Soros Funding of Sojourners Is Only the Tip of the Iceberg

by Jay Richards

Last week I reported on evidence that the “progressive evangelical” organization Sojourners, headed by Jim Wallis, had received grants from the Open Society Institute, the foundation of left-wing billionaire George Soros. In July, Marvin Olasky of World magazine had reported the same. In a recent interview with Tim Dalrymple, however, Wallis denied Soros funding, insisted that Sojourners’ funding came largely from readers of Sojourners magazine and — as if this weren’t emphatic enough — accused Olasky of “lying for a living.”

Shortly after my piece appeared, Olasky, Dalrymple, and I received a “clarification” from Sojourners. In it, Wallis explained:

Recently, I participated in an interview about the future of Evangelicalism. The interviewer asked about a blog post in which an author made accusations about Sojourners’ funding. I should have declined to comment until I was able to review the blog post in question and consulted with our staff on the details of our funding over the past several years. Instead, I answered in the spirit of the accusation and did not recall the details of our funding over the decade in question. The spirit of the accusation was that Sojourners is beholden to funders on the political left, which is false. The allegation concerned three grants received over 10 years from the Open Society Institute that made up the tiniest fraction of Sojourners’ funding during that decade — so small that I hadn’t remembered them. Sojourners doesn’t belong to the political left or right. Sojourners receives funding from individuals and organizations across a broad spectrum who are committed to our mission of “biblical social justice.”

Note that Wallis does not apologize for falsely accusing Marvin Olasky of “lying for a living.” Instead, he blames his own misrepresentation of the truth on the “spirit of the accusation.”

The “clarification” of his earlier statement is equally unsatisfying. First, Wallis is still trying to claim that his organization transcends the Manichean political divide of left and right. They just do “biblical social justice,” he insists. But again, as I show in much more detail elsewhere, Wallis and Sojourners regularly couple strained, narrow readings of scriptural texts and a vaguely Marxist economic foundation to arrive at political and economic positions that are well left of center and far afield of a far more nuanced charity and justice tradition stretching back through almost 2,000 years of orthodox Christian thought.

Second, it’s implausible for Wallis to claim that grants between 2004 and 2007 totaling $325,000 are “the tiniest fraction” of Sojourners’ funding. Worse, the three grants from Soros’s Open Society Institute are only the tip of the iceberg. Based on publicly-available 990s, I’ve discovered that Sojourners received at least forty-nine separate foundation grants between 2003 and 2009, totaling $2,159,346. Not one of these is from a discernibly conservative foundation. Very few are from discernibly Christian foundations.

Besides the Soros grants, for instance, there are two 2006 grants from the infamous Tides Foundation totaling $72,106; a Ford Foundation grant in 2008 for $100,000; a Rockefeller Brothers Fund grant for $100,000 in 2005; and a $50,000 grant from the Wallace Global Fund in 2008. The Wallace Global Fund also supports ACORN and a cornucopia of population-control groups.

Three grants, totaling $20,000 between 2005 and 2007, are from the Streisand Foundation in California. Yes, that Streisand foundation. (That’s just funny.) Other recipients of Streisand philanthropy include People for the American Way and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. This is very left-wing company.

Apparently Wallis thinks the range from left to far left represents a “broad spectrum.”

Of course, $2,159,346 is not the total budget of Sojourners for the years in question. Does that mean that the remainder of Sojourners’ budget comes from readers of Sojourners magazine? Not at all. You see, this figure is drawn from public 990s of charitable foundations, which have to report such grants because they have minimum giving requirements. But savvy donors, such as George Soros, have a variety of ways to donate to causes. Private, non-foundation grants don’t have to be released publicly, as long as they don’t make up a large percentage of an organization’s operating budget in a given year. So the $2,159,346 is the floor and not the ceiling on left-wing funding of Sojourners. There’s no easy way of knowing how much they receive from these and other like-minded donors outside the ordinary foundation channels, unless Sojourners decides to release that information. (Wallis has said their books are open, but I’m not holding my breath.)

To be clear, I am not saying that because the Streisand Foundation gives to both Sojourners and Planned Parenthood, Sojourners secretly supports Planned Parenthood. I am saying it is dishonest for Wallis to keep claiming he’s above the political fray. You don’t have to be keen-witted to figure out that Sojourners is overwhelmingly a left-wing operation, optimized to brand left-wing ideas for Christians, ideologically moored on the left, and funded to a significant degree by secular, left-wing donors with little interest in the health of the church. Certainly this fact is apparent to the trustees and officers of many left-wing foundations.

— Jay W. Richards is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a contributing editor of The American at the American Enterprise Institute, and author, most recently, of Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem.