Jim Wallis’ Less Than Prophetic Voice on Abortion

In an interview with The Boston Globe, Jim Wallis says that evangelicals must not “allow politics to trump our prophetic voice.” Yet when asked about abortion, Wallis’s “evangelical” voice is anything but prophetic. He writes,

“This new evangelical agenda is not one issue, it’s broader and deeper. . . What ties it all together is the defense of the vulnerable. Let’s not pit unborn children against poor children — they’re both in the category of the vulnerable, and Jesus calls us to defend the vulnerable. I think we’ve got to embrace a full range of concerns. For example, I’m going to press really hard the Democratic nominee, whoever that is, to make abortion reduction a Democratic Party plank in this election year. The extremes on both sides don’t like that, but most Americans are in that middle place: they don’t like abortion — the abortion rate’s too high; but they don’t want to criminalize a difficult and often desperate choice.”

No matter how you slice it, Wallis is dodging the fundamental moral issue at the bottom of the abortion debate—that a person can kill an innocent human being with the protection of the law at any point during gestation. Wallis’s rhetoric indicates that he thinks he has staked out some “middle place” between the Democrats and the Republicans. In reality, he hasn’t. His position in this interview is no different from the hackneyed line made famous by former President Clinton—that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.”

Calling on the Democrats to press for a “reduction” in abortions is just plain silly in light of what’s at stake. If abortion really is the taking of innocent human life, does it make any moral sense simply to call for a “reduction” in abortions while keeping it protected in law? It makes about as much sense as calling for a reduction in pedophilia while keeping pedophilia protected in law. The point is that if abortion is an affront to human dignity, then the laws (or Supreme Court decisions) that protect it are immoral and should be overturned. The only moral position is the one that seeks to protect the unborn in law, but apparently Wallis thinks this to be an “extreme” position.

What is perhaps even more astonishing is the fact that Wallis speaks of what “most Americans” want as if it provided some kind of norm. It may be true that most Americans don’t want to outlaw abortion, but it also may be true that most Americans are wrong. It is precisely for this reason that most Americans need to hear a clear word about the moral status of abortion. In other words, they need a prophetic word from Christians about what God thinks about abortion. Does Wallis seriously believe that God occupies the “middle place” on this question?

One thing is certain. God is not indifferent about the slaughter of the innocents. If that is not clear to people now, it will be on the Great Day. Shouldn’t faithful evangelicals be about making this truth plain in advance of that day? If Wallis wants to have a “prophetic voice,” he’ll have to do much better than this. This kind of talk is shamefully anything but prophetic.

23 Responses to Jim Wallis’ Less Than Prophetic Voice on Abortion

  1. Faimon February 19, 2008 at 4:27 am #

    I have to say, I think you are a little harsh on Wallis here. And I think he has a good point. If more Evangelicals stood up for poor children, especially of color, then it might give their abortion views a better platform. But too many Evangelicals focus so hard on abortion that it appears as if they are neglecting children victimized by other, rectifiable conditions, for instance, lack of access to healthcare. Or if there were more Evangelicals standing up for the rights of prisoners on death row who may have been wrongly convicted. Or if there were more Evangelicals trying to minister to the people who are sneaking across the border, rather than advocating building a wall to keep truly desperate, suffering people out. Embracing a more holistic approach could prove beneficial in the long run in the abortion fight.

    And I also don’t agree that pressing the Democratic party to make abortion reduction a part of the platform is ‘silly.’ In my opinion, reduction must occur before eradication, and sometimes small steps are needed – especially when one is dealing with a decidedly pro-choice party.

    And sweet! I get the first comment!

  2. GLW Johnson February 19, 2008 at 8:34 am #

    Kind like Elijah saying-” I want to make idoltry safe ,rare and legal”.

  3. GLW Johnson February 19, 2008 at 8:35 am #

    Kind like Elijah saying-” I want to make idolatry safe ,rare and legal”.

  4. Ted February 19, 2008 at 9:26 am #

    Admittedly, I don’t like Jim Wallis, but I do count him as a brother in the faith. I read him often because he makes me think.

