Family & Community Values According to Jim Wallis
Chapter 20 of Jim Wallis’ book God’s Politics deals with family values. The way the chapter started, I was led to believe that this was going to be one of those rare exceptions when a liberal, left-wing theologian like Mr. Wallis and a conservative, right-wing theologian like Mr. Gleason were going to agree for once. I was, in part, wrong.
Don’t get me wrong: I agreed with a great deal of what Wallis said about the dribble that passes for entertainment on TV. I must confess that I have never seen an episode of Temptation Island, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?, Survivor, or anything else advertised as “reality TV.” I have absolutely no desire to watch any of that. The “reality TV” that I find very appealing is Baseball Tonight and The Military Channel.
Anyway, Wallis began with a diatribe against the sleazy lineup of “entertainment” programs, but it didn’t take long for the reader to get the message that tied in with his critique of TV’s sleaze would be jabs at the Fox Network and those nasty boneheads in the “religious Right.” What about liberal theologians sounding like the liberal Left, Jim? Is that a problem? Probably not. Mr. Wallis related a luncheon engagement with some friends who decided that one might consider treating both Temptation Island and child poverty as morally offensive.
As I read those two items juxtaposed as they were, I was at a loss of how “child poverty” crept into the discussion about the ills of bad TV. I agree with Wallis that there is a difference between Fox News and the Fox “entertainment” channel. I’ve already mentioned that I don’t spend time watching what I don’t like. It really is that simple. Remember the Dr. Laura and homosexual community debacle? Why couldn’t Dr. Laura exert her First Amendment rights like everyone else? If the homosexual community didn’t like her show, they could change channels.
Of course, the homosexual community found Dr. Laura “dangerous,” so the network caved in to a politico-social agenda. Somehow First Amendment rights tend to fade into the background in certain instances but come rushing to the forefront in others. Funny how that works. I suppose free speech is only equal for some.
I can join in the lament against bad TV, take my calling as a U.S. citizen seriously, and join forces with those who want to clean up the filth on TV—and it is rampant. Until the broadcast networks decide to do that, however, I’ll simply vote with my remote. For COL Charles Reger, that means that I refuse to watch the nonsense. If the shows have lousy ratings, then in a matter of time, they’ll no longer be on the air. If it’s a lousy show and stays on the air, however, I’m still not obligated to watch it.
I do agree with Wallis about the “Super Bowl Sleaze.” Football is my third favorite sport, but I do enjoy watching it from time to time. I must admit I missed the whole episode, but the media played it so many times in the week following the Super Bowl, you couldn’t miss it. It was unconscionable and disgusting, like Randy Moss—what a loser—pretending to moon the Green Bay Packers’ fans in the playoffs. The advertisements during the Super Bowl tend to appeal to “guys,” although some are suitable for the kids to watch as well and some are really funny. Many, however, are crass, crude, rude, and impolite. This year GoDollar.com had a well-endowed brunette displaying her wares in a commercial and the CEO of the dot.com appeared on The O’Reilly Factor defending the fact that his ad wasn’t nearly as “over the top” as some others. To his mind, worse behavior trumps bad behavior. Where’s the line for decency and commonsense? I believe it got erased in the 1800s. Again, I didn’t see that particular ad on Super Bowl Sunday either, but the networks aired it—repeatedly—later.
Wallis is correct that most parents are concerned—deeply concerned—about the morality of their children. All the liberal child-rearing claptrap flies out the window when you become a parent—thankfully. Here’s what happens: You get mugged by reality. I watch with unmitigated delight as my oldest sons and daughters-in-law correct and discipline my grandchildren. The chickens have come home to roost. Once you leave the hallowed halls of academia you have to deal with reality—unless you become a tenured liberal, leftwing professor or a bureaucrat.
Mr. Wallis asks a question: “You want to know why people join the religious Right?” I would have thought it was because they were thoughtful people who are concerned about the immorality in our culture and have a genuine faith in God. Nope. The religious Right wants to take over the country, while the religious Left is simply desperate to protect their kids—and turn America into a socialistic nation. Mr. Wallis must have gotten his information about the vast right-wing takeover conspiracy from the same source that gave him his data about child poverty. Where does all this stuff come from?
The reader can be relieved that—surprise, surprise—Wallis doesn’t recommend joining the religious Right. He does, however, advocate confronting the pornographic corporate profiteers. I don’t know any or even how to contact them, but in case any of you do, Mr. Wallis wants you to tell them something. I would have thought that it would have been something in the sense of: stop pedaling porn and negatively affecting the morals of the country, the inhumane manner in which you treat women, and to stop contributing to the HIV pandemic through unprotected sex. That would be good for starters. Mr. Wallis, however, says, “Tell them that you’re not a member of the religious Right, not a puritan, and not afraid of sex (but actually think it’s great when there is the lifelong commitment to match its significance).”
The pornographic corporate profiteers will then thank you profusely and join the ranks of the liberal Left—avoiding any and all puritanical ideas or worldviews. When the converted profiteer asks you finally who the Puritans were and what they stood for, you can smile and tell him that the Puritans are “old news” and Harvard Divinity School, even though founded by some of them, no longer reads them or knows much, if anything, about them. The Puritans are, in any case, immaterial for child safety—much like the religious Right. What is important is that the now-converted profiteers must not, under any circumstances, try to take over the United States like the religious Right.
The Politics of Parenting
Almost everything is politicized; what isn’t politicized in our society ends up being demonized and the former is far more desirable than the latter. After quoting some statistics from the 2004 presidential campaign, Wallis makes this observation: “The ‘marriage gap’ and ‘family values’ culture wars have separated liberals from conservatives for several decades now.” That’s true and the 2004 election made that patently clear. People voted with their feet and there was a clear rejection of the extreme left-wing stance of the Democratic Party. It was almost as if many Americans were striving to be religious Right puritans or converted porn profiteers.
