1/17/2005

The Company You Keep

The New York Times, in a piece called "Democrats Turn to Leader of Religious Left", reports that House Democrats are trying to find a way to reach out to religious voters.

Democrats, reeling from the Republicans' success at courting churchgoers, are focusing new attention on a religious and political anomaly: Jim Wallis, one of the few prominent left-leaning leaders among evangelical Protestants.

At the start of the Congressional session, Senate Democrats invited Mr. Wallis to address their members at a private session to discuss issues. A group of about 15 House Democrats invited him to a breakfast discussion about dispelling their party's secular image.
Mr. Wallis is the founder and editor of Soujourners, a Christian ministry "whose mission is to proclaim and practice the biblical call to integrate spiritual renewal and social justice". A look at the Sojourners Action Alerts page reveals a list of causes that certainly seem very Democrat-friendly:
  • Bulldozers in Bethlehem? - Tell Congress to investigate the use of Caterpillar equipment in the illegal demolition of Palestinian homes.
  • Demand Rumsfeld's resignation, independent investigation - Abuses in U.S. military prisons are systemic, not isolated.
  • Stop election dirty tricks! - Organizations funded by the Republican National Committee have been caught pulling illegal dirty tricks that included voter registration workers destroying registration forms filled out by Democrats.
Sojourners doesn't appear concerned about "dirty tricks" in the Washington gubernatorial race, and also doesn't appear concerned about I.R.S. restrictions on political speech by 503(c) nonprofits. But, I digress...

Mr. Wallis is the author of God's Politics : Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. Publication of this book was accelerated so that it would hit bookshelves around the time of the Inauguration. In a review for Slate entitled "The Morals of the Story", Elizabeth A. Castelli sounds some cautionary notes about Mr. Wallis...
Wallis states again and again his overarching perspective: "The real question is not whether religious faith should influence a society and its politics, but how." Religious faith is no generic category here; it means biblical religion.
...
But what is more troubling is the degree to which Wallis frames "religion" as the sole source of a legitimate political vision for social change in the United States. Throughout the book, he argues that "vision" only emerges from religious conviction and that everything else is either cynicism or complaint.
...
Moreover, people without religious convictions or affiliations are largely reduced in Wallis' schema to complaining secularists with "no vision." He calls nonreligious people "secular fundamentalists" with "absolutist" views on the separation of church and state, or else he describes them as "withdrawing" from "moral lessons" and "depriving" Americans of important debate about ethical issues.
The Mike Newdow wing of the Democratic Party is not apt to take kindly to Mr. Wallis' notion that religious conviction is the only source of vision, and Democrats should take caution not to incite this segment of their base. With Howard Dean warning against the Party becoming "Republican Lite",it's easy to see how warming up to Mr. Wallis could be interpreted as exactly that - Republican Lite.

That interpretation, should it become commonplace, would only be pouring coal into the engines of Dean's campaign to take control of the party; a fate best left avoided.