When I finished undergraduate school about 30 years ago, one of my favorite social commentators was a young upstart named Jim Wallis. Kicked out of a conservative Christian seminary for his protests against the Vietnam War, Wallis went on to found a group in Chicago and edited a magazine called Post-American.
This publication challenged much of the basis for U.S. foreign policy at the time, and also was virulently anti-capitalist. Now, being a young college graduate majoring in journalism, I was totally ignorant of any economic concepts, except that I instinctively knew a few things about the laws of supply and demand. Naturally, I gravitated towards Wallis and his radicalism.
In the mid-1970s, Wallis and his friends decided that their message of left-wing evangelicalism could better be heard in Washington, D.C., so they moved their operations to the nation’s capital city and began Sojourners Fellowship, complete with the overhaul of their magazine, now called Sojourners. (The idea behind the name change was that Christians are seen as "sojourners" in the world as opposed to being part of the established order.)
The magazine was full of challenges to the existing political and economic orders — or so I thought. Wallis and his followers claimed no allegiance either to Democrats or Republicans. (Then Sen. Mark Hatfield, a Republican from Oregon and a fierce critic of the Vietnam War, was one of the magazine’s regular contributors.) At the time, I worked as a reporter for a very conservative newspaper and somehow, I navely believed that if I were to show my editor some articles from Sojourners, that somehow he would change his mind about things.
However, my views on the world were changing, some for the better and some not. I was becoming increasingly skeptical about the role of government in the economy, but I was also becoming more and more a believer in fighting the Cold War at any costs. (In other words, my editor ultimately convinced me to change my beliefs.) Wallis, once a hero of mine, was now on the other side.
In the meantime, Wallis’ "independence" was slowly but surely stripped away, as it become more clear that his agenda — which he declared was "Biblical" — simply was another in the continuing saga of leftism. Time named him one the 50 "new faces" of leaders for the future; he was becoming a star — and also became firmly entrenched in the political culture inside the Beltway in which violence first and foremost is the organizing principle of society.
Sojourners began to read like the virulently atheistic The Nation, except that it had a few references to God. And as the tragedies of Southeast Asia began to unfold following the end of the Vietnam War, it became clear that Wallis was no advocate of nonviolence, as he claimed.
In terms of sheer percentages of a population, one of the worst cases of genocide in history was the communist takeover of Cambodia in 1975. The Khmer Rouge emptied the cities and killed either directly or through starvation more than one-third of the people who lived there. Yet, not once did Sojourners even mention this holocaust, except to doubt the veracity of those claiming the genocide was occurring — and to blame the United States for the whole thing. (In that situation, he was not as wrong as one might think, as U.S. ravages in Southeast Asia certainly hastened the tragedies.)
Lest one think that Wallis was simply being wisely skeptical, in 1979 the refugee crisis caused by hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Vietnam showed the man’s true colors. When confronted with the awful truth that communism — which he had openly supported — was wreaking havoc in that poor country, his response was to condemn those who fled.
The refugees, he claimed, had been "inoculated" with a "consumer lifestyle" during the Vietnam War, and simply were fleeing to find a place where they could further "support their habit." (I am not making this up; he really said this.) The statement was so wrongheaded and evil that at that point, I realized that Wallis was not the apostle of nonviolence that he claimed to be. Instead, I came to realize that he was not against the state using violence against people; he just wanted the state to be violent against people he did not like, mainly those who owned businesses or who might not wish to live under the oppression that is communism.
The focus of Sojourners over the past two decades has not changed; if anything, it has become — like Wallis — even more a fixture of the Washington establishment, albeit, the left-liberal side. In that view, all of the troubles of a society stem from private enterprise. The more power that the state can seize, the better off people will be, according to this ideology.
Thus, Wallis has become co-opted by the very ideology he says he has rejected. Take a recent statement of his, for example:
It is past time for Congress to pass and the president to sign a TANF welfare reauthorization bill that increases funding for child care, includes legal immigrants, encourages education and training, and maintains current work hour requirements. It is past time for Congress to pass and the president to sign a child tax credit for low-income working families. It is past time for Congress to pass and the president to sign full funding for Head Start and his “Leave No Child Behind” education programs.
This is what passes for a "radical, Biblical view" of our society. It hardly differs from Establishment Democrats — if at all — and most "conservative" Neo-cons would endorse it as well. As anyone knows, the agenda he has endorsed above is nothing more than a call for even more expansion of the state into the daily lives of individuals. His constant railing against any tax cuts for anyone who actually pays taxes further demonstrate his hostility towards any productive people. (In a recent Sojourners piece, the father of Bill Gates declared that inheritance taxes were nothing more than an act in which individuals who have somehow "benefited" from the "community" simply are "giving back" to that same "community.")
For all of the talk of "radical Christianity," Wallis has only one God. That God is the state, and not just any state. It is a state that turns its guns inward upon the people in a society who are the most productive, a state that does not shirk from using violence to satisfy the needs of the welfare state. (Yes, yes, Wallis opposes the Iraq war, but only because he believes that the government’s tools of violence should be turned inward, not outward. That is hardly a libertarian — or even true anti-war point of view.)
While I am sorry to see one Jim become co-opted by the Washington Establishment, there is another Jim living in that same area who has stood his ground for liberty, even when it has cost him dearly. I speak, of course, of Jim Bovard.
Since 1989, Bovard has published six books, all very critical of the political establishments not only in Washington, but also in all of this country. From his attacks on U.S. farm policies to the current misnamed "War on Terror," Bovard has skewered both Republicans and Democrats as he tirelessly points out how encroachment of government means less freedom for individuals.
I have read three of his books and cannot wait to read his latest one, Terrorism & Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of Evil, which clearly demonstrates that the U.S. Government is hardly the entity that should be launching anti-terrorist wars around the globe.
Bovard’s message of limited, constitutional government is not going to be popular with many people on the right or the left. He attacks corporate welfare of all kinds, including the tariffs loved so dearly by many conservatives. He attacks the expansion of the welfare state, which liberals — and Neoconservatives — tell us is an example of the government "expanding" freedoms. He is not employed by any major think tanks, as his books manage to offend people of all political persuasions.
No, Jim Bovard has not turned into the serial hypocrite that Jim Wallis has become. (Wallis, while supposedly condemning the Patriot Act, has often cheered the expansion of federal criminal law that is part and parcel to this act, including the final destruction of financial privacy.) Instead, this Jim has stood for real freedom and justice, not the arbitrary state-worshiping "justice" that passes for "Biblical thought" in the pages of Sojourners.
Yes, once upon a time, two Jims went to Washington, both with deep reservations about the efficacy of expanding the state. One Jim decided that an expanded, violent state was just fine, provided it was aimed at people who actually produced something. (As one can imagine, Sojourner’s web pages gives us the anti-Wal-Mart links.)
The other Jim stood his ground, no matter what it cost him. This Jim is a hero. The other one is simply an imposter.
October 13, 2003