    That said, Wallis is a lame prophet on this issue. On the one hand, he despises any use of lethal military action, especially in Iraq (golly, weren’t those citizens oppressed under dictator Saddam?), but he won’t condemn the lethal action of abortion?

    But if incremental steps are the way to win the abortion battle, then maybe Wallis could be doing the pro-life side a favor in insisting on the “reduction” plank in the Democratic platform, especially in that environment where people believe abortion should be legal at any stage of pregnancy. But if Wallis wins this point, what then? Does Wallis favor legal abortion, albeit “rare” abortion? My guess is, he does.

    Poltically savvy? Yes. Prophetic? No.

  5. Tim Bertolet February 19, 2008 at 9:48 am #

    “Let’s not pit unborn children against poor children — they’re both in the category of the vulnerable”.

    There seems to me to be this constant caricature of people who opposs abortion but don’t support helpless children. As a pastor who has several congregational members who work very closely with a crisis pregnancy center, a lot of people do not just stop carring about the child once it is born. They extend help, love, money, resource, and job traning to young mothers and their children, sometimes for years to come.

    This false dichotomy portrayed particularly by some Democrats is frustrating. There is of course a difference between saying ‘government should bear the majority of the burden through tax payer funded social programs (or whatever)’ and saying ‘we don’t care for helpless children’. Just because you disagree with the former does not mean you practice the latter.

    It is unfair to state or imply such level of reasoning that seems regular for Wallis and others.

    There are a lot of evangelicals who work hard behind the scenes to meet the needs of young helpless children (or other people who are in need). They do not make it a matter of politics but of ‘loving one’s neighbor’ or ‘true religion of taking care of orphan’s and widows’. We cannot equate lack of polictical advocacy for increased government in a certain sphere with lack of care or inactivity.

  6. Kevin J February 19, 2008 at 9:56 am #

    Did slavery get abolished incrementally?

  7. naum February 19, 2008 at 9:57 am #

    Abortion is about more than laws or repealing Row v. Wade.

    Consider the truth that U.S. abortion rates are 2X-3X those in W.Europe where abortion is more open and legal. And in Latin America, abortion rates or 3X+ what they are in the U.S., and there, the procedure is totally illegal in many countries.

    Wallis is correct to call out the hypocrisy of many so called Christians, who rally against abortion but seek not to rectify the social edifice of a system that produces such injustice.

    Wallis is also on the mark in defending all innocent victims — be they poor children in urban blighted areas or the innocent in Iraq that are needlessly slaughtered and murdered and termed “collateral damage”.

    To do otherwise, casts so called Christians as nothing more than pandering hypocrites, cherry picking their “culture of life” issues.

  8. Paul February 19, 2008 at 11:30 am #

    “Did slavery get abolished incrementally?”

    actually, yes. Read your history books. Even without the civil war, eventually slavery would have died a slow death. The civil war, and the emancipation proclamation that Lincoln read once he knew the North would win, just sped the process up. That’s all.

  9. Tim Bertolet February 19, 2008 at 11:45 am #

    naum,
    What exactly is “the social edifice of a system that produces such injustice”?

    It seems to me the number of “hypocritcs” who ‘rally against abortion’ but who suppossedly do not care about other issues is often over exagerrated. Could one argue that if someone rallies against abortion and they reject big governement, they are indeed seeking to ‘rectify the social edifice of a system that produces such injustice.’

    Indeed my wife used to work with several individuals who would avoid working a 40 hr week so they could collect welfare. These people took resources from those who had legitimate needs that should have been met by welfare. My point is simply that one could argue that large federal government programs do not ‘rectify the social edfice of a system that produces such injustice’ but may indeed at times contribute to such injustices.

    Saying that you believe goverment subsidy is not the answer to economic injustices is not the same as saying there are no injustices of this sort (or that they do not really matter). Not rallying for federal government solutions to economic injustice is not the same ‘not caring’. It seems too many, like Wallace, equate the former with the latter. There seems to be Biblical latitude for agreeing or disagreeing the manner a federal government should solve economic problems. There is no Biblical latitude about whether a government should endorse abortion.

