Interview by Hugh Hewitt
HH: I am going to take this hour and next to talk civilly with a man with whom I don’t agree very often, Jim Wallis, of course, New York Times bestselling author. Jim is the president and the CEO of Sojourners, the editor-in-chief of Sojourners Magazine, and I think probably one of the best known Evangelical Christian men of the left, and certainly very, very widely and well known in the country. Jim Wallis, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show, it’s great to have you on.
JW: Thanks, good to be here.
HH: Congratulations on the publication of On God’s Side. I’ve got it linked over at Hughhewitt.com. I also want to tell people they can follow you at Sojourners on Facebook, and you’re on Twitter @ jimwallis. I’ve got it all down here. So is it fair for me to describe you as a man of the left?
JW: No, but you can do it if you want.
HH: Now tell me why not.
JW: I honestly don’t think left, left and right are political categories. They’re not religious ones. And when we try to squeeze faith into political categories, our faith gets distorted. And so I honestly think that we all should be independent of and beyond, and transcend political categories. I mean, people say that because, I’ve heard people say well, poverty is a left wing issue. No, it’s a Biblical issue. And poverty’s been an issue that I’ve tried to bring my Biblical faith to deal with. But I don’t think it’s a left wing issue, for example. So in the context of American politics, people will always do that, but I don’t think that we should try to squeeze our faith into political categories.
HH: You see, I don’t think many people…
JW: I think, I say don’t go left, don’t go right, go deeper. That’s really what I’m trying to say.
HH: And I don’t attach pejoratives to left or right. I simply use it as quick references to where someone might be on a host of political issues, but duly noted. I did also note, though, in reading “On God’s Side,” that you were as a young man a member of the SDS. They were of the left, were they not?
JW: Actually, I wasn’t a member of the SDS. That’s another right wing mythology out there. But I was, I was raised in the Plymouth Brethren churches. My father and mom started the church, and I was raised, and I grew up in the Plymouth Brethren Evangelical churches. And in Detroit, I asked why weren’t we dealing with racism, and the elder of my church said Jim, Christianity has nothing to do with racism. That’s political. Our faith is personal. That’s what he said. I was fourteen. And so I left that night. In my head and my heart, I was gone, because my heart was being ripped apart by the racism in my city, and my church, the white Evangelical church, was fundamentally wrong on the greatest moral issue of my time – race and the civil rights movement. I was in Birmingham yesterday, and it was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s letter from Birmingham jail. And yesterday, churches all over the country finally responded after 50 years, and we said in our response, we were wrong. We missed race. We missed the civil rights movement. And we missed fellowship with black churches. My church was wrong.
HH: Well, we’ve got, I’m going to cover that, because I…
JW: And so I left that, and then I joined the student movement. And I never joined SDS, but I was in the civil rights movement, that’s true, and the anti-war movements of my time. Never SDS, but I was part of those movements. And I came back to my faith after that. So I got kicked out of the church at 14 over the issue of race, and then I came back to my faith after that.
HH: Which, where were you when you joined the student movement. On Michigan State’s campus?
JW: Michigan State.
HH: And were they allied under any particular group name? I don’t want to attribute SDS to anyone. Again, by their, that’s not the Weathermen. People think SDS is the Weathermen.
JW: No, no, no.
HH: And it’s not the same thing at all.
JW: Nothing wrong with SDS. They just weren’t at Michigan State. They were at Michigan, so I was never a part of it. But I was part, I was a leader in the student movement, civil rights, anti-war. Yes, I was.
HH: All right, now a lot of people were formed by the politics and thought of that time, either to the right or to the left. What did you make of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and John Paul when they came together to bring down the Soviet Union? Did you applaud them?
JW: Well, I’m a Christian peacemaker, so I try to follow Jesus about, in my views of all those things. So I was against the Soviet Union and its oppression, its invasion of Afghanistan. And so I was glad when, actually it was a Catholic leader who was, I think, instrumental in bringing them down. I would meet with dissidents inside the Soviet Union. I would have conversations, I was supportive of dissidents in Moscow before it came down. So to be opposed to oppression is what Christians ought to do, and so I was opposed to, I went to church in the Soviet Union before it came down.
HH: But did you support Reagan and Thatcher, for example, in their deployment of the cruise missiles and the SS-20s, which helped crack the Soviet Union in half?
JW: Well, I’m a Christian, and I always believe that nuclear weapons, and I still do, are not something we Christians ought to support. Weapons of mass destruction, I don’t support them on either side. And so nuclear weapons, I think, for me, have always been a theological problem. So I didn’t support the arms race on either side. So no, the answer is, and the Soviet Union fell because of a lot, it fell internally because a great, finally, it was an oppressive, totalitarian state, and it fell finally of its own internal, moral corruption, I think. And the arms race with the U.S., I was against the arms race. I was and still am, as a Christian.
HH: But did you think the arms race helped bankrupt the Soviet Union and bring them down?
JW: I think it did, but I don’t think that was the best way to, I mean, I think Christians ought not to take, I mean, I’m a Christian, a follower of Jesus. And nuclear weapons, I can’t imagine Jesus using a nuclear weapon against His enemies.
HH: Do you think Harry Truman made a moral mistake when he used the nukes in Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
JW: I do.
HH: And the alternative of that, of course, was an invasion of Japan on the home islands which would have cost millions of American lives?
JW: Okay, these are political decisions. My dad was a Naval officer. He was on a destroyer, and he would have been part of the invasion force had there not been those atomic weapons. And for years, you know, I didn’t hear what he thought about it. But he was in the Pacific, and right after Hiroshima, he was asked to join a research team that went to Hiroshima, to see the impact of the weapons, and so he did as a young Naval officer. And he was for the bomb, he thought, because a lot of his friends had been killed at D-Day, and he thought, as he put it, the Japs deserved that. That’s what he thought. But he got out to Hiroshima, and he saw the devastation, the utter devastation of a civilian island, and then he and his young officers bumped into a five year old girl in tattered clothing, was coming out of just a ruined shed, and they knew she was die within hours or days. And he began to cry, and he told me that sitting on the bench of the World War II veterans memorial when he was 80 years old. And he was still crying, and he said and that’s why I’ve been against this ever since.
HH: Well you know, that’s interesting. We have this in common. My dad was a member of the 46th Infantry Division, also scheduled for the invasion force, served in the occupation army for a year.
HH: …and was very happy that Truman dropped those bombs, because he knew that hundreds of thousands of Americans, if not millions, would have died in the attempt to take the homeland islands. And in fact, Hiroshima wasn’t an island. It was a city in which industrial production was ongoing. So it was an awful thing, but this kind of leads us to and essence of what we’ll be talking about for the next two hours. You have one view, I have another view. I think my view is rooted in history and the obvious nature of the evil of the imperial Japanese regime and saving lives more quickly. You have a different view. Neither of us can claim certainty, can we, Jim? Neither of us can claim that God is on our side in that debate, can we?
JW: No, that’s my favorite quote from Abraham Lincoln. It’s on the front of the book, where he says my concern is not whether God is on our side. My greatest concern is to be on God’s side, and Lincoln didn’t always know what it meant to be on God’s side. But he flipped the question, and he called for humility. And religion, and politics, make the mistake of trying to bring God onto our side. He said no, we have to ask the harder question. Paul says we see through a glass darkly, and that’s always the case. In politics, I hope Christians, whether they’re, no matter what side of politics they’re on, I hope they bring a different perspective to politics. And so nuclear weapons in the world have been, I mean, we still are not, we’ve got, North Korea’s got nuclear weapons now.
HH: Jim, hold through the break. I’ll be right back.
HH: We got right to it. We got to the heart of it right away.
