-abortion folks are anti-contraception.

The attempts to get comprehensive sex education are also opposed by the same legislators that vote anti-abortion. Many of the anti-abortion leaders specifically oppose comprehensive sex ed. , with only a few professional PR lobbyist types demurring (due to a strategic desire to keep the single issue focus of an organization). The same demographic of rank-and-file antiabortion voters are almost always anti-comprehensive sex ed.

So no, there isn't common ground. The anti-abortion leaders will never endorse a proven approach to decreasing abortion incidence - universal comprehensive sex ed and universal contraceptive availability. The Netherlands has the lowest abortion rate in the world. Some countries may say they have zero abortions, but they don't count illegal abortions. I would highly doubt that there would be more than one or two illegal abortions in The Netherlands, and those in the immigrant Muslim families where girls might try to self-abort.

by NancyP on Thu Jun 07, 2007 at 02:23:24 PM EST

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