    How is it defending “all innocent victims” when you only advocate reducing the number of abortions?

    Wallis may be right to say there are other injustices that go on–a point no one disagrees with–but disagreement over the solutions for economic injustices is another matter. However, Denny is right there really is no middle ground for simply ‘limitting the number of abortions’ no matter how right a person may be to point out other injustices.

  10. Ken February 19, 2008 at 12:48 pm #

    Rabbit trail time, Paul. Lincoln prepared the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, well before the outcome of the war was decided (in fact, it had pretty much gone the South’s way up to that point). He needed a Union victory before issuing the Proclamation in order to avoid looking desperate–the thought being that the Proclamation would prevent Great Britain and France from declaring support for the Confederacy, which they were leaning toward doing. His opportunity came with the battle of Antietam in September 1862. The Proclamation was issued shortly thereafter and effected 1 January 1863.

    But the outcome of the war was very much in doubt until well after the dual victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

    As to the inevitable slow death of slavery, that’s hard to say. Southern slave interests were looking seriously at westward expansion even above the Missouri Compromise line and further south into the Caribbean.

  11. Brett February 19, 2008 at 1:30 pm #

    Faimon and Naum,

    Good thoughts on these issues. I have to say, I totally agree with both of you!

  12. naum February 19, 2008 at 5:44 pm #

    @Tim

    1. “The social edifice of a system that produces such injustice” is precisely laissez faire style, dog eat dog, eat the “least of these” capitalism. Like was practiced in the Gilded Age. You may bemoan and deride the FDR New Deal programs, but the historical truth is that period saw the greatest rise of the middle class, where the middle class became the majority. Increasing sets of Americans have been bootstrapped into success — be it land grants (for settlers moving west), homesteading, public education (as envisioned and implemented by Jefferson and other pre-eminent
    founder thinkers).

    2. Contrary to right wing propaganda, the LBJ “War on Poverty” did enjoy success. The poverty rate fell from 23% to 14%. Recently, the figure has risen to near 18% and for most Americans, living conditions are less than they were 35 years ago. This isn’t conjecture, it’s economic fact.

    3. My illustration was to frame how we might want to take care of young mothers (and families) better instead of casting blame at them. That would have a greater effect of eliminating abortion than all the legal efforts and social Darwinism employed by cutting aid. Yes, I realize that there are those who desire to “freeload” but I think to error there is preferred over inflicting curses and suffering on the innocent children.

    4. The issue of abortion, well to many is a cut and dried (and I write this as someone who is proudly pro-life), is not for others. When does life begin? Conception? Zygote? I don’t wish to spark a debate but for many (including most scientific community), the matter is far from definitive and grows increasingly hazy with advancing technology (i.e., what about fertility clinics, cloning research, etc.…). If you think “passing a law” is going to curtail such emerging science, you are beyond naive.

    5. I would wholeheartedly support making abortion totally illegal IF also there was financial support given and guaranteed to mother and family and children. But that proposal would be met with horror of those crying over the scourge of “welfare mothers driving cadillacs”…

  13. Brittany February 19, 2008 at 6:01 pm #

    I think it’s important that he is, at least, being relatively open about opposing abortion. Isn’t that the important part?

    Some guys just can’t win.

  14. Paul February 19, 2008 at 8:58 pm #

    “5. I would wholeheartedly support making abortion totally illegal IF also there was financial support given and guaranteed to mother and family and children. But that proposal would be met with horror of those crying over the scourge of “welfare mothers driving cadillacs”…”

    ding. give the man a fish.

  15. Jason February 20, 2008 at 9:12 am #

    naum and Paul,

    You really think everyone who chooses an abortion does so because they don’t have the financial support needed to care for the child?

    If so, I’m taking away both of your fish.

    J

  16. MatthewS February 20, 2008 at 9:17 am #

    Kevin #6 and Paul #8 addressed the question of whether slavery was abolished incrementally.

    Slavery was a contested issue at the writing of the constitution. The constitution itself thus contained the “three-fifths” compromise. (slaves are only three-fifths of a person, not a whole person).

