Jim Wallis’ Compromise on Social Justice

“In the end we remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends, and there comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.”
 ~ Martin Luther King jr.
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NALT Watch: The Ad That Was Too Controversial for Sojourners
By Dan Savage

Okay, um… gee. Not a believer, not interested in being welcomed into anyone’s church (prefer the Fremont Market on Sundays to just about anything else), but that ad made me mist up a bit. “Welcome, everyone.” Nice message, cute kid, cute couple. Now I don’t think kids belong in churches—”Youth Pastor Watch” archives are here—but if you’re gonna take your kid to church, you really ought to find a church where everyone is welcome… gay or straight.

So, anyway, this ad was rejected by Sojourners, which considers itself the leading publication—in print and on the web—for progressive Christians. Okay! If progressive Christians can’t unite behind the concept of welcome then, gee, what the fuck good are they?

– – –

This reminds me of Obama’s compromise with right-wing Republicans. Why can’t so-called progressive leaders realize that there is no such thing as compromise with a right-winger?

Compromise is the Achille’s Heel of lily-livered liberals. Either be progressive or don’t, but be honest about it. I love compromise when done with reasonable people who desire to seek the common good. However, compromise should never be used as an excuse for moral weakness and the failure of moral leadership.

There is no big tent liberalism that is big enough to include right-wingers. In the past, progressive leaders fought for what they believed in and weren’t afraid of hurting the feelings of their moral inferiors. MLK didn’t tone down his words so that bigoted Klansmen wouldn’t take offense. Stand strong or sit down.

As Howard Zinn put it, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” Jim Wallis and Sojourners is trying to be neutral. I respect the ideal of compromise, but you can’t be naive about it. Buddhists talk about useful means. This type of morally weak compromise clearly is not a useful means toward social justice.

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Some additional thoughts.

Those who inspire great change aren’t practical people. In fact, they are often willing to make massive sacrifices especially on the personal level.

There are three obvious examples that come to mind: Jesus (ignoring the questions historical proof), Paine (yes, Paine again) and MLK.

Jesus could have stopped at being a small time preacher wandering around in his small part of the world. Jesus didn’t need to challenge Roman authority. He could have still done plenty of good helping the poor and healing the sick. But Jesus wasn’t seeking to just the world just a little bit better. He wanted to inspire radical change. And he made the ultimate sacrifice.

Paine could have stopped with being a revolutionary leader. He was considered a hero and was popular around the world. Just with his early writings, he had incited revolutions in many countries. That is no small accomplishment. But he wasn’t satisfied with just challenging unjust governments. He went on to challenge all injustices: corrupt and false religion, poverty and plutocracy, etc. In doing so, Paine lost nearly all popular support. Most of the founding fathers wouldn’t defend him once the government was instituted. Paine even wasn’t allowed to vote. He died defamed and almost forgotten.

MLK could have stopped at being a civil rights leader focused on the race issue. He was the most inspiring leader in 20th century US history and one of the most inspiring leaders in world history. He created real change in the world. He could have sat on his laurels. He could have become just another church leader and tried to shift politics by influencing the political elite. But MLK felt morally compelled to continue his fight. The younger black generation didn’t agree with his pacifism and most Americans were critical of MLK’s criticisms of the Vietnam War. If MLK had lived long enough, he probably would have ended up like Paine, defamed and forgotten.

These idealists didn’t stop at what was practical nor even at what most of society considered ‘good’. They knew the majority was against them, but they also knew they were on the right side of history. They rode the energy of conflict all the way. They didn’t worry about people getting hurt feelings. They didn’t seek compromise with injustice. They fought and they sacrificed.

Because of people like these, the majority eventually catches up. But genuinely moral leaders can’t wait for the majority to follow. A leader has to lead even if no one is willing to follow. Moral leadership isn’t a popularity contest.

It’s not that compromise is wrong in all or even most cases, but at times like these there is a hunger for moral leadership. Anyone who speaks out against injustice becomes a moral leader, whether or not anyone listens. Any moral leader is first and foremost a follower of some ideal. That is why radical idealists are always the game-changers in society.

It’s hard to envision this kind of leader because history and mainstream media has a way of whitewashing past examples. So, to those in power, Jesus was promoting religious authority over pagans and non-believers. To conservatives, the details of Paine’s radical vision are forgotten and his words turned into bumper sticker slogans. And to mainstream Democrats, MLK has become nothing more than a set of inspiring speeches that distract from the real problems of the present. Past leaders are idolized instead of their examples being followed. And the idols they are made into are safe objects of worship that hide the radicalness of the original visions.

Imagine if someone like Jim Wallis were actually to follow their examples, especially the example of Jesus.

Have we Christianized Jesus?
by Rev. Billy Talen


The Christianized Jesus — the turning of a radical into a conservative shadow of his former self — explains our problem of establishing and celebrating freedom fighters today. It is important that our progressive heroes be given their deserved fame, an accurately reported fame, and this is crucial in ways that impact our own activism.

Jesus of Nazareth was not a Peak Performance Strategist as the prosperity preachers would have it. Nor was he a foreigner-hating patriot as the tea party would argue. Obviously American politicians and their lobbyists pursue so many policies that are against the teachings of Jesus but are supported by mainstream Christian opinion. In fact, Jesus’ parables and sayings push the spiritual revolution of gift economies, and of justice through radical forgiveness.

The Hallmark-carding of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life is what gave Glenn Beck the opening to disrespect his speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Dr. King’s basic differences with our present corporate economy needs to be a presence in our lives, especially in the educational materials and media of the young. Malcolm X’s spirited defense against the violence of entrenched power — this would help us now, as the security state begins to define 1st Amendment-protected protest as a form of terrorism. Cesar Chavez’s creativity and steady hand in unionizing the California farmworkers could be useful now as state employees face labor busting by governors and their wealthy tax-dodging sponsors. These three progressive heroes must be known for what they actually were.

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To put it simply, Americans are tired of fake compromise that in reality is just endless capitulation to power and wealth. Even liberals who love compromise are tired of fake compromise. If Jim Wallis isn’t careful, he might become the Obama of religious progressivism.

What Happened to Obama?
By Drew Westen

But the arc of history does not bend toward justice through capitulation cast as compromise. It does not bend when 400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans. It does not bend when the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically. It does not bend when we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates. It does not bend when only one side in negotiations between workers and their bosses is allowed representation. And it does not bend when, as political scientists have shown, it is not public opinion but the opinions of the wealthy that predict the votes of the Senate. The arc of history can bend only so far before it breaks.

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