Ascribing legitimacy to the “family values debate,” Wallis points out the “clear links” between family breakdown and youth delinquency, crime, drug use, teenage pregnancy, welfare dependence, and the alarming disintegration of civic community. If he is saying that there is a clear link and welfare dependence I tend to agree. I also concur that many of our social ills with America’s youth can be traced back to uninvolved or tangentially involved parents. More on that later.
Another interesting statistic is that “A January 2001 Pew Research Center study found that 49 percent of Americans trusted the Republicans to improve moral values, whereas only 26 percent trusted the Democrats to do so.” With a 23 point discrepancy, the Democrats ought to consider going back to the drawing board. Twenty-three percentage points is significant—huge. That notwithstanding, it appears that the Democratic Party is bent on moving yet farther to the left. With men such as Howard Dean as chair of the DNC, Nancy Pelosi as a “whip,” Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Maxine Waters, and John Edwards as frontrunners in the party, is it any wonder that America is skeptical about them improving moral values?
Wallis also points out that in a recent Democracy Corps survey, 57 percent of voters associated the Republicans with “personal responsibility” compared with 25 percent who associated the same phrase with the Democrats. Now we’re talking about a 32-point spread. Again, that’s significant. Finally, we are told, “In the same survey, the Republicans had a 20-point advantage on ‘commitment to family’ and a 15-point advantage on ‘shares your values.’” Thank you. Is anybody listening? This is not rocket science. Just check out the figures. In light of these truths, can anyone explain why the Democratic Party insists on moving even farther to the left? (I know what some are thinking. Forget it. All this posturing by Hillary is just that. She’s as bad as Ted Kennedy, she just knows when to keep her mouth shut, she’s smarter than he is, and how to play her cards. She doesn’t drink quite as much as he does either.)
Extensive Harvard Research on “Values”
For some reason—it’s probably because I so jaded—I get a little uneasy when the words “research” and “Harvard” are used in the same sentence. Part of my problem is knowing that Harvard tends to lean just a little to the left. Anyway, apart from my qualms, Wallis mentions meeting one Anna Greenberg while he was teaching at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He informs us that Ms. Greenberg has done “extensive research” on “the question of ‘values,’ which has included serious attention to the perspectives of diverse religious communities.” As I read that statement, I couldn’t help but wonder why he put the word values in quotation marks. Once again, as jaded as I am, I could construe the quotation marks to be more politically correct claptrap where in our diverse religious communities we have “values,” but no “Value;” “truths,” but no “Truth.” After all, it’s all relative. So much for serious attention and extensive research.
Greenberg’s research has focused on the “‘politics’ of marriage.” There are those pesky quotation marks again. Is that just a Harvard thing? I suppose I know what he and Ms. Greenberg mean since I’ve been married about thirty-eight years. Our marriage is very “political.” I get to make all the “political” decisions about the war in Iraq, the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the problem of illegal aliens and my wife gets to make the “political” decisions about what kinds of cars we drive, what our house looks like, and how we spend our money.
The next line just cracks me up. Here is the result of Ms. Greenberg’s extensive research and serious attention to the perspectives of diverse religious communities. Are you ready for this? Greenberg says, “It would be easy for Democrats to dismiss this Republican ‘morality’ advantage as an artifact of the influence of fringe religious voters. But it is evident in a broad swath of voters.” That is to say, the Democrats could dismiss the Republicans as a bunch of religious kooks if the moral issue were not so prominent, discernible, and easily observed. The 2004 election is a case in point. American voters voted with their feet. And the vote contained overwhelmingly clear moral “values.” Eleven out of eleven states voted against gay marriage. Is anybody out there at Harvard listening? Here’s another startling piece of extensive research. Ms. Greenberg discovered that “a large portion of these voters are married.”
The rest of her extensive research qualifies as what used to be called commonsense. Today it takes a Harvard degree to state the obvious. After pouring over stacks and stacks of data, Ms. Greenberg had no alternative—forced as she was by the irrefutable evidence of her extensive research—but to conclude that “when people get married and have children, their new experiences alter their political concerns.” Yep. They get mugged by the reality of a mortgage, insurance payments, taxes, and a five year auto loan owed to GMC—or Chrysler.
She dismisses the accusation that the reason parents change is because married Americans “are hijacked by the Christian Right.” (I think I’m beginning to see a pattern emerge where both Greenberg and Wallis was constantly tilting at this windmill. By the way, for what it’s worth, I’ve never been able to locate the office building for the “Christian Right.” It’s not in the phone directory either. 411 cannot connect you with the Christian Right. ) Here’s what precipitates the morality of married Americans according to Greenberg: “First, parents often return to the religious fold after dropping off from when they left their childhood home for work or college. Second, people with children have concerns that did not occur to them when they were childless. Parents worry about their kids’ exposure to sex and violence on television, in music, and on the Internet. They worry about school safety and the impact of peer pressure on taking drugs or committing violence.” You think? Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! I, along with any other parent with their IQ in double digits could have saved the U.S. government a ton of grant money when they—or some rich Harvard grad—funded this “extensive” research. I could have just walked up to Harvard and said what Ms. Greenberg studied so hard to learn off the top of my head. Then I could have said, “And that is the ‘politics’ of marriage. That will be $100,000.00 please—in small unmarked bills.
Wallis passes this fare along to us as if it is breaking news. “This just in! Responsible parents give a big rat’s behind what happens to their children!” There’s more of this extensive research that points to unmarried men watching more sex and violence on TV than married men, but it would just make you laugh—or cry.
