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Evangelical left activist Jim Wallis of Sojourners has become the virtual house evangelical for the Obama administration. He is the ostensible chieftain of a supposedly populist uprising of social justice religionists whose “biblical principles” demand ever larger Big Government. So, naturally, Wallis is threatened by the Tea Party movement, whose support extends well beyond Wallis’ constituency of liberal clergy and campus activists.
Recently Wallis editorialized against the Tea Partiers from a “Christian” perspective, and invited Sojourners supporters to jump in with their own critique. He also opined against Libertarians, whom he regards as almost interchangeable with Tea Partiers. The sin of both groups, in Wallis’ eyes, is their hostility to Big Government, which Wallis of course equates with God’s Kingdom.
Wallis reluctantly admitted that the biblical Book of Revelation “depicts the state as a totalitarian beast,” but only as a metaphor for ancient Rome. And it may serve as a “clear warning about the abuse of governmental power,” he further granted curtly “But a power-hungry government is clearly an aberration and violation of the proper role of government in protecting its citizens and upholding the demands of fairness and justice.”
Power-hungry governments are an “aberration?” Wallis has been a campus and religious activist for the Left for over 40 years but seems blithely unaware of the 20th century’s worst horrors, orchestrated by unlimited government. Hitler’s Holocaust, Stalin’s purges and orchestrated famines, Mao’s own orchestrated purges and murderous Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot’s Cambodian genocide, the Marxist Ethiopian regime’s orchestrated famines, the countless barbarities and mass murders of other post-colonial African dictatorships, not to mention hundreds of thousands killed by North Korea’s communists and by Saddam Hussein’s Baathists, along with many thousands murdered by Vietnam’s and Cuba’s communists. Totalitarianism in the 20th century created a relatively new historical phenomenon: governments without limits murdering millions of their own people in pursuit of utopia. Governments in the 20th century killed more millions of their own peoples than all of that century’s wars and natural famines combined.
Tyranny through an unlimited state was refined in the 20th century, thanks to what Churchill called “perverted science” and the Hegelian/Marxist ideology that demanded that all society yield to state supremacy. But the 20th century did not invent tyranny or uncontrolled government, of course. Tyranny and excessive state power have been the norm for most of human history, typically under kings or other oligarchs, who subsume economic, political, religious, and cultural power unto themselves. The Jewish and Christian tradition has, at its best, struggled against tyranny, arguing for limited governmental powers subject to transcendent law. The ancient Hebrews were originally governed by judges and were permitted kings only grudgingly. There were more wicked than good kings, and even the good kings often behaved badly, with seemingly all the prophets themselves murdered for inveighing against them.
The Early Church acknowledged that God has ordained the state to maintain order. But the Apostles did not attached messianic importance to the civil state. With an intrinsic understanding that all humans were imaged after God with innate dignity, Christianity and Judaism assumed limits on traditional state power, whose pagan forms demanded worship of itself. The Church, at its best, resisted tyranny and defended the weak from the strong, i.e. primarily the state and its friends. Anglo-American proponents of liberty, influenced by the Puritans, believed that human depravity mandated strictly limited government. James Madison famously argued for divided state powers, since men are not “angels.”
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