Wallis is Wrong, Part One. On Budgets, Morality, and Priorities

Frank Pastore

3/18/2007 12:00:16 AM - Frank Pastore

Jim Wallis, leader of Sojourners and one of the Big Three of the Religious Left (along with Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo), recently asked, “What are the great moral issues of our time for evangelical Christians?”Good question, though I’m not sure if there are any moral issues evangelical Christians don’t care about.

He asked this in response to a statement by James Dobson that he didn’t like. Dobson had said that the current global warming controversy wrongly shifts “the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children.”

This is right off the first page of the Left’s playbook: “Persuade evangelicals to care less about abortion, homosexuality, and abstinence and more about “social justice.” The latter a euphemism that encompasses a Marxist redistribution of wealth, anti-capitalism, European-style big government socialism, an environmental policy that believes man is the pollution, and an overall sense of morality where what you do privately doesn’t count, it’s only what you do collectively that counts. Socialists believe in the virtues of government so much that even morality is defined in collectivist terms.

From Wallis’ own website (www.sojo.net) I’ve gathered the following “great moral issues of our time.” They’re listed below.

And again, these are important issues, but the questions that need to be answered are: “Who should pay for these? How much should they pay? What gets funded first, last, least and most? How does the limited pie get cut up? Is the money being spent wisely and efficiently? Are our policies helping or hurting? What is the responsibility of the host governments? Who lives and who dies?”

Here’s the list: Global poverty, global hunger, global warming, global disease, HIV-AIDS, the genocide in Darfur, human trafficking and other violations of human rights–especially the war in Iraq–and closer to home, raising the minimum wage to a living wage, providing universal health care, expanding the Food Stamp program, and actually increasing (increasing!) Medicaid and Medicare benefits.

These are important issues that we all should care about. And we do. American tax dollars are the primary source of funding for these things, that is, in addition to our incredibly generous charitable giving.

And, don’t complain to me about how we give less per capita than European countries, or how their economies are more “just” than ours. Since the end of WWII, what they should have spent on defense they spent on social programs. We bankrolled the West’s military spending in the shadow of the Soviet threat. Sure, it’s really easy to be “generous” when Daddy’s paying your mortgage, utilities, and tuition.

So, we care a lot about these things, and we prove it through both our taxes and our donations.

But, apparently we don’t care enough for the Left or Jim Wallis. We must care “more.”

Notice how Dobson’s “marriage, abortion, and abstinence” are more moral than economic, while Wallis’ long list of “great moral issues of our time” are more economic than moral? Could it be that “social justice” simply means that there should be no rich and no poor rather than some rich and many poor? If so, that’s communism–with more value placed upon equality than freedom.

Wallis is fond of saying “budgets are moral documents.” He’s right. A federal budget is a snapshot of the current moral values system of the nation–except for the fact that rarely is something we no longer care about actually de-funded. And, budgets are generally zero sum entities, as well–if you’re going to fund New Program A, you must cut from Old Program B.

So, when he implies “care more,” let’s translate. “We must raise your taxes, and/or cut your entitlement benefits, and/or cut your security spending, and/or cut other programs we don’t think are as deserving as these ‘great moral issues of our time.’”

Let’s see if such directness will fly…

Raise your hand if you’re not paying enough in taxes. Unemployed college students put your hands down. Raise your hand if paying around 30% is not quite your “fair share.”

Boomers, raise your hands if you’d like your Social Security benefits cut as you ready to retire next year and then collect Medicare in 2011. Oops, sorry. Wallis actually wants to increase benefits as we wait beneath the shadow of the crashing fiscal tsunami of entitlement spending–yeah, that’s smart–when the boat is sinking, drill more holes in the hull.

Americans, raise your hands if you don’t think survival is a moral issue, and you think we ought to defund our security budget in a post-9/11 world. Wallis is a pacifist who believes all wars are immoral, not just Iraq. Hence, in his worldview perhaps we don’t even need a standing army at all. Come to think of it, this might be how he plans on funding his proposals: just eliminate all military spending, all DOD spending and all NASA spending, and all border security spending, and all port security spending…

Lastly, raise your hand if you know of a federal program that should be cut and the money diverted to one of these “great moral issues of our time.” By the way, this is what legislatures do really well. They argue and debate competing priorities while being held responsible for their decisions by the people who put them in office.

I don’t see many hands.

See, it comes down to this. Wallis is preaching to the wrong congregation. He’s preaching to all Americans about how their federal budget needs to be more moral–which is why he wants to raise their taxes–when he should be preaching to churches about how they’re not giving enough to the “great moral issues of our time.”

It should be more about church donations than federal taxes.

Like you, I believe I already pay too much in taxes and I don’t want to pay anymore. But, I also believe I could never donate “too much” or even “enough” to charity–there’s never “enough,” there’s always room for “more.”

“Just one more dollar, Sir, for the starving children in Africa?”

And “more” money spent on these issues would make Jim Wallis happy–unless he just cares about raising taxes out of some anti-capitalist bent. I wonder…

Who knows…maybe spending more money might actually help to solve some of these problems, but I doubt it. After all, I believe the real solution begins not with money, but with having the right values and morals. But, that’s a topic for another column.