HH: Jim is against nukes being used in the Second World War, I’m all in favor of Hiroshima and Nagasaki having been bombed, because I think it was the moral thing to do and saved lives. Jim says a Christian would never be for it. I’m a Christian, Jim’s a Christian. So Jim, isn’t a humility necessary on both of our sides? Maybe you’re right, I should say, and shouldn’t you say that maybe, Hugh, you’re right?
JW: Well, I think there are principles, Hugh, that we bring to these questions, right? And for Christians, the first principle in politics, the Bible suggests to me, is how we treat the poorest and most vulnerable. That’s what the prophets talk about, and Jesus says as you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done to me. So Christians, and right now on immigration reform, for example…
HH: But Jim, time out, that doesn’t help Harry Truman.
JW: No, it, wait, I wasn’t…
HH: Help Harry Truman out.
JW: I wasn’t finished, yet. Richard Land and I, a Southern Baptist, we are different sides of politics, but we’re together on immigration reform because of how we’re treating the stranger as how we treat Jesus. So when it comes to war and peace, Christians should be peacemakers first of all. So there’s only two Christian traditions here on war and peace. One is the non-violence, that Jesus calls us to non-violence. Many Christians feel that. The other is just war, the just war tradition theory, which Aquinas and Augustine talked about. And there are principles that are Catholic bishops have laid out principles. And when your military actions take the lives mostly of civilians, that’s contrary to just war teaching. And so…
HH: And so again, I go back to Harry Truman. You would have advised Truman don’t drop those bombs, but throw all those American soldiers on the beach to be slaughtered?
JW: No, Hugh, I don’t know that those were the only alternatives. There’s been lots of scholarship as you know since, and many people feel that the Japanese emperor was perhaps about ready to surrender. And Christians at least have to apply Christians principles to our foreign and military policy. And so there are criteria. War is the last resort, not the first. The war in Iraq, for example, most Christians around the world did not support outside the U.S., because that war didn’t conform to just war standards.
HH: Now that’s a debate, which…
JW: And the Catholic bishops didn’t, and the Pope, well, but the Pope said it was wrong.
HH: The Pope did not say it was wrong, Jim. I’ve studied what John Paul, I mean, what Benedict had to say on that. He did not, I mean John Paul, he did not say it was wrong. What he said was that he regretted it deeply. And so I think it’s very important that as we go forward, you and I stay on the particular subject, because we’ve got two hours. But I’ve got to be able to follow through for the benefit of the audience on your logic in particular situations, not dance.
JW: No, but the Catholic Church, I mean, I’m happy to go to the documentation. The Catholic Church did not support the war in Iraq, because it didn’t conform to just war principles.
HH: And we will go back, I’ll have you back, we’ll go over that. But let’s stick on Harry Truman for a moment. If Harry Truman is being told by his advisors that I have two choices, and those two choices are nuclear weapons or the invasion of the home islands, is there a moral difference? Is that a strategic decision? Or do you as a Christian say he cannot drop the nuclear weapons?
JW: Hugh, I don’t think nuclear weapons are acceptable as weapons of mass destruction to be used.
HH: So you can’t be a Christian if you believe in the use of nuclear weapons?
JW: Hugh, I didn’t say you can’t be a Christian. You asked me what I think, and that’s what I think. And many of us Christians believe that weapons of mass destruction, because they are targeted and used against civilian populations, I don’t think they are morally acceptable. I don’t.
HH: But that, then this next step is can a good Christian disagree with you?
JW: Of course.
HH: All right. That’s all I want, I just wanted to hear that, because it seems to me that it’s very important for people to understand. You’re not judging, you’re disagreeing with other Christians who disagree with you.
JW: Well, Richard Land and I are dear friends, and we disagreed on Iraq, and still do.
HH: And that’s fine. You’re not calling Richard Land not a Christian.
HH: You’re just saying, because I…
JW: He’s my Christian brother.
HH: Our audiences is sometimes made up of people who have no idea what Christians are or aren’t. You know, it’s a secular show heard across the world and across the country, so I want to make sure people understand you, not me. Let me go back to your upbringing. You’re from Detroit.
HH: What happened to your hometown? Why is it wrecked? Why is it broken and in receivership?
JW: Well, we’ve seen, you know, industries being broken, and Detroit was a one industry town. And when I was there, my dad said we live in the best city in the best country, best state in the best country in the world, and we were the fourth largest city, and dad had a job, Chrysler, Ford and GM, Detroit Edison, my dad worked that. And you’re kids had a job if they wanted a job. There was a social contract. Everyone was benefiting, prosperity was working for everybody. All the boats were rising in those days, ’45-’80. But you know, the economy turned around, and everything changed. And I’ve got a whole chapter in my book called Economic Trust. We’ve lost economic trust. Social contracts have been broken. And my town of Detroit is a very tough place now. My brother runs one of the biggest service providers there, and it’s a very hard place to live. And so I think there’s lots of reasons. I think if the Detroit carmakers at a certain point had realized the future, and they decided to make more energy efficient cars, smaller cars, more ecologically sensitive cars like the Japanese did, and not SUV’s, I think it was a bad business decision. I go to Davos every year to speak at the World Economic Forum. So I talk to business people all the time. And I think Detroit car dealers made some very bad decisions in those days, and that was one factor. But you know, people are part of a whole economic shift. We’ve lost jobs overseas, our service jobs here don’t pay as much, and we’re in a very difficult time.
HH: Now they’re building cars quite well in South Carolina, for example, and they’re building lots of great cars all over the United States. Toyota’s got lots of great plants. So there are lots of car towns that have prospered. Is there anything about Detroit and about Michigan, their laws in the way that they approach industry, and union power that particularly disadvantaged and destroyed this city, combined with the social maladies of Detroit’s approach to family?
JW: No. You obviously have an opinion, so tell me what your opinion is and I’ll respond to it.
HH: No, no. I just, I was wondering, I just point that there are places in the country where prosperous car companies exist, but they don’t exist in Detroit. And I’m just curious did it ever cross your mind to study the one and the other and determine that perhaps in one, there are policies, laws, regulations and elected officials who are good at what they do, and in the other, not so good?
JW: Well, if you’re implying that the unions were the problem, I think that’s a political view that doesn’t, isn’t supported by the facts. I think in Detroit, my dad was in management, but he was always the one who did the negotiations with the union, because the union trusted him, and he was fair, a Christian. And he would have said that Detroit Edison needed a union, or the workers wouldn’t have been protected by his management. He would have said that.
HH: Jim, I want to talk to you now about Islam, and we don’t know that the bomber in Boston was a left wing radical, a right wing radical, an Islamist or an ultra Christian fundamentalist. We don’t know anything about it, so I’m not inferring that. This was all done, and I was ready to do this interview before Boston happened, so please understand that. But I do want to talk to you about the aftermath. You write quite a lot about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan in On God’s Side, and I think sometimes, disagreements flow from different fact sets, that people read different things. They have different worldviews. I want to, I have on my website, at Hughhewitt.com, what I call the Necessary Bookshelf, the books I think are necessary for someone to understand the war that we are in. I just want to know if you’ve read any of them. Have you read The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright?
HH: How about The Outpost by Jake Tapper?
HH: Dreams And Shadows by Robin…
JW: Well, Jake Tapper’s book, I know Tapper’s book.
HH: Have you read The Outpost?
JW: From CNN.
HH: Yeah, but have you read it?
JW: I’ve read about it. I know what’s in it.
HH: All right, Dreams and Shadows by Robin Wright?
JW: Go ahead, make your point, Hugh.
HH: Well, honestly, I just want to know if we have anything in common, because I’ll talk about that book, then. Dreams And Shadows by Robin Wright?
