Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cognitive Dissonance in the World of Jim Wallis

If you are waiting for Jim Wallis' Orange Revolution, "no longer just an ad; it's a campaign," to spread to the Huffington Post, well, it could be a long wait. 

Hunter Baker writes: "What Jim Wallis is saying comes from a good heart. He is worried about things like fairness and, of course, about helping people. But the reasoning he employs in doing so assumes that federal programs actually achieve what they set out to do, which is far from obvious, and that they don’t create incentives for behavior that results in greater problems ..." I'm enough of a Calvinist to wonder at this estimation of Wallis' or anyone's "good heart," including my own, but the "real" realism of Baker's point seems to be inexplicably lost on certain self-designated doves among us.

It is worth remembering that Jesus did not simply say, "just as you did it to the least of these;" he qualified this by adding, "who are members of my family" (Matthew 25:40). Furthermore, he did not say, "just as your state or national government did it;" he said, "just as you did it ..."

In short, preachers should not promote the idea that political action for the government to act as a moral surrogate for the church is a suitable substitute for personal responsibility. Neither should we perpetuate the shallow, moralistic assumption that Jesus makes no distinction between the pagans who are the ones being judged in this oft-quoted oracle and the members of Jesus' family (his baptized brothers and sisters who are born of the will and the Spirit of God), whose treatment at the hands of the pagans is the criteria by which the pagans are deemed sheep or goats. In other words, the kingdom and the family of God do not operate according to the humanistic ideal of "the brotherhood of man," but according to clear (and superior) spiritual criteria laid out for us in scripture.

Surely, those who do the will of the heavenly Father are Jesus' brothers and sisters and mother (Matt 12:50), and it is by all means the will of God that his family members show compassion for the poor. But apparently even "God's preferential option for the poor" has its limits (see Ex 23:2-3; Lev 19:15). 

It is tempting to say that, once again, the lectionary has failed us, but for the fact that at least Leviticus 19:15 is actually in the RCL! What is failing is rather our ability to exercise wise, careful, and judicious discernment, to "judge with right judgement" (Jn 7:24). 

UPDATE: Umm, evidently Jim has never read Joel 3:10.

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