A Parent’s Biggest Challenge
In this section we get more of Greenberg. I’m breaking it up into smaller sections so your sides won’t hurt from laughing so hard. So what is the biggest challenge the modern family faces? Greenberg’s respondents said that “the biggest challenge facing parents is insufficient time and commitment to teach children respect for rules and responsibility.” What does “insufficient time” mean? Does it mean that some of Ms. Greenberg’s respondents do not get the full twenty-four hours a day the rest of us get? For whatever reason, they only get twenty hours a day. Right. On the other hand, if the “respondents” report insufficient commitment, whose fault is that? Is the government responsible if the parents manifest insufficient commitment to their own children? I don’t think so.
But Greenberg will not be deterred by commonsense. Here’s something earth shaking: Many national surveys have confirmed that “the pressures of parenting are as important as any of the other worries that most Americans have these days.” Well, praise God for that bit of extensive research! It takes a Harvard research fellow—woman, person, whatever—to state the obvious and break down an open door. Well, what is one to do in light of the pressures of parenting? Whatever it is, whatever our great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents did will not pass muster with Harvard. Here is the (Ivy League) school solution: “Such findings indicate that the answer to the ‘family values’ crisis may not be a return to traditional roles for men and women and combating gay marriage, as the Right suggests, but rather in supporting the critical task of parenting—culturally, morally, and economically.”
Therefore the “family values” crisis that confronts us should not be the return to traditional (gag!) roles for men and women, let alone combating homosexual marriage. I expect “extensive research” to produce “extensive reasons” why, in the middle of a family values crisis we should embrace one set of principles and jettison another. That is to say, I would have expected Ms. Greenberg to inform us why we should not return to the traditional roles of men and women and why we should not combat homosexual marriage. In short, I would expect her—or Wallis—to explain why traditional roles are bad and homosexual marriages are good.
Of course, the “Right” is out to lunch as far as all this is concerned because, like Mr. Wallis, they are evangelicals who believe what the Holy Spirit deposited in the Bible complementarian roles of male and female, with the male as the spiritual leader and the woman as his helper. The last thing anyone doing extensive research would want to do is to perform the sacrifice of one’s intelligence by listening to God!
Of course, the most obvious question is: who is going to “support” the critical task of parenting? How do you do that culturally, morally, and—and this one scares me as much if not more than the other two because it means money—economically? Sounds like the totalitarian State is going to intervene and my taxes are going to go up with all this “support.” Greenberg’s assertion begs the question: Whence all this growing economic pressure? The solution is neither to be sought nor found among Republicans since their “definition of family values, which properly stresses moral laxness but ignores the growing economic pressures on all families, simply doesn’t go deep enough.”
The Democrats are wrong as well, according to Greenberg’s research, but her criticism is mild at best and tendentious at worst. Here’s what she says, “Similarly, the Democrats are right when they focus on economic security for working families but wrong when they are reluctant to make moral judgments about the cultural trends and values that are undermining family life.” Do you see what I mean? It still smells and sounds like more taxes to me. What are the “cultural trends and values” that are undermining family life in the U.S., to which Ms. Greenberg refers?
Here’s the litany. Tell me if this doesn’t sound like something right out of the Democratic platform. “Stagnant wages, the loss of health care and other job benefits, the rising cost of housing, and the demands of multiple jobs for low-income workers are all an assault on family time and values.” I can understand how some of this might cut into your time, but I don’t see how stagnant wages and the loss of health care assault my values.
It gets better—or worse—“But even in middle- and upper-middle-class households, the growing pressure for two incomes has led to the ‘latch-key syndrome’ that forces young people in families up and down the income ladder to look after themselves.” What a dumb thing to say. The “latch-key syndrome” (read: impersonal sociological phenomenon) doesn’t force anyone to do anything. Do you really want to know what makes young people up and down the income ladder have to look out for themselves? Choices. Parents make choices about where they want to live and what items they want to have and what kind of cars they want to drive. If those choices far exceed the discretionary income of that family they might have to consider living is a less expensive house, not buying an HD TV, or putting off buying the BMW. Or, they might decide that mom will leave the house and go to work to help pay for the boat, HD TV, and BMW. In any case, the “latch-key syndrome” did not impose the situation upon them, their choices did.
I’ll give you an example of what I mean. Our family lives in Orange County California, one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. I am a pastor and my wife does not work outside the home. We have three children and my mom living with us. Two of the three children are in university and my wife has never worked outside the home. We have a very comfortable life, but we live within our means. We have taken our shots against the pernicious “latch-key syndrome” that forces young people in families to look after themselves.
It’s the language that the “concerned” academic pinheads use that is particularly objectionable to me. Some people are sloppy readers, others are credulous—if it’s in print it must be true—, while still others are both sloppy and credulous. But any careful reader will conclude that it is certainly not the latch-key syndrome that forces anybody to do anything. The latch-key syndrome is, rather, the results of a series of choices—as much of life is. It is an immaterial entity that cannot force anyone to do anything!
But people like Greenberg, Wallis, and Gleason all have agendas. I admit that I have an agenda and that I want to see it implemented. On my good days, that agenda is what God says; on my bad days, it’s what Ron wants—but I have an agenda. Greenberg’s agenda looks, in part, like this: “people are working more hours to keep up, but we have no real support for child care or family leave…” This begs the question: How did our great-grandparents, parents, and parents survive? Moreover, who is the “we,” to which Ms. Greenberg points? Is she married and in need of child care? Is she a single mom who needs child care? Is she a Harvard researcher who lives in an upwardly mobile neighborhood in Boston and just cares about the disenfranchised? I don’t know, but I know I’m beginning to get an inkling of the economic support to which she previously referred: taxpayers paying for state run and controlled child care.
