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The Evangelical Left’s penetration of American evangelical culture accelerated with Sojourners chief Jim Wallis’s high profile appearance at the annual “Lifest” Christian music festival in Oshkosh, Wisconsin earlier this month.
Previously non-political and devoted to inspirational music and spiritual lectures for tens of thousands of American heartland Christians, Lifest seems to have crossed the threshold into the Evangelical Left orbit with Wallis’s entrance. Adding to the leftward slant was the less high profile but still significant appearance of anti-American pacifist preacher Shane Claiborne, a popular “urban monastic” who sinisterly equates America with ancient Babylon, the Roman Empire, and the Third Reich. (See my assistant Connor Ewing’s onsite report.)
Of course, Wallis loved the “firestorm” he generated. For the benefit of his supporters afterwards, he recalled: “A local Christian radio station, which had always supported Lifest, and a local pastor started circulating attacks against me, suggesting that I was a communist, a deceiver, and, worst of all, an adviser to Barack Obama.” According to Wallis, he was excoriated as an “avowed Marxist” who posed “spiritual peril” to evangelical young people. He ascribed some of this rhetoric to his favorite critic and bête noire, Glenn Beck.
Ostensibly, Lifest faced “intimidation” unless it cancelled Jim Wallis. So, America’s most prominent Religious Left prophet courageously confronted his main accuser directly, just like Elijah facing Ahab. He phoned the president of the Christian radio station that was urging Wallis’s cancellation. Reassuringly, as Wallis told it, he described to the recalcitrant bourgeois evangelical how he, Wallis, had “worked with the Obama administration” to protect religious freedom in hiring by government funded religious groups, had fought to preserve prohibitions against government funding of abortion, and was impartially advocating a two state solution in the Middle East that would benefit Palestinian Christians.
Evidently the radio chieftain would not retract his “wild and fabricated charges” against Wallis, despite Wallis’s direct application of cool reason. So the radio station boycotted the festival. The controversy and boycott amplified the spotlight for Wallis, predictably. And the Prophet arrived in Wisconsin under the scrutiny of television cameras and enveloped by “press interviews” and meetings with flocking supporters offering apologies for the backwardness of some reactionary Wisconsin evangelicals. “Please come back again,” they purportedly pleaded to their Prophet.
Wallis’s talk at Lifest was “The Call to Jesus and his Kingdom of Justice,” reportedly arousing a “very enthusiastic response from the thousands of young people who were there — the crowd made even larger because of the controversy, of course.” Wallis recalled their cheers when he announced that “any gospel that isn’t good news to the poor is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.” He evidently did not more fully explain his view that the Gospel’s concern for the poor primarily entails the endless expansion of the welfare state, which is God’s primary instrument for the global salvation.
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