The 'State' Awakening

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As the media and voters continue to reject Ron Paul’s presidential candidacy, on the other side comes a new book by Jim Wallis of Sojourners’ fame: The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America. Simply put, Wallis is attempting to fill the void that is left by the loss of influence of the once-powerful evangelical Christian voter base, and do it from the hard left.

It is interesting that Wallis uses the "Great Awakening" as the title of his latest book on "Progressive Christianity," as the original "Great Awakenings" that occurred in Great Britain and the United States were not political in nature, especially the first two. Moreover, they dealt with issues of sin, salvation, and a relationship with God; Wallis’ latest creation effectively defines sin as the lack of socialist beliefs and salvation as an action of the spreading of state power. To put it another way, the great preachers of the First Great Awakening in the mid-1700s, including George Whitefield, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards, spoke of God as a being that transcended the state and politics, and all rulers ultimately were subject to Him; in WallisWorld, God is the state, or at least God is the "Progressive" state.

Because I have written a number of pieces on Wallis and his movement, someone put me on the Sojourners email list, so I have received a weekly barrage of emails from the organization that urge me to embrace socialism and any politician who advocates the spread of such doctrines. Because Wallis and Sojourners are openly against the war in Iraq, one would think that they would pay at least some attention to the anti-war candidacy of Ron Paul, but think again.

In searching the Sojourners website, I found only one mention of his name as part of a "take action" pledge in which candidates are urged to lay out their plans to fight poverty. The site declares:

This election season, we can answer Jesus’ call to care for the “least of these” by demanding that candidates go on the record with real plans for addressing poverty in the U.S. and around the world.

Of course, the way that Wallis and his followers believe is the way to "address poverty" is to do those things that will guarantee more poverty. When one looks at the poorest countries in the world, all of them either are socialist or have heavy state involvement in their economies. For example, Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, does not permit any private ownership of land; in North Korea, which still is Stalinist in its orientation, during a recent famine, people literally were eating grass.

Lest anyone think I am exaggerating about Wallis, read his take on the recent decision by John Edwards to drop out of the Democratic political race for president. In a blog piece entitled, "Well Done, Thou Good and Faithful Servants," Wallis lays out what he calls the "Christian" political agenda:

John Edwards has changed the shape and the agenda of this campaign. He has put the needs of the poor and working families on the political agenda for the first time in many years. His clear and consistent voice has made sure that universal health care, fundamental issues of economic inequality, and the plight of so many Americans who are barely getting by would be on the front burner of this election campaign. John Edwards has championed the poor more than any white presidential candidate since Robert Kennedy did many decades ago. His campaign may be ending today, but he has already shaped the priorities of this election year in a decisive way.

Again today, he reminded us that “we have a moral responsibility to each other,” as his valiant wife Elizabeth could be seen wiping a tear from her eyes. Because, he said, “But for the grace of God, there goes us.” He called for an end to government “walking away” from poor and working people. Nobody has spoken of the 37 million Americans who wake up every morning in poverty more than John Edwards.

It is interesting that Wallis chooses Edwards as his political role model. Edwards a few years ago built a 28,200 square-foot house, the largest house in Orange County, North Carolina, which is a very wealthy community. Even though Edwards got his money by suing doctors (he was a very successful trial attorney who specialized in medical malpractice suits), I do not care about the size of his house or how much money he has made.

However, I do care when a person who made more money in a few days than I will make in my lifetime and who lives in a house that literally is 15 times the size of mine tells me that I am making too much money, and must be forced to pay most of my income in taxes to finance his statist schemes. Moreover, Edwards did not run a campaign in which he outlined how we could eliminate much of the poverty in this country; had he done so, he would have endorsed free market capitalism, which has lifted most Americans from the kind of grinding poverty that was the lot of most people less than a century ago.

Instead, Edwards continually claimed throughout his campaign that free markets were the cause of poverty, and that the only way to end poverty in this country is to destroy businesses, tax people into oblivion, and for government to seize property and throw anyone who resisted into prison. It was a campaign which called for the state to engage in violence against anyone who did not fit into Edwards’ scheme.

