The Corner

Sojourner, Heal Thyself!

On his blog yesterday, the liberal evangelical Jim Wallis, reacting to comments made about Barack Obama by Focus on the Family’s James Dobson and Tom Minnery, said this:

Dobson and Minnery’s language is simply inappropriate for religious leaders to use in an already divisive political campaign. We can agree or disagree on both biblical and political viewpoints, but our language should be respectful and civil, not attacking motives and beliefs.

I agree with Wallis about the need for civility and respectful language. I wonder, then, what Wallis would say about these aspersions, made by a professing Christian not long ago:

I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. And this isn’t about being partisan… I’ve heard plenty of my Republican friends and public figures call this administration an embarrassment to the best traditions of the Republican Party and an embarrassment to the democratic (small d) tradition of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this war and the shameful way they have fought it. Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted—because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison – after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

It turns out that these disrespectful and uncivil words, attacking motivations, came from … Jim Wallis, back in November. How terribly inconvenient for Wallis.

I wrote a piece for NRO at the time pointing out how reckless and misinformed Wallis’s charges were. It now appears as if Wallis is willing to play by different sets of (Christian) rules, depending on what best advances his political ideology. His is a cautionary tale: many of us who are Christians and in the political and policy arena struggle with how to allow our faith to animate our political and philosophical views without allowing it to become merely an instrument to advance a narrow political agenda. Our faith, while it certainly ought to be relevant to our public lives, should be trans-political and trans-ideological. And while faith can deepen one’s commitment to certain issues, the danger is that a passion for those commitments can sometimes manifest themselves in words that cross boundaries and are meant to wound. Tough and spirited exchanges are fine; mean and ad hominem ones are not.

I have found that it can sometimes be a delicate and difficult balancing act.

We could all benefit from more examples of, and more encouragement to strive for, authentic grace and civility in our public debates. It’s just that Jim Wallis, one of the more partisan and political figures you will find within Christianity, is not in the best position to be preaching on this particular subject. See Matthew 7:3 for more.

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