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Progressive Evangelical: I Know Nothing but I Have Strong Views Anyway

Jim Wallis is the kind of Evangelical who secular progressives love to love. He’s a believer who jumps onto virtually every social justice bandwagon, and thus becomes — despite his limited following — an extremely useful example of the “good Evangelical.” I don’t doubt his sincerity (I hear he’s a very nice man), but let’s just say that I doubt his rigor. Yesterday, he issued a Christian call for accountability for police killings of unarmed black men, and it actually included this priceless paragraph about the most recent Freddie Gray verdict:

While I am no legal expert on the details of the court decision yesterday or whether the charges against him and each of the other officers were carefully made or effectively prosecuted, nor a spiritual expert on Nero’s motives, nor an administrative expert on Baltimore police training, one fact continues to remain clear: No one has yet to be held accountable for the death of Freddie Gray who was alive and well before being detained and put into that police wagon.

He doesn’t know the law. He doesn’t know the facts. He doesn’t know motive. He doesn’t know about police training. And even the facts he states are not quite right — Freddie Gray was alive before he was detained, but he wasn’t “well.” He had opiates and marijuana in his system, and his potential intoxication is highly relevant to the criminal charges brought against the officers. But no matter. Wallis demands “accountability” — sending people to jail. Firing or suspending officers isn’t accountability. Massive civil settlements aren’t accountability. Only prison time — facts be damned. 

I feel some degree of sympathy for men like Wallis. It’s hard to write at the speed of social justice, and if you refuse to call for prison time until after you’ve weighed the actual law and actual facts, well then you’re being a bad “ally.” No good progressive wants to be a bad ally.

When even Christians like Wallis are calling for officers’ heads without knowing the facts or the law, then it’s easy to see why a “chill wind” — to borrow FBI Director James Comey’s phrase — “is blowing through American law enforcement.” No police officer is above the law, but activism can’t trump the Constitution. The next time that Wallis wants to opine on a court case, he would do well to learn something about evidence. Cops deserve justice too.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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