JW: I’ve read lots of books about Islam, maybe books you haven’t read.
HH: Okay, here’s my list. Little America by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, The Forever War by Dexter Filkins, Legacy Of Ashes by Timothy Weiner, Faith, Reason And War by George Weigel, Nuclear Jihadist by Douglas Frantz, Crisis Of Islam by Bernard Lewis, America Alone by Mark Steyn, World War IV by Norman Podhoretz, Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts by Robert Kaplan, anything by Robert Kaplan? Any of those ring a bell?
JW: Hugh, why don’t you just make your, I’ve read lots of books on Islam which you probably haven’t read.
HH: I agree. I was just…
HH: I was just looking for common ground.
JW: Make your point. The point is common ground, I tell in the book about how Christians are trying to respond to their Muslim neighbors around the world, and I think it means to love your neighbor the way Jesus told us to, and He says, love your enemies. That’s what it says.
HH: I say this in complete Christian kindness. I don’t think you have a clue about Islamist fundamentalism, and I just named 12 books, and I don’t think you’ve read any of them. But The Looming…and most of them are by men on the left and women on the left, like Robin Wright is on the left, and Lawrence Wright is the New Yorker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. And Robert Kaplan…
JW: Hugh, I have been clearly opposed to Islamic fundamentalism, and the fundamentalism in all of our traditions. We have fundamentalism in Christianity, in Judaism, and Islam. And fundamentalism usually is a distorted, twisted version of true faith in all of our traditions. And fundamentalism is a serious problem. I don’t think you defeat fundamentalism effectively with wars of occupation.
HH: But I don’t believe…
JW: I think fundamentalism, I talk in the book about how fundamentalism is better undermined from within, and not try and smash from without. And I think there’s evidence to show that. I talk in the book stories about how people deal with fundamentalism in all their traditions. Islamic fundamentalism is of course a serious threat, as fundamentalism always is.
HH: But if you haven’t read, for example, The Looming Tower, which it’s the Pulitzer Prize-winning authoritative history of al Qaeda, where it came from, what it thinks, how it operates by Lawrence Wright, the New Yorker’s number one guy, and you haven’t troubled yourself to read that, much less these others, this is a sincere question. Why should anyone take you seriously on the question of Islamic fundamentalism?
JW: Hugh, the people, you could read my book…
HH: I have. I’ve got it right here, heavily annotated.
JW: Okay, and I’m happy to talk about what I say in my book about how we respond to Islamic fundamentalism, which is not, I don’t think, effectively with the wars of occupation around the world. That’s not the way to respond.
HH: Okay, I will in fact go to one of those. I’ve got to find it right here. It’s about the Taliban. You write at some point about the Taliban that they will, they’re simply resisting our war of occupation. Here it is, Page 149. “What began as a response to an attack has become an open-ended war against a Taliban insurgency, which is itself largely motivated to drive out foreign troops, and has few designs beyond its own borders.” Now that’s from your book. That’s quite simply as wrong as wrong can be. Have you not heard of their heroin trade?
JW: Hugh, there are many people trying to figure out how to withdraw from Afghanistan, and Congressman Walter Jones, I was just with last week, conservative Republican, who’s against the war in Afghanistan as a Catholic and a Christian. And he doesn’t think the war in Afghanistan is moral, is righteous, and is defeating Islamic fundamentalism.
HH: Jim, whether or not we should be in Afghanistan is a separate question from whether or not you understand…
JW: Hugh, tell me what you think our policy…the Taliban, you know, you and I are opposed to the Taliban. The Taliban, their treatment of women, their totalitarianism, all of that, what do you do in response to them? Do you think we should remain, have an American force in Afghanistan for decades?
HH: As I often say, interviews are not debates. I didn’t, I just want to understand your position, Jim, your position as written on…
JW: My position about the war in Afghanistan is similar to Walter Jones, member of Congress, Republican…
HH: But that, Jim…
JW: …conservative, he’s against the…I think our war in Afghanistan has failed.
HH: But that’s not what you write in your book. What you write in your book is “the Taliban insurgency is largely motivated to drive out foreign troops, and has few designs beyond its own borders.”
JW: The Taliban insurgency is a complicated factor, and there are some members of Taliban who are more focused on Afghanistan, more internal, they’re nationalist. Others are more like al Qaeda, who have an international foreign objective. It’s a mixed bag.
HH: So if you write in your book that it’s largely motivated to drive out foreign troops and has few designs beyond its own borders, and that is not in fact true, what other parts of your book with regards to Islamic fundamentalism ought people…
JW: Oh, come on, Hugh. Come on. Come on, Hugh.
HH: No, no, Jim, this goes to the credibility…
JW: There are different analysis of the Taliban, as you know, and some feel, most of the analysts don’t think the Taliban and al Qaeda are the same thing. They’re different forces. They’re both Islamic fundamentalists.
HH: Of course. I agree with that.
JW: How you deal with them is of course, the question.
HH: But that’s not what you wrote. I’m going to the question of whether or not people ought to trust On God’s Side when it departs from, you’ve got a very good analysis of C.S. Lewis’ books in here. There’s some very good stuff in here on poverty, which I want to get to. But I don’t think you do your work on foreign affairs, Jim. I don’t think you read, I don’t think you study, and I really don’t think…
JW: No, Hugh, Hugh, I just don’t agree with you.
HH: No, that’s not true. It’s not about me.
JW: On foreign affairs, on military policy, people can read what I say. I think there are a lot of people who feel that the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a bad decision. They’re not as smart as you, they don’t agree with you.
HH: No, but I’m talking about when you make…
JW: And the Taliban now, or insurgency, I mean, I think the war in Iraq and Afghanistan were major mistakes, and I think they make us less safe.
HH: But Jim, you’re missing my point.
JW: Less safe.
HH: My point is that when you hold yourself out as an authority that Christians ought to follow when it comes to teaching issues on war and peace, that you ought to be well-prepared and well-versed in the war and in the various accounts of the war from both left, right and center, but primarily on the left. I always try and cite, when E.J. Dionne comes on the show, for example…
HH: …or Jonathan Alter, or my many friends on the left, they are deeply and well-read in the conflict and in the ups and downs of it. And I noted in On God’s Side a peculiar conclusory attitude, which I actually trace in your instance back to the 60s, and I’ll go back there now for a moment. Where do you think Pol Pot came from? And at one point in your book, you write approvingly of Ho Chi Minh, and of Frantz Fanon, and of Che Guevara. Do you still believe that?
JW: Hugh, that’s a distortion of what I write. I was in the anti-war movement as a young kid. I was opposed to Pol Pot. He was a terrible, terrible butcher, Pol Pot was. What I said in the book was that as a young student, I was reading Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara, and Frantz Fanon, and I found Jesus to be far more radical than them. That was the reference there.
HH: It’s on Page 67, and I stopped, and I said because what was not after that was the denunciation of those men as objectively, horribly evil. “Like many of my generation, I was now reading beyond Martin Luther King to authors like Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, and yes, Karl Marx. Their searing critique of the structures of oppression was compelling, but to me, they lacked convincing solutions, had insufficient philosophical assumptions, and had no spiritual foundations or undergirding.” So I’m asking you now, Jim Wallis, were they evil?
JW: Were they evil? Well, Solzhenitsyn talks about evil running through the heart of history and the heart of all of our hearts. And to say that Ho Chi Minh was evil, and the leaders in South Vietnam that we supported were not misses history there. Ho Chi Minh was a Vietnamese leader, and he was a mix of lots of things. And I was supporting the Buddhists when they opposed the South Vietnamese government, and when they opposed the North Vietnamese government.
