Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners, and Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, met at the National Press Club to address the issues that should concern America's next president and the voters who will elect him. Although they had differing opinions about numerous subjects, Land and Wallis both hoped to demonstrate respect for each other by engaging in courteous conversation without attacking character.
"Richard and I disagree on nuclear weapons and Wall Street," Wallis said, "but we have carried on a civil discourse tonight."
Topics that were addressed by moderator Amy Sullivan of Time Magazine ranged from tax reform to foreign aid. Wallis offered opinions that Land strongly opposed, particularly pertaining to the Tea Party movement and Occupy protests.
Wallis said Wall Street is just as big a threat to the economy as Washington. "The concentration of power, the Tea Party will say, is the problem," Wallis said. "I agree with that, as long as we're honest and fair about economic power as well as political power."
Land said in response, "The Tea Party's aim is better than the Wall Street Occupiers' because the biggest problem is Washington, the biggest concentration of economic power is in Washington, and it was Washington policies that first pressured banks to give loans to people who couldn't afford them. If you're going to talk about aim, the Tea Party's aim is pretty good. The problem began in Washington, and it will be solved in Washington."
Land also had words of advice for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney involving his practice of Mormonism.
"If he is asked about his faith, he should say 'If you want to know what my positions are on the issues and policies, go to my website or ask me,'" Land explained. "'If you want to know what the beliefs of my religion are, call Salt Lake City.'" Land also said it is "un-American" to ask a presidential candidate to explain his personal religion.
The president of the ERLC referred to another GOP candidate who is popular in the news at the moment as well. Land accused Herman Cain of handling the sexual harassment allegations in an "amateurish" manner, saying Cain should be completely transparent and truthful. Land also mentioned the complaints from friends of his that Cain is being treated differently from the way Bill Clinton was treated during accusations of sexual misconduct.
"When you're the traditional values folks, you're asking to be judged by a different standard," Land said. "If you're going to stand up for the traditional nuclear family, monogamy and morality, then you need to be monogamous and practice traditional morality. I hope Mr. Cain has."
Land and Wallis both agreed that the "hyperpartisan" nature of politics is harmful.
"Obama pushed for a purple America between the red and the blue," Land said. "Washington is broken and hyperpartisan. People are fed up with a Washington that they think exists more for its own sake than for their sake."
Holly Naylor is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.
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