Jim Wallis gets a lot of mileage out of being the evangelical with a social conscience. In other words, he votes Democrat most of the time. Certain other top-drawer evangelicals swing that way, too, reflecting what I think is usually fear of being labeled a member of the "ignorant" and "non-compassionate" right. The question is, how correct is Wallis in his inclination to lean left? Is he more biblically-correct in his pro-life, but economically statist positions?
Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute does a nice job of addressing the question in his latest for American Spectator. Here's a representative clip from the review of one of Wallis' books:
WALLIS PRESENTS HIS VISION as a fourth option to conservatives, liberals, and libertarians. In his view it "follows from the prophetic religious tradition." In sum, "it is traditional or conservative on issues of family values, sexual integrity, and personal responsibility, while being very progressive, populist, or even radical on issues like poverty and racial justice. It affirms good stewardship of the earth and its resources, supports gender equality, and is more internationally minded than nationalist."
One can make good prudential policy arguments on behalf of all of these positions. But while God says much about people's relationship to him and each other, he says very little about when people should coerce each other -- that is, what government should do. And this failure to distinguish personal moral imperatives from prudential political concerns places him squarely where he does not want to be: standing between Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.
Perhaps no where is this more evident than Wallis's reflexive rejection of "tax cuts for the rich." However, the money is not a "public good" to be spent either on government projects or gifts for the wealthy. Rather, the money has been collected from the very people to whom it is being returned. In fact, the rich pay the vast majority of income taxes: for instance, the top one percent pay more than a third of revenues. So any fair tax cut means that the rich will receive more than will the poor. One can justify progressive taxation and social spending, but one must make the argument, rather than simply denounce "tax cuts for the rich."
Similarly flawed is Wallis's discussion of poverty, both domestic and international. No faithful Christian can ignore the enormity of the problem of poverty. But a requirement that one help the poor does not authorize one to force others to help the poor. You will search Scripture long and hard to find such an authorization.
I think Bandow has hit the nail on the head. It's refreshing to read such a well-informed bit of reasoning on church and state. I've often hoped someone would address these issues raised by the Wallis position and am glad to see Doug Bandow gets the job done so in such measured fashion. The entire review is worth reading.