May 6, 2008

Wallis, Social Issues, and Interdenominational Dialogue

In an interview (not yet posted online) with CT, Jim Wallis gives answers on social issues that are no suprise. While he's adamant on his position on abortion, "The abortion debate has gotten very stale...No one seems to care about the abortion rate...The Republicans want a constitutional amendment banning abortion. That's just symbolic..." Wallis uses vague language to keep the door open for his position on gay marriage. And in a very strange way, Wallis believes poverty is the new slavery. He says "Poverty and global inequality are the fundamental moral issues of our time. That's my judgment." As a child, I experienced poverty in rural Wisconsin, yet my own experience wasn't anything like what we see in other places in the world. But it was the opportunities that only a free society can offer that provided my freedom from poverty, if poverty is, indeed, the moral equivalent to slavery.

Asked about civil rights for gays, Wallis talked about it his belief in equal protection under the law, but on the topic of gay marriage he offered no surprises. "But marriage is all through the Bible, and it's not gender-neutral. I've never done a blessing for a same-sex couple...I'm not sure that I would" which means he's not sure that he wouldn't. At this point he insists that churches who disagree on this matter have a "theological conversation" but "live with their differences" and focus their energies on poverty and disease. Clearly those are important issues, too, but now I want to have a debate with Wallis on why we must listen to him and simply live with the differences. Is it the higher moral ground to cave on certain issues and not cave on other issues? Who determines what issues we cave on? Wallis? He sounds a bit like the democrats who expect consevatives to cross the aisle while they sit still. Wallis' condemnation of the Episcopal Church is another example of calling for conversation without expectation for action or decisiveness. Perhaps Wallis is confused, because the church is certainly expected to have views on issues of personal morality...the qualifications of elders and matters of church discipline in Scripture make that abundantly clear. In his recounting of events while he attended TEDS, he insisted on the centrality of the Lordship of Jesus and the authority of the Scriptures, yet it is clear from the interview that his appropriation of the fuller testimony of Scripture is limited.

Stan Guthrie offered a response to the notion that abortion is just one of many social concerns, saying that "if everything is a priority, then nothing is." This is the message that I have been persistent in sharing because there isn't one evangelical who can adequately address every social ill. We need Christians working hard on a variety of issues, and the largeness of the abortion debate and stem cell research necessitates wider evangelical engagement. It's a more complex issue than some others because it involves philosophical dialogue on the nature of personhood and when life begins. It doesn't take quite that much work to agree that poverty is ugly, but it does ask us to consider how to affect societies for longer-term change. My specialization in theology and bioethics doesn't make me the best person to launch a crusade against oppressive forms of government. But there are other evangelicals who might serve better in that area than in the prolife movement or other areas. But for Wallis to encourage dialogue and move no further is irresponsible.

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