Book Review Wednesday: God’s Politics by Jim Wallis

30 January 2008

This is the penultimate installment in the Independent Study / Inquirer’s Class that I am completing in preparation for reception into the Episcopal Church.

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Reaction Paper to “God’s Politics” by Jim Wallis

 

Jim Wallis’s book is filled with Christian heart; that is to say, every page and every idea has within it a kernel of the Gospel sprouted more or less fully developed into a contemporary perspective on social ills and solutions.

One of the things Wallis does in the book that I find most compelling is his reclamation of the Jewish Prophets as heralds of God’s Kingdom as the Reign of Justice.

Many Christians —clergy and laity— look at the prophets as examples of the fearless, heroic, and prophetic witness necessary for living the Gospel. Yet I feel we look more toward what biography we have of them (Isaiah, the half-crazy prophet of the Reign of God; Jeremiah, God’s cranky mouthpiece; Ezekiel, the voice of hope in the exile, etc.) and to what they denounce and urge us away from than to what they call us to. Wallis finds a way not just to read and re-read the Prophets in contemporary America but to make it a real rallying point for people of faith seeking scriptural imperatives for advocacy and social justice.

Another aspect of the book I found particularly compelling was his chapter on abortion and the death penalty. Wallis states —quite accurately— that there is no “pro-life” party in the United States. The Democrats may be against the death penalty, but their pro-choice stance troubles many Christians. On the other hand, Republicans say they are against abortion but have little trouble resorting to violence, defending torture, and encouraging increases in military spending. In fact, Wallis implies that the Republicans are not truly against abortion. Many prominent Republicans (Schwartzenegger, Romney, Specter) are pro-choice, in addition to Republicans’ habit of saying they are “anti-abortion” to garner votes only to do nothing to reduce the rate of abortions through education, poverty reduction, and policies and programs. After all, outlawing abortion would cause a public health nightmare, an incredible hardship on thousands of women, and deprive the Republicans of a sure-fire 5-15% of the ballots cast in any election.

Substantively, I am not against anything —or almost anything— Wallis writes. Pragmatically and realistically, the programs and perspectives he advocates are the only ones that most Americans would support. Politically, I am more radical than Wallis, though, and that makes me somewhat skeptical of him. Much of the book is a pastiche —I mean, c’mon, the guy is busy— of his speeches, press releases, and newspaper columns strung together by anecdotes, reflections, and theological explanations. I don’t take issue with the pastiche so much as the consistent tone and political language of the book. Fundamentally, the United States government, with its size, jangly, semi-interconnected federal system, and Byzantine bureaucracy is unable to act morally, much in the way a corporation is unable. Now, I’m not saying that the government or all corporations are inherently immoral, but what I am saying is that the government’s size and reliance on standard policies and procedures and a corporations mission to turn a profit force it to act morally coincidentally, only when it can, but not always when it should or must. Wallis seems to have the utmost confidence in the governmental system of the nation-state, but I do not.

Call me an anarcho-collectivist, call me a Christian Green, or call me left-libertarian; I feel that my belief in small, peaceful, self-governed, and self-determined communities is closer to both the Gospel and to the original Israel whose prophets Wallis is so fond of. After all, the first of all the prophets and the last of the judges—Samuel— was asked by Israel for a king, so that Israel might be ruled over one like other nations. David, Solomon, and a few others excepted, the Kings of Israel mostly made God’s people stray from the will of God. Before then, Israel was a commonwealth, a collection of small, peaceful, self-governed, and self-determined communities.

My own personal qualms aside, I think Jim Wallis’s God’s Politics is an important book for most Americans to read and consider (especially in an election year), since it shows a side of the Christian political conversation that rarely gets much air time.

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