Clearly, our modern culture is arrayed against raising children with moral and spiritual values—whatever that might mean. In a diverse religious climate one of the huge problems is that say, the caste system is a good thing, while in another it’s a bad thing. It’s all relative anyway. Now stop that! Granted that materialistic and hedonistic cultures make it more difficult to raise children, they do not make it impossible. I have enough pride and fortitude that I intend to instill Christian values and virtues into my children irrespective of the culture or what the culture thinks.
I’m reminded also of Daniel and his friends. Commentators believe that Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego were all in their (early) teens when the Israelites in the southern kingdom were exiled to Babylonia. They were thoroughly indoctrinated in the language, culture, and ethics of Babylon, but remained true to the faith—or rather, God kept them true by his faithfulness and trustworthiness. I have no doubt that the values of materialistic and hedonistic culture are clearly arrayed against our raising children with moral and spiritual values, but I also believe that God honors parents whose goal it is to instill Christian values and virtues in their children.
Tending Towards Socialism
At the end of the day, this chapter on “family values” looks very much like a reflection of Socialism. The word itself is never used—that would be too obvious—but the tenets are clearly visible. For example, Mr. Wallis mentions another Harvard colleague named Theda Skocpol, who has written a book entitled The Missing Middle. It proposes, according to Wallis, “a new political agenda centered on ‘the struggles of working mothers and fathers, especially those with modest means.’”
Her compassion is surpassed only the taxes it will take to fund this new agenda. Wallis writes, “She believes the country would be receptive to progressive politics for parents: expanded and intergenerational use of Social Security, ensured child support, affordable child care, a steadily expanding Medicare, and universal access to paid family leave” Ch-Ching! Ch-Ching! I must confess that I don’t understand what expanded and intergenerational use of Social Security entails, but I’m willing to bet that I won’t like it!
Skocpol’s motives are honorable. She merely wants to strengthen parents “so they can do a better job in supporting their children and have more time to offer moral guidance.” Noble, indeed. But do I need Ms. Skocpol or anyone else to “strengthen” me—whatever that means—to have more time to teach my children what they need to know? I just kind of always thought that it was my responsibility to create the time to do that and not someone from Harvard or from the government. Thanks, but no thanks. Ms. Skocpol does not have all the answers, however. She asks—perhaps rhetorically—how “we” can provide social supports for parents who carry so much responsibility.
I keep wanting Mr. Wallis, Ms. Greenberg, or Ms. Skocpol to explain who the “we” are that they keep referring to. That would clarify a lot of matters. Too bad someone didn’t ask that questions to the Puritans who landed at Plymouth or the founding fathers. You’d think, by listening to all this, that America is the land of the incompetents. Parents are totally inept to raise children and must be “strengthened” or “empowered” by who knows who!
In a telling statement, Mr. Wallis cites a “critical” article by Anna Greenberg and her father, Stanley entitled, “Adding Values.” The article is apparently a true case of “values clarification,” because it claims that “more progressives have begun to understand that the future progressive agenda must focus not just on people’s work lives but on their family lives.” Uh-oh! The moral do-gooders are not satisfied to meddle in the workplace, now they want into your living room as well!
What might this agenda look like in practice? In a sleight of hand, the Greenberg duo emphatically assert, “Progressives also need to rediscover the family. For some three decades, the left neglected to affirm the centrality of the family, especially of two-parent households. The left must give itself permission to recognize the benefit of two-parent families to children.” At first blush, you might think, okay, that sounds reasonable. It almost sounds too good to be true. And, of course, it is. The very next sub-heading in Wallis’ book delves more deeply into the subject of gay marriage. That is precisely what the Greenbergs envisage by the term, “two-parent.” I do not believe that they are opposed to the traditional male-female marriage, but “two-parent” opens the door wider for male and female homosexual “marriages.”
The Controversy over Gay Marriage
Wallis believes that “Liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans are all responsible for politicizing the questions of family life and thus contributing to the disastrous weakening of this most basic important institution.” I have no doubt that both parties have contributed to weakening the family but to accuse all of contributing to the demise of family values is more than just a little far-fetched.
He then moves quickly to a series of “facts” about divorce, spousal or live-in abuse, births outside of marriage, etc. Then he adds, “But as soon as the issues of family breakdown are raised as a public issue, a very ideological debate quickly ensues about the ideal forms of family life that various cultural, religious, or political constituencies wish to advance.” Surprise! Surprise! You mean that Christians, for example, have settled ideas about “the ideal forms of family life?” Is it possible that they might have formed these views from the Bible? Surely, the foremost evangelical in the United States must realize this.
Wallis asserts, “There have been many forms of family in history…” Really? Is Mr. Wallis aware that the Bible does not teach that there are many viable forms of family? It is crystal clear that Genesis 1-3 teaches but one form and one form only. He does admit that the “extended family” is “undoubtedly the form of family operative in ancient biblical cultures, both Jewish and Christian.” Apparently, that was “then” and this is “now.” Wallis contends that what is currently designated as the “nuclear family” (ka-boom!) is what most today refer to as a family. Most? Statistics? Christians? Non-Christians? Both? Neither?
Whatever the case, Mr. Wallis is convinced that there are many forces undermining nuclear families and imperiling family life. Granted, there are some pressures on having and maintaining a solid family life. Those pressures, however, are not entirely new nor are they ineluctable. What Wallis aims at, however, is the new forms of family life that are emerging in our time: single-parent families, families that skip a generation with grandparents having the primary child-rearing responsibilities, and a host of other phenomena. I want us to spend a little time examining what those “other phenomena” are, because they cut to the chase of what Wallis, the Greenbergs, and Skopcol espouse. When they talk about evading or eliminating the ideological debate about the ideal forms of family life what they really want is for you and me to shut up.