HH: Jim Wallis, this is amazing. Can you not bring yourself to say that Ho Chi Minh was evil?
JW: Ho Chi Minh did many things that were evil things, yeah. Sure.
HH: And how about Karl Marx? Was it bad for the world that Karl Marx wrote what he wrote?
JW: Well, if you’re saying the governments, I say time and time again that communist governments around the world were totalitarian, were evil. And Karl Marx, what I said in that book, all you’re quoting is for young people, a searing critique, a searing critique of the injustice of capitalism was attractive to a lot of young people in those secular movements. And I came to Jesus. I left reading Karl Marx to read Jesus, and I became a Christian.
HH: I get that. In fact, you go on to write, “I wasn’t impressed or convinced that they had the way forward. Indeed, they created new injustices and terrible tyrannies.” I want to be fair to you. But I didn’t see there what is, you know, Jesus would say to Che Guevara, repent or go to hell, wouldn’t He?
JW: Only Che Guevara? He wouldn’t…
HH: I didn’t say only. I just said Che.
JW: Would He say that to all the Latin American dictators that the U.S. supported?
HH: But that’s a question to a question. Can you answer just the question? Is Che Guevara a killer? I mean, he was just a killer. He was a horrible man. He’s like Castro. Do you agree Castro’s a killer and a horrible man?
JW: Yes, but you’re not, I want you to apply those standards to all the people that the U.S. government supported.
HH: Who in the United States government…
HH: Who among…
JW: Whoa, you’re on Cuba here. Batista, who Castro overthrew…
HH: Batista is nowhere near as evil as Castro. Not even close, Jim. Do you believe that he is?
JW: You’re going to say that the Sandinistas were evil…
HH: Absolutely they are, killers.
JW: And Somoza was not as evil as they?
HH: No, the Contras were good men. The Contras were the people that I supported.
JW: You’re wrong. And all the Christians in Nicaragua would have, the Evangelicals, would have told me you’re wrong. Somoza was terribly… see, this is one-sided politics.
HH: Okay, we’ll come back after the break and continue. Not one-sided politics. I just call evil, evil.
JW: You’re on the right, and you’re not being fair to what the Gospel says about left and right. You’re just a right wing politician.
HH: Jim Wallis, at the beginning of On God’s Side, you write, “a central purpose of this book is to challenge the hateful, ideological warfare between conservative and liberal sides in our ongoing battles, as well as their inability to listen or learn anything from each other.” And then a few paragraphs later on the same page, Page 16, “The Occupy movement is challenging elitism and plutocracies that now dominate our public life.” Do you admire and approve of the Occupy movement?
JW: Well, to start with, Michael Gerson, you should read his comment on the book. He was a speechwriter for George Bush, he’s a good friend of mine, he’s a conservative columnist for the Washington Post, and he says kindly, Jim and I don’t agree on all the policy questions, but his call to an urging consideration of the common good couldn’t be more timely, and in our last conversation, I’m trying to say that when Christians just adopt one side in politics, either right or left, I think they make a mistake. I was very much involved in Nicaragua with the Christians there, the Evangelicals there. And they would not have agreed with you that the Sandinistas were so evil, and Somoza was not…
HH: I didn’t say anything about Somoza.
JW: No, wait, let me respond to that. Let me talk.
HH: Jim, no, you cannot put words in my mouth. Somoza was a dictator. I talked about the Contras. Somoza is, I said nothing about Somoza.
JW: And the Evangelical Christians, Gustavo Parajon, CEPAD, the leaders of the church in Nicaragua were opposed to the Contras, because they were terrorists killing ordinary, innocent civilians. They were not good men from the point of view of those Evangelical Christians. So just so your listeners know, the Evangelicals in Nicaragua don’t agree the Contras were good men.
HH: And I go back now to the quote which I asked you about. “The Occupy movement is challenging the elitism and plutocracies that now dominate our public life.” Do you approve of the Occupy movement?
JW: I thought the Occupy movement was a very hopeful thing. Yes, I do. Young people challenging the abuse of corporate power was a good thing, a healthy, helpful thing, yes, I do.
HH: All right, now I quote from John Hinderaker, Powerline author and news columnist. “The Occupy movement had a horrific record of violence. Occupy Wall Street exposed has counted a dozen deaths, including three murders, more than a dozen rapes, more than 25 disgusting cases of indecent exposure, public defecation, et cetera, more than 500 thefts, more than 6,800 arrests, in excess of $20 million dollars in property damage, a sorry record by any standard. But the would-be terrorist attack that was foiled in May Day, in which five Cleveland Occupiers plotted to blow up a bridge was something different, an act of domestic terrorism.” How does, how do you square that with your admiration for Occupy?
JW: Because those are silly things, Hugh. Come on. The Occupy movement, what happened at all those sites, I mean, they’re human beings, so I’m not sure what happened at all those sites, but the Occupy movement was a lot of young people who had idealism, I mean, your readers should read what I say about Occupy, and it was a bunch of young people trying, they were protesting what I call the un-economy. The economy was unfair, unstable, unsustainable, and making lots of people unhappy. There are things wrong with our economy, and young people were protesting that. They weren’t perfect. They made lots of mistakes. But they weren’t violent. I mean, were there people at Occupy sites that did things that were stupid? Of course. But it was a movement of young people trying to protest the economy in which things were very unfair. And I think that was a good and hopeful thing. So all those things you said about the Occupy movement are really silly critiques.
HH: Okay, duly noted. That’s what you think. I disagree on that. I think they’re very serious.
JW: Well, we disagree. Your readers, if they want to read a book from a Christian who has different views than yours, they should read my book, because I have very different views than yours on most of these things.
HH: Obviously. On Page 159 of your book, you write, “Now recall what you have heard conservatives say about liberals, or liberals about conservatives on talk radio, cable, television, or the screaming covers of bestselling books. Do you apply these names to your beloved conservative uncle, wonderful liberal aunt, or close family member?” Who’s the worst in this, Jim Wallis, the left or the right when it comes to invective?
JW: Well, I find a lot of invective on all sides. Do you find invective in Rush Limbaugh, for example?
HH: Do you have anything specific to cite?
JW: What he says about people who disagree with him.
HH: I always go, because I am very careful in this regard, I go to specifics. Do you have a specific one about Rush that you object to?
JW: Oh, I can’t, I can’t count the numbers in time and time again, the way he talks about people, and those he disagrees with, I find really full of invective.
HH: Well, let me give you five from the left. I’ll play these for our audience and for you. Here’s Chris Matthews on Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, cut number one:
CM: That was kind of a puissant performance by that guy from Wisconsin. I don’t know how these guys get over the wall into American politics. I think they won in a very low turnout election in Wisconsin. I think everybody should run now a national election, forced to vote, go into elections where there’s a lot of voters, so you don’t get this weird, warped sense of people coming who supposedly represent the American electorate. That guy doesn’t represent anybody.
HH: Here’s cut number two, Ed Schultz actually talking about me.
ES: I guess Hugh Hewitt has never taken out a loan in his life. He’s never had to depend on anybody else. He’s probably the worst neighbor in the neighborhood. That’s just a guess. I don’t know that. But I’d bring him over for a cocktail party. Sure, then I’d urinate on him, because that’s all he’s worth.
HH: Here’s Rachel Maddow on Newt Gingrich, cut number 3:
RM: Something provocative, but I think it’s true. Is that why we keep getting racial allusions from Newt Gingrich? Newt Gingrich tonight brought back the food stamps president thing, he’s been doing that, bringing that up in Florida, and then tonight he went to President Obama ought to stop singing, ought to stop being the entertainer-in-chief, essentially caricaturing him in a way that almost calls out to minstrelsy.
