Jim Wallis and the "Moral Center" on Abortion
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."
And as this week's Pentecost 2007 rolled around, once again Jim Wallis issued the call, and presidential hopefuls dutifully packed their suitcases.
"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.
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.
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.
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 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 AMERICA WE SEEK
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.
Jim Wallis and the "Moral Center" on Abortion | 6 comments (6 topical, 0 hidden)
Jim Wallis and the "Moral Center" on Abortion | 6 comments (6 topical, 0 hidden)