As soon as we are quiet they will explain that they want to avoid the ideological debate—in theory—but they will enter the fray and tell us precisely what the ideal forms of family life are. Get it? Out of one side of their mouths they tell us not to engage in the ideological debate, but, on the other hand, they are all too joyful to engage in the ideological debate. Harvard speaks with forked tongue.
Wallis, et al., describe more of the “new forms of family life as same-sex couples rearing children and cohabiting couples who choose not to marry, but may be raising children. In addition, Wallis points out that more people are divorced, widowed, and otherwise living alone than ever before. All of this is meant to be a slight diversion from what Wallis wants to discuss, which is same-sex marriages. In what ensues, he devotes no less than seven pages to this topic. Of course, you must realize that this in no way constitutes the very ideological debate about the ideal forms of family life. Yeah, right.
The 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Court decision favoring gay and lesbians couples legally to marry. Given to understatement as he is, Wallis declares, “That decision set off a great controversy that played a prominent role in the 2004 election debate.” Moreover, the debacle and “mooning” of the rule of law by the mayor of San Francisco caused yet another firestorm. It is hard to imagine why people were so upset isn’t it? I mean all the mayor of San Fran did was announce that he was above the law and could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. That’s all right for our elected officials isn’t it? Sure.
Once again, at the front end of his discussion on the homosexual marriage controversy, Wallis just has a take another swipe at the “religious Right.” Here’s what he says: “Over the past decade, this ‘family values’ question has become very difficult and has been polarized by both the religious Right and the cultural Left.” Notice the tendentious language: The religious Right and the cultural Left. Those on the Right are bereft of any vestiges of culture. They are the mind-numbed robots that walk in lockstep to the tenets that will both destroy society and ram morality down everyone’s throat. The Left, on the other hand, is cultured. While the Right is running around being buffoons and idiots, the Left is doing extensive research.
Nonetheless, our country is facing myriad difficulties with regard to the family: family breakups, broken promises, marital infidelity, bad parenting, child abuse, male domination, violence against women, lack of living family wages, and the choice of material over family values all play their part in the disintegration of modern family life. I concur—although the “lack of living family wages” seems to have flown in from left field, but I suppose Mr. Wallis just had to get that in again.
As quickly as the problems are stated, Mr. Wallis returns to his favorite whipping boy: the Right. “But the Right has seized upon this agenda and turned it into a mean-spirited crusade.” I’m not absolutely clear exactly which “agenda” Mr. Wallis has in mind, but it seems to be not the items mentioned above but the blaming of the disintegration of the family on male and female homosexuals. Surely, certainly all the blame cannot be placed on the doorstep of the homosexual community for the troubles in modern family life. It is also equally naïve, however, to assert that they’ve played no role at all.
Homosexual activists are infiltrating schools with programs designed specifically to undermine the traditional understanding of marriage. And this is occurring at an alarming rate as well as at a very early age. There is more than sufficient, reliable documentation—although maybe not from Harvard—regarding this phenomenon. As often as not, the homosexual activist agenda is supported by the cultured elites on the Left. Mr. Wallis believes that most of the blame for family breakdown has more to do with heterosexual dysfunction “and, yes, ‘sin.’” Why did he put quotation marks around the word sin? Is it that he doesn’t believe that sin exists, is real? Or is it that he’s trying to play to the Harvard grandstand—the cultured Left—who snigger politely, of course, when the word sin is dropped like a bomb in the more educated, elitist circles?
While we’re trying to figure out what Wallis means by “sin,” he raises a (worn-out, hackneyed) red herring: “Gay civil and human rights must also be honored, respected, and defended for a society to be good and healthy. It is a question of both justice and compassion. To be both pro-family and pro-gay civil rights could open up some common ground that might take us forward.” As soon as someone starts talking about “gay,” “black,” “feminist,” or “illegal” civil rights I get antsy because I intuit that the discussion is about to head in the direction of “special” rights for special classes of people. Our Declaration of Independence clearly states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
What precisely would it take, in Mr. Wallis’ estimation, for the rights of homosexuals to be honored, respected, and defended? I contend that their rights are upheld, but that does not mean that people must “buy in” to their lifestyle as a viable option. In point of fact, serious Christians do not because they are conversant with the Bible where God says that homosexuality is an abomination. It does not follow, however, that Christians must treat homosexuals in an abominable fashion. Our government also grants full rights to homosexuals. Why does Mr. Wallis say that to be pro-family and pro-gay rights could open up some common ground that might take us forward? Wouldn’t it make more sense and be more American to say that there is no contradiction between being pro-family and pro-rights? I’ve heard it said a thousand times and I suppose it warrants being said again: we all are granted the same rights. The pursuit of happiness is no guarantee that all will achieve it on the same level.
To give us an example of what kinds of “rights” he’s referring to, Mr. Wallis asks this question: “Do we really want to deny a gay person’s right to be at their loved one’s deathbed in a hospital with ‘family restrictions’?” Who’s doing that? As a pastor, I spend time in hospitals. Generally speaking, I have found the doctors, nurses, and staff to be helpful, understanding, and friendly. Not too long ago one of our young Elders was diagnosed with leukemia. Eventually, our Lord took him to his eternal inheritance. Myself, members of the congregation, and my Session were granted pretty free rein regarding visiting times. It’s possible that some hospitals might place such a restriction on visitation as Mr. Wallis describes, but then that is the hospital’s rules. If we want rules or laws changed, there are ways to go about that. Another possibility would be simply to transfer to another hospital with laxer visitation rules.
Another question on this topic that Wallis asks is, “And do we really want all the worldly possessions of a deceased gay person to revert to the family that rejected them thirty years ago, instead of going to their partner of the last twenty years?” That’s a hypothetical question—I realize as well that similar things have actually occurred—so we can give a hypothetical answer. The family that “rejected” them also invested a lot of time and effort raising them. If there is no will in place—and that would seem to correct a lot of this—then there will be legal issues, but that is true in the case of the death of a heterosexual as well.
