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Jim Wallis Argues “Life Experience” Should Inform Biblical Views, Politics Kristin Rudolph October 7, 2011
Wallis admitted government intervention is not always helpful. (Photo credit: The Guardian/Graeme Robertson)
“Being American is one of the worst bubbles” from which to develop a biblical perspective on politics, according to Jim Wallis. The CEO of the liberal Christian activist group called Sojourners explained that a correct interpretation of the Biblical politics is determined by life experiences. For “white evangelicals” in America, though, that experience is an insulated “bubble.”
Wallis made this argument on a panel discussion about the recent book, Left, Right, and Christ written by David Innes, a politics professor at The King’s College, and Lisa Sharon Harper, Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was also on the panel, which was held earlier today at Union Theological Seminary.
Nearly apologizing for growing up in a “middle class white protected world,” Wallis said in that position, his “religion could afford to be private.” Unfortunately, he said, “If your world is private, you read the Bible in a whole different way,” which divides Christians down socioeconomic and racial lines. Wallis said that “white evangelicals read the Bible in a different way than black evangelicals.” To fix this, he said white evangelicals must get out of their “bubble” because “you always learn more when you’re someplace you’re not supposed to be.” Interpreting the Bible from a less “protected” context has lead Wallis and Harper to find biblical mandates for government programs and “safety nets.”
Harper said her experiences as an African, Cherokee, and Puerto Rican American woman is “the lens through which [I] see the scripture,” making her “aware of systems in scripture.” For black and other minority evangelicals reading scripture, she said Bible passages “that have to do with oppression pop for us.” Harper said that “as an evangelical, I believe [scripture] is true,” but it must be read in light of “our experiences in the world.” Innes argued that “our view of everything is distorted through sin” so the proper approach is to “look at our experiences through the lens of scripture, [so] we understand them better” (emphasis added). He said Christians should “look at politics through the lens of scripture,” and not allow personal experiences distort the true meaning of the Bible.
Harper cited the Old Testament provisions in Leviticus 25 for the Sabbatical Year and Jubilee Year as “a snapshot into the kind of government God would create.” She said “what I see in God’s government is big government,” and it “shows us who God wants to protect. God doesn’t want to protect business.” In response, Innes said the Jubilee Year was never actually observed, and all special provisions Harper referenced were intended “only for Israel,” not for democracies like the United States. Further, he said Harper was quick to choose “certain Old Testament law and apply it to the economy,” but “when it comes to the abortion chapter or same sex marriage,” she hesitated, asking “‘who are we to impose our religious values on our neighbors?’”
Innes argued for a government based on New Testament scriptures, Romans 13 and First Peter 2, which “creates a sphere of liberty,” and is “limited in power and purpose.” Innes explained that people today have a difficult time accepting this limited role of government because “we live in a world where government has spread out in all different kinds of directions [and] we can no longer imagine a world where government is not involved” in health care, education, and other areas of private life. Richard Land said that a proper understanding of politics and economics must be based on the “nature of man,” and we “have to have an economic system based upon reality.” Reality shows that man is fallen and corrupt in any sector of society, even government.
Extensive government involvement is essential though, Wallis insisted, explaining that “we need a partnership” between government, the church, and the private businesses because the “test of society is how it treats its poor.” He said there is a clear “biblical indictment of our society” because of the disparity between rich and poor in America, but “government can do good” when in “partnership” with other sectors of society. For Wallis, however, “partnership” invariably means regulations on business, and welfare programs, which Innes argued, create “intergenerational dependence on government.”
Both sides agreed that strong families with a married mother and father are the most stable and healthy setting for children, and the least likely segment of the population to experience poverty. Innes said the government has “taken on the father role” to the detriment of fatherless families. Though Wallis admitted the “government has done some stupid things” while attempting to solve poverty, he still believes big government programs are essential and even biblical through an “experience” based reading of scripture.
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