HH: Here’s Dick Durbin, United States Senator from Illinois, talking about our military, cut number 5:
DD: If I read this to you, and didn’t tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have happened by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime, Pol Pot or others, that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that’s not the case. This was the action of Americans in treatment of their own prisoners.
HH: And here is Joe Biden, the vice president of the United States.
JB: Let’s take a look, because now we’ve got a real clear picture as Tom pointed out. We’ve got a real clear picture of what they all value. They’ve said it. Every Republican has voted for it. Look at what they value, and look at their budget, and what they’re proposing. Romney wants to let, he said in the first 100 days, he’s going to let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street. They’re going to put y’all back in chains.
HH: So Jim Wallis, I just gave you five examples of members of the left using execrable language about their opponents. Do you have anything specific about Rush or any member of the right, anything remotely like that?
JW: Hugh, this is really sad, you know? I mean, you’ve taken five clips where people said things, as I listened to them, in ways that make me sad, that I wouldn’t speak in those ways at all. I went on a sabbatical to write this book. And my discipline was not to speak or write or be interviewed about the political news cycle. So every day, I got up in the morning and I would get up early and have some time to pray and to exercise, and I’d think and read and write all day, watch the news cycle at night. And I was more and more depressed by what I saw, Fox News or MSNBC. You flip back and forth, the politics are different, the tone is more or less the same. If you can’t find five clips from Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, if you can’t find five clips from them that are as invective or more than the ones you just played, you’re not being fair or responsible. It’s on both sides. And to say it’s only on the left is really…
HH: I didn’t say it’s only on the left.
JW: It just shows where you are.
HH: I did not say it’s only on the left. I asked you if anything…
JW: I don’t agree with the language being used in those clips. No, I don’t. But Rush, you know, anybody would have to ask if Rush Limbaugh has been just vicious, and his rhetoric is completely irresponsible. Christians ought to oppose the way he talks about other people.
HH: I’m asking for specifics, Jim Wallis.
JW: And Sean Hannity…
HH: I’m asking for specifics, because I think…
JW: Hugh, I didn’t, I wasn’t asked to prepare for this interview by clips from Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh. If your listeners listen to those people, they’re an example of what I’m talking about.
HH: But I actually think what my listeners hear right now is a very prominent Christian whom I believe is of the left making sweeping denunciations of individuals not backed up by specifics that are not reflected in the same…
JW: Hugh, that’s, Hugh, you’re being ridiculous here. It’s your show, you pulled out five clips. Your producer didn’t tell me let’s talk about Rush Limbaugh. All kinds of things Rush has said have been completely irresponsibly on the right, and the left has done that, too.
HH: But you can’t, we’ll come back after the break…
JW: Why, as Christians, we should be opposed to both, not just one side, which you are. It’s really…
HH: No, that’s not true. That’s absolutely not true. I’ve condemned people on my side often when they slip into invective.
HH: Jim, I want to stay on this question of how Christians debate. I always believe in debating with specificity, with argument. I don’t believe in making other people’s points for them.
JW: In civility.
HH: If I go…
JW: In civility.
HH: And civility. So I want to go to an interview that you did with Tim Dalrymple, and I’m going to quote you in this interview. He’s a friend of mine. He’s obviously an acquaintance of yours, at least. You said to Tim, Tim asked you if you’d taken money from George Soros, which is neither here nor there to me, but…
JW: Come on, Hugh.
HH: But he asked you that. And you said to him, “It’s not hyperbole or overstatement to say that Glenn Beck lies for a living. I’m sad to see Marvin Olasky doing the same thing” Have you ever apologized to Marvin Olasky for that?
JW: Actually, I did talk to Marvin, and I said that others, Marvin Olasky was saying things about Sojourners that weren’t true, about us taking a lot of money from Soros. They weren’t true. And it wasn’t true. And I apologized for saying that he lied for a living, because that’s an overstatement. And I said that’s not true, and I apologized for that. But what he said about us wasn’t true.
HH: And I’m glad to hear that, because I think actually, if people make mistakes, and we all do in the public square, they just have to go to the people that they’ve made a mistake to and say I’m sorry.
JW: Yeah, but Hugh, if you’re saying that the left use invective, and the right doesn’t do as much, I find that really to be irresponsible.
HH: No, I don’t. I’m saying that you have a standard that sees the log in the right’s eye, and very rarely sees the log in the left eye. For example, I think it’s horrible that you said it’s not hyperbole or overstatement to say that Glenn Beck lies for a living. I would never say that about any of my opponents, not Ed Schultz or Rachel Maddow. I mean, do you regret that statement?
JW: Well, lies for a living is not a good statement, okay? Glenn Beck, though, Glenn Beck was attacking a lot of us every day with complete falsehoods, every single day. He put me on…
HH: But again, this goes to…
JW: Wait, no, wait, wait, wait.
HH: That could be true. I don’t doubt that.
JW: He put me on his blackboard, and he put lots of, he said any church…here’s what he said. Any church that talks about social justice, has that term on its website, or has a preacher who talks about justice, if you see that, run from that church. They are socialist, communist, or fascist. That’s what he said. That’s ridiculous, and he that about…
HH: I disagree with that as well. He’s wrong about that, because my church talks about social justice. But I’m saying for you to say that he lies for a living is unchristian, and ought to be a subject of penance for you.
JW: Well, I think Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, for example, are two examples of people who use falsehood in a regular way on their shows to make people afraid, and I think that’s irresponsible.
HH: Now I’ll tell you something, Jim, this strikes me as the least Christian thing you’ve done. You are making a sweeping indictment of Rush Limbaugh, and you do not have one specific.
JW: Look, I could talk about the way he called the Georgetown graduate student a whore on his show.
HH: There’s a specific. That was wrong.
JW: There’s all kinds of specifics.
HH: Okay, give me another one.
JW: Hugh, you didn’t tell me to bring my list of Rush Limbaugh specifics here today.
HH: But I walk around, because I live, as you do, in the public square, and I know you debate Al Mohler and Arthur Brooks, you live in the public square. You ought to have ready, Jim Wallis, you just finished a book, if you’re going to attack Rush as you do in the book, as you did here…
JW: I don’t attack Rush in the book. You’re bringing up Rush Limbaugh now. He’s not in the book.
HH: He’s not in the book.
HH: Okay, when you write, let me go find it, Jim, I always like to say here, “Now recall what you have heard conservatives say about liberals, or liberals about conservatives on talk radio, cable television or on the screaming covers of bestselling books,” you’re not referring to Rush there?
JW: You just asked me if I talked about Rush Limbaugh in the book. I didn’t. I’m talking about invective used on all sides.
HH: So, okay, then I’ll take that, that you did not mean Rush in that, because it seemed to me that whenever anyone says talk radio…
JW: If you’re asking me does that apply to people at Fox or MSNBC, you used examples from MSNBC, I think, you ought to use some examples from Fox for your listeners as well.
HH: I used the Vice President and Dick Durbin.
HH: They’re not from MSNBC. I mean…
JW: Well, but there are, there are Republicans in the Senate as well who have said things that are really sad, irresponsible. I’m saying…
HH: Dick Durbin compared the military to Pol Pot.
JW: We have to, don’t you agree we have to talk better to each other than we do in our public life? That’s what my book is saying. If people want, I’ve got a letter in my book from former Republicans and Democrats in the House, who say we were adversaries. We didn’t treat each other as enemies, which we do now, and that’s wrong. And both sides tell me that. Gabby Giffords got shot in the head by an angry young man, who people are afraid for their lives now. We’ve got to talk more civilly. Jim Daly of Focus on the Family…
HH: But the angry young man was insane, right? He wasn’t political, as was the crazy young man in Newtown.