Another point I want to raise as we discuss the questions Mr. Wallis is raising has to do with past ethical decisions that pretended to act as panaceas for the ills of the world. I’ll mention just one: surrogate motherhood. Do you remember that was in vogue? TV programs were quick to get on board with what a great idea surrogate motherhood was. It fulfilled a real need in our society for childless couples. For the sake of our discussion, I’m going to ignore the notion of adultery as the man’s sperm was united with the surrogate mom’s egg. That’s another discussion for another time. Fine. But then something started floating in the punch bowl. Two unexpected results occurred.
First, some of the surrogate moms actually became very attached to the child they were carrying and did not want to give it up. Tough. You signed on the dotted line. There is a binding contract.
Second, occasionally but rarely, the surrogate mom delivered a mentally or physically handicapped (pc: challenged) baby. That was not in the contract, but I’ll bet it was quickly added to subsequent contracts. Now who gets the child? The childless couple, more often than not, did not want the child and it’s equally probable that the surrogate mother didn’t either.
My point is simply this: what sounds good or plausible at one time might very well turn into a disaster or nightmare—or both. We need to be very circumspect when making legislation dealing with these kinds of matters.
Nevertheless, Wallis believes that “the question of gay marriage is important; it is a major issue in the religious community, and it is unlikely to be resolved for many years.” One of the most important reasons that this question is a major issue in the religious (Christian) community is that for those of us who truly hold to the teachings of the Bible it is prohibited by the God we serve.
Gay Marriage: Two Seminary Presidents Debate
Both Richard Mouw (Fuller Theological Seminary) and Barbara Wheeler (Auburn Theological Seminary) are members of the Presbyterian Church, USA. According to Wallis one is more conservative (Mouw) and the other more liberal (Wheeler) on the issues of homosexuality. Mouw does not want the denomination to split but is skeptical. The UPUSA has been rushing “downhill” since the 1960s—at the very least. The erosion of a high view of Scripture has blurred the UPUSA’s spiritual vision. One by one, major biblical truths have been discarded and the homosexual issue in just one more in a long, long list of “issues” on which the Bible speaks so clearly.
Wallis quotes Wheeler’s doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ by quoting the following words: “A church that contains members we think strange, even barbaric, is a healthier setting for us, for our formation as Christians. We like to think that a church of our kind, one that excludes those who believe incorrectly and behave badly by our lights, would be a better school for goodness than the mixed church we’ve got. It is not necessarily so. Familiarity and affinity breed bad habits as well as virtues.”
Just what I would want to hear from a seminary professor! Is it all right for a seminary say, Auburn, to have “barbaric” students? What might these barbarians do? Rape, pillage, and plunder? President Wheeler is kicking down open doors with her words. Most churches are “mixed” in terms of age, gender, economic status, and a host of other aspects. The churches that tend not to be “mixed” are the homosexual congregations, which tend to have very few heterosexuals present. In case President Wheeler’s “switch” was mutilated by the barbarians in the UPUSA and at Auburn, we Christians ought not to judge “by our lights,” but by the Word of God. President Wheeler might not like it, but God puts forth standards of righteousness, holiness, and Christian conduct that are universal irrespective of the statuses mentioned above.
Moreover, the New Testament letters and epistles make it abundantly clear that the early Church was a “mixed” bag that held to the truth of the scriptures.
The Bottom Line in the Gay Rights Debate
Wallis immediately jumps from the Mouw/Wheeler debate—I guess that’s over now—back to the question of “gay civil rights.” He believes that the protection of gay civil rights should be a bottom line—apparently there is more than one—in the debate and he tries “to say that especially in very conservative evangelical circles.” While the religious Right is off trying to get its IQ into double digits, Wallis is preaching to them. What’s the content of his message? Well, he and his ilk are committed to “justice and compassion.” So am I, but justice and compassion must be brought under the lordship of Christ. I cannot a priori decide what the definitions of justice and compassion are and then superimpose them upon the Bible. If I am a true believer, then I must allow the truth of the Word of God form and inform all of my life, including the definitions I give to certain words and concepts.
As Wallis continues in his explanation of the gay marriage issue he makes my point about how even though he claims to be an evangelical, his practice belies the fact that he isn’t. He writes, “It is our view that while gay civil rights is a fundamental justice issue, the controversies over gay marriage and the ordination of gay bishops, and so on, should not be seen as ‘faith breakers.’” Let me see if I have this straight. If God pronounces homosexual practices as an abomination (LXX: βδέλυγμα) and people insist on doing that which receives a special word of condemnation and judgment, then we should not consider them as “faith breakers.” All right. How does severely disobedient to the God they claim to love and obey sound?
In fact, Wallis just merely opt for not seeing these couples/people as “faith breakers” but also suggests that “there are a growing number of local congregations that are open to offering blessings to same-sex couples. It is a solution that might satisfy most, as it preserves the Christian conscience of diverse positions. But for it to work, those congregations that open up to gay couples should not be cut off from their denominations, and neither should more traditional churches be pressured to accept gay marriage by liberal voices in their own denominations.” Look, even though Mr. Wallis appears to want to achieve a “balance” in his assessment, he sorely misses the point. If God condemns same-sex relationships what church in its right mind would be “open to offering blessings to same-sex couples”? I don’t care who preserves a Christian conscience of diverse positions. That’s not even at issue and even if it were, it would be relegated to an irrelevant position to what God thinks, says, and teaches in the Bible.
Conservatives also need to beware of suggesting that the future of western civilization is at stake in the battle over the legal status of same-sex couples, since that overstates the issue. Really? I guess that all depends on which history books you’re reading. There are a number of studies that point to the reality that where rampant homosexuality was allowed to go unchecked in ancient societies that they often declined. That is not to suggest that the decline was caused by any one thing, but certainly there were contributing causes. To deny this is simply to put your head in the sand.
