Commentary Magazine


There Are Prophets … and Then There Are Prophets

Over at the Huffington Post, Jim Wallis of Sojourners praised the president for his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, which included, in Wallis’s words, a much-needed “plea for civility in our political discourse.” Wallis quoted Obama, who said:

Progress doesn’t come when we demonize opponents. It’s not born in righteous spite. Progress comes when we open our hearts, when we extend our hands, when we recognize our common humanity. Progress comes when we look into the eyes of another and see the face of God. That we might do so — that we will do so all the time, not just some of the time — is my fervent prayer for our nation and the world.

Nice words all the way around.

But what makes all this so darn strange is that Wallis’s Dr Jekyll can, when it serves his narrow ideological purposes, turn into Mr. Hyde. For examples, when George W. Bush was president, here is what Mr. Civility in Public Discourse wrote:

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.

I don’t know about you, but this seems to me to come kind of close to demonizing an opponent. Nor do I get the impression that when Wallis looks into the eyes of Bush and Cheney, he is prepared to extend his hand, or open his heart, or see the face of God. According to St. Jim, they are beyond redemption and forgiveness.

I have documented before why Wallis’s claims about Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were ignorant, false, and misleading. It’s hard to escape the judgment that Wallis is not only guilty of a glaring double standard; he is also guilty of employing his faith as a crude instrument to advance his own hyper-partisan politics.

There is a season for everything and a season for every activity under heaven — a time for civility and, for Jim Wallis, a time for vicious slander. It all depends on what advances his ideology.

The corruption of faith in the pursuit of politics is a dispiriting thing to witness, especially in one who claims to be a “public theologian,” a “preacher,” an “international commentator on ethics and public life” and — I almost forgot — one who is in the “prophetic tradition.”

Somehow I rather doubt that Wallis will ever be confused with Isaiah or Micah.