JW: Jim Daly and I, Chuck Colson and I signed a covenant for civility. It’s in the book. Christians who disagree on politics, like you and I do on most everything so far, have got to show people how we can talk in a way that shows people how to disagree as well as to agree.
HH: Well, I agree with that.
JW: And so there’s been an awful lot of incivility on all sides. Fox News is known for that. So is MSNBC.
HH: You see, I don’t, but again, that I don’t agree with. I don’t think when you make sweeping generalizations that that’s Christian. I think people need to be very specific. I’ll be specific here. On Page 59 of your book, On God’s Side, you write, “Here’s what it comes down to. A Gospel message that doesn’t try to change the world, and that concentrates only on individual works only for those who don’t need the world to be changed. Therefore, it ends up being too white, too privileged, too male and too American.” That comes after a lengthy conversation about Al Mohler, your friend and mine. Well, I know Al pretty well, and if I go to the Southern Seminary’s website, I find the Bevin Center For Mission Mobilization sending people to the Boston urban mission, to Western Central Asia, to Buenos Aires and Chicago, to East Asia and Southeast Asia, to go. They’re all about mission to the hurting world. So when you write that after you’re talking about Al, that the problem in the world is too white, too privileged, too male, too American, I think that’s horrible, Jim Wallis. I think that’s slanderous on Al and the wonderful people at Southern Seminary.
JW: No, it doesn’t, Hugh. Al and I had a great debate at my alma mater, Trinity, very civil, very respectful. We disagreed. We disagreed about, the question was…
HH: Do you think he cares about the poor?
JW: Can you listen to me talk?
HH: But do you think Al Mohler cares about the poor?
JW: I was about to tell you. Okay, the question was, is justice a part of the Gospel message and the mission of the church? Is justice a part of it? I said yes, and Al said no. What Al said was Jim’s right about justice, but this is an implication of the Gospel, not central to the Gospel, which is about the atonement in Christ. So I have a whole two chapters on what I call the Gospel of the Kingdom versus the atonement only Gospel.
HH: I’m looking at it right here, Page 58-59-60.
JW: And Al and I have a different theological view of that. And I think Al does care about the poor. But I’m saying I think it’s theologically really a dangerous thing when we don’t see justice as central to the Gospel. And Al’s church, like my church, Hugh, was completely wrong on the major moral issue of our time.
HH: I’m stunned.
JW: …being race. And Al agreed with that. Al agreed with that.
HH: I don’t believe for a moment that Al would say his church does not believe in justice. Al’s church is all about justice.
JW: I didn’t say that, and he didn’t say that. What I did just say is Al said his church was wrong on the civil rights movement, on the black church. They did not, they were on the wrong side of that issue. They were, and my church was, and Al agreed with that.
HH: I’ll be right back with Jim Wallis. I think anyone who reads Pages 58, 59, and 60 will have a deeply, deeply disfigured understanding of Dr. Albert Mohler and Southern Seminary. And I think as an accomplice to that, Jim, you really have to revisit that and consider whether or not you did them harm.
HH: Jim, we have two segments left, so I’ve got to…
JW: Hugh, I want to go back to what you just said. I want people to read what I said about the debate with Al, because it was a very civil debate. I respect Al, and I respect him in the book. We, I talked about where we agreed that we disagreed at Trinity. And there was never any disparagement of Al Mohler or his church. He said that his church, Southern Baptist, was wrong about race and the civil rights movement. He said that. And we agreed. And what we talked about was how if our theology doesn’t see justice as central to the Gospel, then that, I think, that makes us very vulnerable to getting these things wrong. The South African church, like that, too, was wrong about Apartheid, wrong about Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.
HH: But Jim, the attempt…
JW: And my church was wrong. We were wrong about race.
HH: The attempt to suggest that your church, or your theology today has a monopoly on, or even a large part of the lot about compassion, poverty, overseas missions, vis-à-vis Al’s Southern Seminary graduates, I think, is tremendously wrong. They are the most giving…
JW: Hugh, you’re saying things that aren’t true, that I did not say that.
HH: I’m telling you the impression that your book gives to me, and I will let people, I encourage people to buy On God’s Side. I taped an ad for it. I want them to go and understand. I think it’s so wrong.
JW: There is not disparagement at all of people who think that serving the poor out of compassion is, of course that’s the right thing.
HH: And lots of conservatives…
JW: And I’ve got a whole chapter on justice as saying the compassion, the God of the Bible is not just a God of charity. The God of the Bible is a God of justice who talks about structures, and employers, and rulers and kings, and talks about how we need to pay attention to and care for the poor, and bring justice to the poor.
HH: And I think most of the…
JW: And that’s what the Bible says.
HH: And I think most of the compassion in the Christian world flows primarily from those who are also politically conservative, that indeed their generosity, their giving, their self-sacrifice far overshadows that on the left, and that the attempt to disguise that, or not to fully extol it, is in fact complicity with a disfigurement of their Christian mission. And I sadly close…
JW: Well, Hugh, that’s really ridiculous. What I say in the book, there’s a whole chapter called Making Things Right. And it completely supports those who move out in compassion to serve the poor. But it says in the Bible all the words about justice are about making things right, not just serving the victims of injustice. You’ve got to deal with the injustice. And so just serving the poor, the victims of injustice, isn’t enough. Biblically, it isn’t enough.
HH: I agree. Have you heard Arthur Brooks’ The Road To Freedom yet?
JW: Yes. Arthur and I are friends.
HH: I know.
JW: And we’ve debated on the road about all these things, and we agree on many things. But you’re caricaturing, I hope people do read my book.
HH: I’m not caricaturing. I am reading it.
JW: I am the author, and I’m saying you’re caricaturing my book for a radio show.
HH: Well, okay. Page 171. Here you write this. “Disagreement on the theological and moral issues around homosexuality should not prevent people on all sides of the debate from supporting equal protection under the law for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.” This is an intentionally ambiguous statement, so I want to ask you very specifically, Jim Wallis. Do you support legalizing same sex marriage?
JW: I have always believed in equal protection under the law for gay people. I’ve always believed that, and many Christians do, no matter what they think about homosexuality. And for me, for a long time, I thought civil unions were a good response, a common sense way to do that. But now, I hear young Christians all over the country, including the majority of Evangelical young Christians, really believe that equal protection under the law should include civil marriage for same sex couples. And I now tend to agree with them on that. And I also think that Christians, what they think theologically, pastorally, Biblically, those are tougher, deeper, more complicated questions, and we need complete religious freedom and liberty. So Christians and churches should work out those questions by what they think the Bible says, which is what I do as an Evangelical. But do I think that equal protection under the law should include same sex couples having the same benefits from marriage that heterosexuals do? Yes, that’s what I now believe.
HH: Is it fair for me to say, then, that Jim Wallis supports same sex marriage?
JW: You’re not distinguishing in the way that I just did between the civil question.
HH: But if you had to vote on Prop. 8, would you vote yes or not on Prop. 8? Prop. 8 was a question, an up or down question, to support or to be against same sex marriage. How would Jim Wallis have voted?
JW: I support civil marriage for same sex couples as equal protection under the law.
HH: All right, that’s fine. Clarity is preferable to agreement.
HH: Jim, is sexual intimacy outside of marriage between one man and one woman sin?