During the 2004 presidential campaign Mr. Wallis wrote “that unless people of faith insist that the biblical imperatives for social justice, the God who lifts up the poor, and the Jesus who said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ were brought into the political debate, the ‘values questions’ and ‘moral issues’ in the election would be restricted to the Ten Commandments in public courthouses, marriage amendments, prayer in schools, and abortion.” While I can certainly agree that the Bible has quite a bit to say about social justice, I cannot help but wonder why Mr. Wallis’ list is so selective. Jesus wasn’t a selective moralist, but Mr. Wallis is. It would seem that there is a veritable plethora of moral issues that face our nation and to which, I’m convinced, the Bible offers solutions.
“Values questions” and “moral issues” ought to be settled by the Word of God and what it teaches on questions of right and wrong, its pronouncements on good and evil, the life and worldview it presents to us, and its directives regarding the behavior that call themselves Christians. Political platforms must have many planks, of which social justice must be one. What hampers Mr. Wallis’ approach at this juncture is that he has failed to give us a good working definition of the phrase “social justice.”
Since he appeals to biblical imperatives to define what social justice actually is, I intend to hold his feet to the fire in my critique of the book he’s written. If it’s to the Bible he appeals, it is to the Bible we shall go—repeatedly. For I am convinced after just the little I have read of the book that Mr. Wallis is far less concerned about what the Bible has to say and more about the current trends in politics. For someone who claims to be an evangelical, his writing is void of quotations from evangelical scholars.
Interestingly, Mr. Wallis cites Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount about being peacemakers. It’s an accurate quotation, but also very selective. What about the rest of the Sermon on the Mount? After all, it spans three chapters in Matthew’s gospel. Why, for example, did Wallis leave out Matthew 5:17-19 (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”)?
Jesus was not a selective moralist, but was concerned to proclaim the whole counsel of God. He spoke on the spiritual value of being a peacemaker, social justice, values questions, and moral issues. And he did all of that from his own authority and on the authority of the Old Testament scriptures. Jesus’ own view of the scriptures was that they could not be broken (cf. John 10:35). The Apostle Paul knew of that authority and wrote about it in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Paul also deliberately and unashamedly proclaimed the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).
Before Wallis concludes his section on “The Controversy Over Gay Marriage” he’s citing people who run Bread for the World and the Alliance to End Hunger. I suppose this is how lectures are done at Harvard Divinity School. Announce your title: Gay Marriage, and at the end of that discussion bring in intimately related ethical issues: hunger and poverty. How did we arrive here? Somehow this must cohere in Mr. Wallis’ mind because he is off and running as he writes, “We must show that people of faith are united in believing that millions of children and their parents living in poverty is a ‘family issue’ that our political debate must address. We must articulate the moral issues of social justice, or others will define the values questions in much more narrow ways.”
Poverty is a very complex issue and a number of “people of faith” as well as social engineers have dabbled in the solution to the problem. Jesus reminds his disciples that we will always (pa,ntote; pántote) have the poor with us (cf. Matt. 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8). This truth should not deter us, however, from seeking truly to alleviate the plight of the poor. Without question God’s Word teaches that those who consider the poor will be blessed by the Lord (cf. Ps. 41:1). This is not an invitation to a welfare program though. The Church in both the Old and New Testaments has a calling to aid the poor. One of the best ways of doing that is not through government programs, but for God’s people to support an active board of Deacons and to allow those men of God dispense those contributions in responsible ways.
When Lyndon B. Johnson threw trillions of dollars at his “Great Society,” at the end of the day neither his administration nor the welfare recipients had much to show for all the efforts, not to mention the hard-earned tax dollars of the U.S. taxpayers. That was money, which was, for the most part, down the drain. The difference between government welfare programs and a properly administered Deacon board is accountability. A well-oiled board of Deacons will not merely give a “fish” to those in need, but it will also teach the recipient “to fish.”
The moral issues of social justice are clearly defined in Scripture (cf. Ex. 23:6; Ps. 72:2; Eccl. 5:8; Isa. 10:1-2; Ezek. 22:29). I find it a little more than ironic that Mr. Wallis tells us that we must articulate the moral issues of social justice, but then does not provide one shred of biblical truth that will truly aid us so that we don’t define the “values questions” too narrowly. His answer? “The poll tells me that people are ready to hear another view.” Really? Interesting. I wonder if they are ready to hear God’s view.
But as quickly as the poverty issue appears, it just as quickly disappears. Wallis leaves his segue on poverty and without warning ends up back at the gay marriage issue. It must be a Harvard thing. He says, “Similarly, the controversies over gay marriage may not be as important as the deeper ethical issues of war and the emerging theology of war in American politics.” Anybody following this? Gay marriage morphs into poverty that then morphs into gay marriage as it’s related to war and the emerging theology of war. Right.
Prior to concluding this section dealing with logic and coherence, Mr. Wallis cites Duke (Dook) Divinity School professor Richard B. Hays who wrote in an “important” article these words, “Let us stop fighting one another, for a season, about issues of sexuality, so that we can focus on what God is saying to the church about our complicity in the violence that is the deepest moral crisis of our time. And let us call the church to fasting and prayer in repentance for the destruction our nation has inflicted upon the people of Iraq.”
