Have you noticed that maps all over the world put the home team at the center of things? European maps often have the Americas on the left and Eurasia/Africa on the right, putting Europe in the center. Japanese maps reverse that, putting Eurasia/Africa on the left so that Japan is in the center. And in the United States we've often cut the Old World in half so the New World can be smack dab in the middle.
Many of us do the same thing ideologically. Liberals claim the center by placing socialism on the left and national socialism on the right, even though Lenin/Stalin and Hitler/other Nazis had much in common as they centralized power and preached hatred. A more accurate spectrum would place totalitarians of many stripes on the left and defenders of religious, political, and economic freedom on the right.
Many of us also do this personally. It's 10 years since I was active in the Bush campaign and 60 Minutes thought it worthwhile to smear me-but I walked right into it. The CBS producers cited my conservative positions and had the on-air talent ask me to define myself. "I'm a moderate," I chirped, and viewers who weren't bored probably dissolved into laughter. Well, I would have been a moderate a century ago, but I should have said that, in today's spectrum, I'm on the right.
And so, with my own folly in mind, I have a humble suggestion to make to Jim Wallis, whom I enjoyed debating recently (listen to part 1, part 2, and part 3 of that debate): Fess up. Here's Jim's standard line: "Don't go left, don't go right, go deep." Or, slightly more elaborate: "We've seen religion made partisan. . . . When I talk, I talk about a moral center. I want us to go deeper, not left or right."
Jim has tried to have it both ways. He advises Obama while calling himself a "nonpartisan evangelical minister." For years he attacked Christian conservatives for letting the GOP rent their mailing lists, but in 2007, according to The Washington Post, Obama rented the mailing list of Jim's organization, Sojourners.
George Soros, one of the leading billionaire leftists-he has financed groups promoting abortion, atheism, same-sex marriage, and gargantuan government-bankrolled Sojourners with a $200,000 grant in 2004. A year later, here's how Jim rebutted a criticism of "religious progressives" for being allied with Soros and MoveOn.org: "I know of no connections to those liberal funds and groups that are as direct as the Religious Right's ties to right-wing funders."
Since then Sojourners has received at least two more grants from Soros organizations. Sojourners revenues have more than tripled-from $1,601,171 in 2001-2002 to $5,283,650 in 2008-2009-as secular leftists have learned to use the religious left to elect Obama and others.
As 19th-century novelist William Dean Howells may have put it, financial hazard has become new fortune: According to IRS form 990s, the expenses of Sojourners overran its revenue early in the past decade, and on June 30, 2002, the organization had a negative balance of $375,154. But Sojourners then became more politically useful, and on June 30, 2009, it had a positive balance of $2,316,233.
Let's not knock such financial success; I've learned over the past three years that administration is very hard, and Jim and his associates deserve compliments for their management prowess. Jim's consistency also deserves recognition: This year on May 27, on his blog God's Politics, he blasted the Tea Party movement. On June 17, in The Huffington Post, he praised President Obama's television speech about the Gulf oil spill at a time when many liberals as well as conservatives were blasting it.
But what I want is an open admission: "I am partisan. I'm for Barack. I'm glad that Soros helped us to overcome our poverty. When I recommend 'going deeper,' I'm calling for a deep route down the left sideline." Maybe we can move toward such glasnost by pretending we're at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I'll stand up first: "My name is Marvin and I'm [gasp, choke, sigh] on the right." Then Jim says, "My name is Jim and I'm [gasp, choke, sigh] on the left." That will work.
(For a further perspective, read "Jim Wallis and the Folly of 'Progressive' Christianity: C. S. Lewis on Contemporary Politics-David Theroux for Cross Examinations.")