JW: What I have said again and again in the book, and outside, is that you were talking a moment ago about the whole marriage equality question. I said the first thing to do is to support marriage. We’re losing marriage in our society. We’re losing it. And particularly among low income people, but across the board, because we have chosen recreational sexuality over covenantal sexuality, the commodification of women and girls, we’ve lost this notion of committed, covenantal marriage, and that’s what I think liberals and conservatives should get together and support. And then people can decide whether they think those benefits should be extended to, or allowed for same sex couples. They can say yes or say no. I think it should be yes. But the first question is marriage, so I’m raising two boys, and I tell them that sexual intimacy, sexuality, is under the rubric commitment of marriage. Of course, I believe that.
HH: All right.
JW: And I think people on all sides of the spectrum should come together and support covenantal marriage again, which we’ve lost in this society. To me, that’s the big question, that’s a bigger question than gay marriage. Same sex marriage is not the reason that we’re losing marriage in our society. That’s not the primary reason…
HH: But that’s not what I asked. I was just asking for clarity, because I think that people need to have good teaching from people who hold themselves as Christian theologians and pastors as to when sexual intimacy is appropriate, and when it’s sinful. And I was just looking to hear you use the word sin. Do you believe it’s sinful for sexual intimacy to occur outside of marriage between one man and one woman?
JW: Well, sure, but I think, you know…
HH: Okay. Clarity.
JW: The question here is how do we reestablish, restore, re-covenant marriage in our society? And that’s where we’ve got to start. If we want to talk about, let’s talk about, Hugh, let’s talk about the soaring divorce rates, and how they’re as high among conservative Christians as non-Christians. And I don’t hear preachers talking about that so much.
HH: I do. I actually hear, my pastor talks a lot about that.
JW: Good. That’s good.
HH: Let me ask you on Page 216, you quote the founder and the executive chairman of Davos, Klaus Schwab, approvingly.
HH: Now I always look at Davos, and I’ve never been, as a display of excess that ought to appall anyone who understands poverty, who has, as you have and as I have, walked through some of the world’s worst slums. I look at the jets, I look at the hotels, I look at the banquets, and I say this is an occasion of vomiting out excess. How can you bring yourself to go to that?
JW: Well Hugh, I go to lots of places, and there are secular places, there are church places, there are university places where all that they do, and how they run their conferences, are not the way Sojourners runs its conferences, and how we govern those things. But you go to speak your message.
HH: To Davos? But you quote…
JW: There’s all kinds of people that go and speak at Davos.
HH: But you quote the founder.
JW: …that are good, Christian people.
HH: Is Klaus Schwab admirable?
JW: I think what Klaus Schwab is doing in Davos, trying to ask, the motto is to improve the state of the world. They’re trying to…look, and I’ve been critical of Davos for the things that you just talked about, for the wealth, the excess, all of that. But there are a lot of good things, good conversations, there are a lot of good Christians, Hugh, who go to Davos.
HH: Do you think you’d find Jesus at Davos?
JW: Of course.
HH: You would? Jesus would go to Davos?
JW: Jesus goes, went to all kinds of places and talked about the Gospel of the Kingdom. And that’s what I try and do. There are many, Hugh, I’m sure, I hope, you know, there’s all kinds of right wing political gatherings that are excessive and wealth and power, and you probably have shown up at some of those places, or church conferences that are way too excessive. Jesus talks about the Gospel of the Kingdom, and that’s what I try and do. In this book, I talk about what the Gospel of the Kingdom means, a new order has come into the world to change the world and us with it. And I’d like to hear, I’d like this interview to be more about what Jesus said about the poor and the oppressed and the vulnerable, and how Christians should be peacemakers in the world, and not just supportive of the military policies of their country.
HH: Well, we’ve only got a few minutes left. Let me end up on this subject. You write a lot about American exceptionalism. “American excpetionalism, in my view, is very real. But it isn’t exclusive. Anyone with the rule of law, the protection of religious freedom, the protection of property and speech rights, the right to trial.” Who else has that, Jim, in the world? Which other country comes close to the treatment of the poor, the giving out of justice, fairness? Who does more than America? Who is our equal?
JW: Well, most Christians, Hugh, around the world, most Christians don’t believe that America is somehow…I have a whole section in my book which you’re not referring to about why I love this country.
HH: It’s on Page 114, 115, 116. But my question, we’re low on time…
JW: But American exceptionalism easily can become an idolatry that we are the best country in the world…
HH: But that’s not my question. My question is, is there any country our equal in terms of the remedy of poverty, in terms of the amount of freedom of religion…
JW: Well, poverty is worse in this country than in most developed countries.
HH: Is there any country in the world that is our equal on the combination of all of these things, Jim? It’s not a hard question. If you want to hold up Sweden, you can hold up Sweden. But do you think they’re better than we are?
JW: Well, they’re better than we are on poverty, for sure. For sure. Western Europe does a much better job of protecting people than we do. The highest poverty rate in the 50 years now, we have in the U.S. Now Hugh…
HH: So you think the poor are better off in Europe than they’re better off here?
JW: Oh, I think the social safety nets in Europe are much, much better than here, sure.
HH: So you would rather be poor in Europe than poor in America? Would you have a better opportunity of escaping poverty in Europe than in America?
JW: There is less social mobility now in America than in Western Europe.
HH: Well, then, you know, you can believe what you believe. I think that’s crazy.
JW: That’s a fact. No, no, no.
HH: I know. I think that’s crazy.
JW: Go to Brookings, look it up, that’s a fact.
HH: That’s just nuts. But Jim, I want to give you the last minute.
JW: But Hugh…
HH: I want to give you the last minute to say whatever you want about On God’s Side or the interview, or take your best shot.
JW: On God’s Side is about trying to find the common good, and not just be on the side of your own country, your own group, your own tribe, your own party, which is what I heard today. So I am challenging the view that somehow our country, our side, our party, our policy is the best. I want to say, ask what Jesus said, what He taught, how He lived, what He said, and I want to ask are we doing, and are we living that way ourselves. How the poor and the vulnerable are treated is the principal Biblical question of politics, how the poor and vulnerable are treated. We have to ask that of the poor in this country and around the world. And Jesus followers are called to be peacemakers, to love our neighbors and even love their enemies.
HH: And Jim, on that note, we agree completely on those two points. So I’m glad it’s a great place to end. On God’s Side by Jim Wallis at Hughhewitt.com. Thank you, Jim.
End of Interview
Transcript from HughHewitt.com, April 2013.
Whose Side is Wallis On?
In this interview Mr. Wallis began by claiming he is not of the “left” and as Christians we should go beyond and transcend political categories. This sounds great! The interview seemed to be off to a good start. Let’s see where Wallis’ transcending of political categories leads us. But curiously, as the interview continued Wallis always ended up “transcending” to the political left. Here are just a few observations.
Wallis talked repeatedly about his concern for poverty and helping the poor, yet he seemed to be oblivious to the biblical directions on the best ways in helping the poor. He also claimed to be a Christian Peacemaker, but then gladly supported humanist solutions that do violence to God’s laws and commands. In short, he seemed to be more supportive of the ideas of the Humanist Manifesto over biblical standards and the historic directives of Christianity.
When it came to war, Wallis made his own assumptions about what Jesus should think about WMD’s (which may or may not be right), but he did not seem to consider Christ’s involvement with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; or in instructing Israel to defeat or wipe-out her enemies? WMD’s may have come in handy? (Sick humor alert!) Is there a biblical mandate on which side can have the best weapons in a war?
Moving along in the article, Wallis also feigned ignorance about President Reagan’s efforts to peacefully bring down the Soviet Union. Wallis (acting uninformed) says he thinks maybe a Catholic leader had something to do with it. But, public records have shown that it was President Reagan who began formulating his plans to bring down the Soviet Union while he was still Governor of California. When he became President, Reagan then formed an alliance with Margaret Thatcher of England and with Pope John Paul II to put pressure on the Soviet Union and bring it to its inevitable collapse; peacefully. But Wallis didn’t like the rhetoric that Reagan used, so somehow, Reagan’s efforts didn’t count.
