As recounted by my assistant Connor Ewing, who attended reports (see his onsite report), Lifest organizer Bob Lenz effusively introduced Wallis to the crowd. “I’ve read his books, I’ve studied with him, I’ve been on retreats with him,” he gushed. “This is my brother in Christ. I believe he has a message from God for the church today.” Wallis pandered to his crowd by hailing them as a “new generation” who are going to “save the church and the world” from the consequences of “bad religious fundraisers,…television preachers,…pedophile priests…[and] White House theology” (presumably referring to the Bush Administration and not to Wallis’s closer partners currently in the White House).
Wallis tried to sound evangelistic by recounting his return to the Christian faith by way of the civil rights movement. “I had been reading – I heard somebody around here thought I was an avowed Marxist. Well I’m not. But I was reading them when I was a student – Karl Marx, Ho Chi Min, Che Gueverra. But then I began to read the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus said, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’” Citing the Gospel’s command to care for the poor, Wallis exulted: “That’s how He knows whether we love Him or not. That was more radical than Karl Marx and Che Gueverra and Ho Chi Min. And I signed up to be a follower of Jesus.”
Almost always Wallis describes being a “follower of Jesus” in nearly exclusively political terms, when most Christians have a more transcendent understanding of their faith. Wallis had a good time denying supposed allegations of Marxism, without mentioning that he was an enthusiast for the Sandinistas and other Marxist “liberation” movements during the final years of the Cold War. Whatever his current politics or faith, Wallis is indisputably a statist, who views religious groups, especially evangelicals, as potentially ripe political followers for his promise of government as panacea.
According to Wallis, the protesters against his presence at Lifest were widely exposed as “pretty foolish,” thanks to Wallis’s own smash performance. He recounted that one Wisconsin newspaper quoted him, urging the replacement of “the gospel of Glenn, Rush, Sean, and Bill with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” Perhaps Wallis would have looked a little less partisan had he not made conservative commentators the exclusive focus of his unfavorable comparison with the Gospel writers. But in truth, Wallis does ultimately distill the Gospel into a message primarily about political power and coercive redistribution. Supposedly his religious veneer to the Left’s old statist power-grab is a deliverance from the “old arguments and divisions in the church,” as Wallis claimed.
Some youthful concert goers and naïve evangelical organizers may be seduced by Wallis’s throw-away lines. But most mature Christians understand that the Gospel is about considerably more than Wallis’s current brand of “White House theology.”
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