    The Missouri Compromise occurred in 1820. It helped maintain an uneasy equilibrium.
    The Compromise of 1850 was an effort to keep unity in a nation that was dividing over the issue.

    Slave and Free states made many agreements and compromises, going back at least to the constitution. If we want to use slavery as some sort of precedent for abortion (and I personally think there is some merit to the comparison) we need to be honest about the fact that slavery was not an all-or-nothing deal for decades. The issue did involve politics and compromises along the way.

  17. Paul February 20, 2008 at 9:40 am #

    Jason,

    of course not. However, that aspect certainly DOES exist, and addressing it would be key to actually having a compassionate policy towards the unborn.

  18. Paul February 20, 2008 at 9:41 am #

    Jason,

    THIS was moderated?

    of course not. However, that aspect certainly DOES exist, and addressing it would be key to actually having a compassionate policy towards the unborn.

  19. Tim Bertolet February 20, 2008 at 10:16 am #

    @Naum

    “You may bemoan and deride the FDR New Deal programs” I said nothing about the New Deal programs. One of the positive aspects of the New Deal was that the realief was often not just a handout there were work programs including the Civil Work Administration, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps the National Youth Administration, and the Works Progress Administration.

    “My illustration was to frame how we might want to take care of young mothers (and families) better instead of casting blame at them.” Who said anything about casting blame on mothers? I think we should talk about how we ‘might’ want to take care of mothers, I’m just saying there might be other ways besides government programs. I’m not saying that nobody out there needs help and we can all just ‘pick ourselves up by our boot straps’.

    I wasn’t advocating strict ‘laissez faire capitalism.’ James 5:1-6 seems to have something to say about the rich abusing the poor. With respect to the issues of both the rich and the poor abusing the system, one of the issues is that while the government can regulate some of the effects of greed it can never regulate the heart condition of greed. The issues are not strictly social but problems of worship and idolatry (Col 3:5).

    “If you think “passing a law” is going to curtail such emerging science, you are beyond naive.” Who said anything about this? For me the issues are not simply scientific (’emerging’ or otherwise) but theological. Even with Roe v. Wade, while I think we should reverse it and outlaw abortion, it will not solve the heart issues and the rebellion against God that persists.

    We should see economic injustices as moral issues. But that also means if they are moral issues the solutions are not going to be found in economic policies whether demoncrat or republican. There is legitimacy to disagreements in these areas. The economic policies and law will never regulate loving our neighbor even if we reduce the effects of poverty.

    Should we allow abortion to continue just because the child may have a life of poverty and hardship? That’s like saying we should work to stop one evil until we are sure we can stop all evil.

  20. Debbie Mosley February 20, 2008 at 3:06 pm #

    Hey guys,

    Both issues are wrong (abortion and child abuse). Unfortunetely one is legal and one is not but often overlooked. Babies are born to drug abused moms and born with serious defects. CPS gives children to foster parents that are just as abusive as thier natural parents.

    In Dallas, we have 25 teachers being fired because the children failed the taks test. Instead of the school district firing the teachers they should ask the parents why their chidren aren’t learning. One pastor in the Dallas area is sending volunteers to some schools to tutor students and some gripe becuase of the seperation of church and state. The complianers need to need what exactly that phrase means. Churches should step up and provide help as it should as it is written in Matthew 25 and several passages in the old testement about supporting the widows and orphans.

  21. Paul February 21, 2008 at 3:14 pm #

    Well, The Bible also taught that you can’t serve both God and Mammon.

    So, when we pass laws stating that people can’t love money more than they love God, we can start making laws stating who can and can’t marry each other.

    Until then, remember, it’s either a Christian Police State or it’s a Capitalist Society. Take your pick.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Not-So-Prophetic Voice and a Book Review on Abortion Rights « magnifyGOD - February 20, 2008

    […] February 20, 2008 Posted by ronjourlocke in Uncategorized. trackback Denny Burk contends that Jim Wallis’ “middle-ground” ideas on abortion aren’t in the […]

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