But, at least Wallis is a self-proclaimed “Christian peacemaker,” against the war, blah, blah, blah. It appears that to Wallis in order to be a “Christian Peacemaker” one must only oppose oppression in their mind or with verbal rhetoric, but not actually do anything to physically stop aggression. But, isn’t that what Reagan did with the Soviets? Didn’t Reagan successfully use rhetoric to help facilitate the collapse of the Soviet Union and put an end to the Cold War? Yes, but apparently Reagan didn’t use the politically-correct (leftist) rhetoric that Wallis’ approves of. So much for religion transcending political categories!
Wallis also claimed he is “opposed to oppression,” but then he also stated that he was opposed to the war in Viet Nam. Yet, in the Viet Nam War, the Soviet backed communists of North Viet Nam were imposing their communist oppressive regime upon the people of South Viet Nam. Wallis’ solution to fighting the oppression imposed on South Viet Nam was to go to church in the Soviet Union! The Church in the Soviet Union at that time was almost completely without influence, closely monitored and controlled by the state. So, Mr. Wallis actually did something completely irrelevant to oppose the oppressive communist expansion in South Viet Nam. He probably would have received more attention juggling on a street corner in San Francisco; “juggling for peace.” Wallis appears to be rather selective about which “politically-correct oppression” one is talking about.
Since Wallis says he is “opposed to oppression” of all kinds, why then is he not concerned about the oppression of God’s people by the homosexual community and their totalitarian agenda. The Apostle Peter in warning true believers about false teachers reminds them of the example of Sodom and Gomorrah. Peter says; “[God] delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed with the filthy conduct of the wicked; for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds”…(2Peter 2: 7-8). Apparently Wallis is not on God’s side in this matter. (More on this shortly)
Hugh Hewitt and Jim Wallis then spend some time with countering ideas on Christian principles and the Just War Theories of Augustine and Aquinas. This is always a good discussion or debate for serious Christians to have as war is a most serious undertaking and the consequences are far reaching if you choose wrongly either way. My problem with Wallis in this discussion is that he continually throws out the term “Christian principles” with a seemingly narrow definition. Apparently “Christian principles” to Wallis only means peace at all costs or turn the other cheek. Wallis’ sophomoric approach appears to be to take the bible verses you like, discard the ones you don’t like, and call it a Christian Principle. He never seems to have actually developed a serious theological concept on any particular issue. He just “feels” his way to a presupposed conclusion in spite of the theological evidence of God’s whole word.
It was also disturbing that Wallis spoke so positively of the “Occupy Movement, “while, at the same time regard the questions about their violent nature as “silly things” and “silly critiques.” Compare this with his comments about Christian Fundamentalists or regarding Rush Limbaugh’s so-called invective rhetoric. At least Limbaugh’s rhetoric is just rhetoric, his opinions and satire. The Occupy Movement uses public disturbances and actual physical violence to make ambiguously meaningless public statements. No one in the Occupy Movement has ever made an intelligent logical public statement about how they propose to solve or improve anything. Yet, apparently Wallis thinks they have something important to teach us; “a very hopeful thing.” This is a truly disturbing assessment of a group of violent malcontents by a so-called Christian leader.
The interview eventually comes around to the subject of homosexuality and gay marriage. Here Wallis again shows his hesitation for the biblical view, although he tries to have it both ways. He talks about re-covenant marriage but also supports gay civil marriage. He seems to think that so-called marriage equality should include gay civil marriage and that somehow this will help restore re-covenant marriage overall. Wallis seems to try to dodge the question of whether he endorses same sex marriage, but then says he endorses civil marriage for same sex couples. I’m not sure what the difference is in same sex marriage and civil marriage for same sex couples, but apparently new language categories are being dreamed-up to create new expanded definitions of marriage. Does Wallis believe Jesus had an alternative view of marriage than that of the Scriptures? What did Jesus say about marriage? Did Jesus change His mind about marriage between one man and one woman and only inform 20th and 21st century leftists like Wallis?
Wallis is on God’s side if it suits his presupposed political beliefs. He is just as guilty as anyone about “squeezing faith into political categories,” maybe more. He pretends to be a Christian Unifier but that apparently does not include so-called Christian fundamentalists. It also appears that to Wallis, everybody on the Christian right is a “Fundamentalist.” To Wallis, Christian fundamentalism is on the same plane as Islamic fundamentalism. So, are we to presume the fundamentals of Jesus are the same as the fundamentals of Mohammed for Wallis? How about the principles of Jesus and the principles of Mohammed? Like the delusional ex-President Jimmy Carter, Wallis sees Christian fundamentalism as one of the greatest evils in the world. He says fundamentalism is a serious problem. He says fundamentalism distorts. Does he “feel” that liberalism distorts? Can he describe how Christian fundamentalism is such a “serious problem” in America? It would be interesting to see how Wallis’ distorted view of “Christian Principles” compares to his particularly distorted idea of “Christian Fundamentals.”
Wallis’ favorite buzz words are poverty, justice, equality, oppression, etc. That’s what he says he likes to talk about (especially when someone is challenging his abstract biblical logic). Why? Why does he choose these issues to believe and not abortion or biblical marriage? Does he really care or is he just feeding his self-righteous ego by saying, I care, I’m a peacemaker, blah, blah, blah? It seems that if you have to repeatedly announce, “I care, I’m a Christian, I’m a peacemaker,” maybe people aren’t really all that convinced. If the bible condemns sexual immorality then why does Wallis take a secular humanist position on certain aspects of the subject? Why can’t he say he really cares and that’s why he supports the biblical principles on all sexual immorality, including homosexuality? Or why can’t he say he really cares and that’s why he is against women killing their babies? Does he believe he is upholding biblical justice and equality by supporting sexual immorality and killing babies? Why try to cover your inconsistencies by defaulting to the position of saying poverty, justice, and equality are more important? That may be true, but isn’t righteousness synonymous with justice in the bible? Are those things not examples of biblical injustice and spiritual poverty. Turning from biblical lawlessness of all kinds is a common theme throughout the scriptures and Christians are called to that life endeavor.
Idolatry (spiritual adultery) for individuals and for nations is also most important to God. So, do we just say, “I just like to talk about idolatry?” Of course not! Christ said the most important commandment was to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Beyond that Jesus says justice, mercy, and faith are most important. He then adds that the lesser matters should not be left undone. So, it appears Wallis’ defaulting to poverty, justice, and equality is a smoke screen to disguise his biblical inconsistencies.
Again, why does Wallis support the secular humanist solutions to helping social justice, equality, and helping the poor, instead of following biblical principles? Does he believe worldly solutions are superior to biblical solutions? Is he “on God’s side,” or on the side of man? He said that he asks how Jesus, lived, taught, and how we are to live that out; but isn’t that what Christian fundamentalists and Christians in most sects or denominations seek to do as well? Wallis doesn’t seem to care as much about what the bible actually teaches as much as how he feels about what it says. His abstract feelings appear to be more important than actually discovering what it means to be on God’s side. Jesus said it would be hard to be on God’s side and quite often it is. I agree with Wallis’ sentiment for the title of his book and his desire to live out the teachings of Christ, but it’s difficult to reconcile his anti-biblical political categories. In my view he fails to go beyond and transcend the worldly materialistic ideals of secular thought.
But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples (he who was about to betray him) said (to Jesus), “Why was this ointment not sold for three-hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief… John 12: 4-6a
Whose Side is Wallis On? Commentary by Pete Coker, GospelBBQ .