In reading the parable in Matthew 25 from which the "good and faithful servant" comes, it is clear that Jesus is not endorsing an all-powerful state. In fact, he is referring to someone who has made the best use of the talents that his master bestowed upon him. But Wallis is not done, as he outdoes himself in the last paragraph of his Edwards lovefest:

The Bible says that a nation will be judged, more than anything else, by how it treats its poorest and most vulnerable. And seldom do we see a political candidate who sounds like a biblical prophet. So I just want to say thank you to John and Elizabeth Edwards. You may not become president this time, but you have been a prophet to the nation and will continue to be.

John Edwards decidedly was not a "prophet," and certainly not in the Biblical sense. A person who spends $400 for a haircut and preens before a mirror does not fit the mode of the prophets of the Bible, who lived in caves, lived on whatever provisions they could find, and spoke out against the sacrifice of babies to the god Moloch (unlike Edwards, who holds that there is nothing wrong to burning unborn children to death via saline abortions). (I cannot imagine the Biblical prophets speaking out in favor of abortion on demand, but in the hyper-shallow spirituality of WallisWorld, I guess that is just fine.)

Edwards based his campaign upon one theme: there should be no connection whatsoever between what one produces and what one consumes. His campaign was not about ending poverty; it was about stirring resentment and making sure that anyone who is productive is labeled an Enemy of the People.

Wallis also conveniently forgot that Edwards voted for the war in Iraq. Furthermore, Edwards voted for the Patriot Act and other such "laws" that have eviscerated any semblance of the rule of law in this country.

There was one candidate in this race who more than anyone else played the role of a prophet. This candidate voted against the Iraq war from the start, and declared (to a round of jeers) in a televised debate that Jesus Christ was "the Prince of Peace," which is more than Edwards ever did.

This candidate also has been prophetic about the state gobbling up and wasting resources and making everyone poorer. And this candidate has been relentless in pointing out that the Federal Reserve System, by being an engine of inflation, has increased the hardships of the poorest among us.

The candidate is Ron Paul, and he is the one candidate that Wallis has systematically ignored. Of course, Paul also believes that government intervention into peaceful activity always makes things worse, as Ludwig von Mises so aptly said many years ago. Paul does not believe that the actions of the state in promoting the welfare state are peaceful, which means, according to Wallis, that he is not sufficiently "progressive."

There is no doubt that the Religious Right which so influenced American politics in the past two decades has lost much of its power, and I believe that is a good thing. A movement that has glorified militarism and unwarranted U.S. invasions of other countries is not a movement that I can support. Moreover, that same Religious Right movement has ignored Ron Paul’s campaign, and Paul is the one candidate who truly has exemplified the good aspects of what we want Christians involved in politics to be. By ignoring Paul, the Religious Right will destroy itself on anti-Biblical principles of the worship of the state and political power.

Yet, once we sweep away the shallow God-words in Wallis’ articles and books, we find the same worship of state power that is so harmful to this nation. The Great Awakening is nothing but an attempt to turn the hearts of Christian believers away from following God to following the dictates of a violent state — and claiming that the state itself embodies God. It is not "progressive"; it is blasphemous.

Unfortunately, it seems that Wallis’ false gospel is catching on in the evangelical world. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago has embraced Wallis’ "gospel" and so has mega-church pastor Rick Warren, who wrote the best-selling The Purpose-Driven Life. One hopes that this movement will not be universal, because in the end, Wallis has nothing to sell but cheap, shallow spirituality and unadulterated statism.

Correction

I have heard from Rick Warren, who tells me he is a fan of the Mises website. His exact words were:

Actually, I completely disagree with Jim Wallis’s big government approach to poverty. The answer is not aid, but trade, not subsidies but freer markets, not wealth redistribution but wealth creation. not the government but local congregations. Saddleback’s P.E.A.C.E. plan is the exact opposite of outdated and ineffective liberal social government programs that have failed.

We believe the answer is the Church, not bigger government.

People who have studied our program know it is the exact opposite of Jim Wallis’ program. I’d appreciate you making this distinction and correction.

I am quite glad to make this correction. By the way, Pastor Warren also regularly reads the Mises Institute website!

February 2, 2008

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He also is a consultant with American Economic Services.

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