The first part of the quotation is just backwards. First, we focus on what God is saying to the Church of Jesus Christ about sexuality. We simply cannot and must not put God’s pronouncements aside, whether they deal with sexuality or anything else. But we can multi-task. I suppose that the “destruction” our nation has inflicted upon the people of Iraq is comprised of the disposal of a brutal dictator and tyrant who raped, murdered, gassed, and executed his own people for political reasons and the free elections that country recently had. Indeed, Mr. Mays, our nation inflicted horror after horror upon the people of Iraq. What we did in liberating them from the regime of Saddam Hussein was awful compared to the manifold kindnesses he showed to them. Brilliant. Is there any validity to the fact that people wonder what transpires in some of our liberal divinity schools?
By the way, Mr. Hays is a member of the super-liberal United Methodist Church. He chided them by saying, “In the United Methodist Church, we say nothing about the horrifying violence in Iraq, while at the same time we exhaust ourselves going around in circles debating issues of sexuality.” Sounds like there’s trouble in Paradise. There’s a credibility gap here because the UMC has been at the forefront of every conceivable liberal stance for decades. We see images of people from the United Methodist Church carrying rainbows in favor of homosexuality and it is almost inconceivable that they have not been in the forefront of protests against the war in Iraq. This statement is indicative of just how far left Mr. Hays would like to move the leftist United Methodist Church.
The Culture is Broken
I approached the last heading of Wallis’ treatment of the chapter, “The Ties That Bond” with a measure of trepidation. After bouncing from gay marriage to poverty, back to gay marriage and then ending on the Iraqi War in a chapter that purported to discuss gay marriage, I wasn’t certain what to expect. But then, again, I attended neither Harvard nor Duke.
We end where we began: TV. You might not have been aware of this, but there is a relationship between the book Tuesdays with Morrie and the TV reality show Survivor. Surprised? I was too, but then Mr. Wallis began talking about “the underbelly of corporate America” and it all made sense to me. Like he says, “Pop culture dominates our society, and it’s not to be taken lightly.” I tend to agree but I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out how we got from—never mind.
In all likelihood, the best approach is simply to “go with Mr. Wallis’ flow.” He reminds us that America used to be more communal, but now it is less so. You have to go to Harvard to know that? Moreover, “It is harsh and cruel individualism that is now being forced upon us by our corporate, media, and political culture. And that is not good for family or community values. In fact, it destroys them.” No, not really. God is still in control. God’s people have endured harsh and cruel individualism many times over. They survived not because of anything in themselves, but because God remained God in all their trials and tribulations: sovereign, faithful, and trustworthy. Is popular culture a threat to our families? Yes, indeed. That is why it is imperative for Christian families to have a solid life and worldview based upon the truth of the Bible. That will be their best insurance against the evils of corporate, media, and political culture.
Mr. Wallis believes that marital fidelity, commitment, and longevity should be strengthened. Before you agree wholeheartedly with him, hear him out. “This includes encouraging healthy, monogamous, and stable same-sex relationships—which religious conservatives should be careful not to pit themselves against, regardless of how such relationships are ultimately defined.” I beg your pardon! In the first place, how do I as an orthodox Christian encourage something that my Lord has defined as an abomination in his sight?
I’ll tell you what religious conservatives should not pit themselves against: God as he has revealed himself in the Bible. Of course, I’m not all that certain that Mr. Wallis believes that God has done that. Maybe he has in certain places—and we’re dependent upon Mr. Wallis and Harvard scholarship and not God to inform us where those places might be—but certainly not in the whole Bible. At least that is what German higher critical methodologies would have us believe. Regardless of how such relationships are ultimately defined? Mr. Wallis is not asking me to perform merely the sacrificium intellectus, but he is also asking me to sacrifice all of my biblical principles for his political/cultural agenda. No thanks. I think I’ll pass.
How is anything ultimately defined? I’ll answer that. From God’s perspective. Mr. Wallis seems to have lost sight of the Creator/creature distinction. God is God and I am his creature. I am free to be fully human and to rejoice and delight in life—as long as I do it God’s way. Whenever I allow anyone or anything besides God to define what is ultimate, I am no longer free.
According to Mr. Wallis, he is concerned to maintain the bonds of both individuals and families since they are absolutely essential “if we are to protect the key religious and political concept of the common good.” How can Mr. Wallis with his rampant relativism pronounce anything absolutely essential? This is how liberals think.
 Cf. Jim Wallis, God’s Politics, (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2005), pp. 321-322.
 Ibid., 322.
 How do I know if I don’t watch the Super Bowl? The network gives you a preview on the day prior to the Super Bowl.
 Wallis, GP, 323.
 Ibid. 324.
 Ibid. He writes, “Exit polls following the 2004 election showed that 57 percent of married voters supported President Bush while 42 percent voted for Senator Kerry. Conversely, 58 percent of unmarried voters supported Kerry and 40 percent voted for Bush.”
 Ibid., 324.
 Ibid., 325.
 Ibid. Emphasis mine.
 Ibid., 325-326.
 Ibid. 326. Italics mine.
 What I mean here is that biblically males and females are supposed to complement one another, since that was God’s plan from the beginning. I have found a very helpful book on this subject: John Piper & Wayne Grudem (eds.), Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991). On page xiv the editors write, “We want to help Christians recover a noble vision of manhood and womanhood as God created them to be—hence the main title, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Our vision is not entirely the same as ‘a traditional view.” We affirm that the evangelical feminist movement has pointed out many selfish and hurtful practices that have previously gone unquestioned. But we hope that this new vision—a vision of Biblical ‘complementarity’—will both correct the previous mistakes and avoid the opposite mistakes that come from the feminist blurring of God-given sexual distinctions. We hope that thousands of Christian women who read this book will come away feeling affirmed and encouraged to participate much more actively in many ministries, and to contribute their wisdom and insight to the family and the church. We hope they will feel fully equal to men in status before God, and in importance to the family and the church. We pray that, at the same time, this vision of equality and complementarity will enable Christian women to give wholehearted affirmation to Biblically balanced male leadership in the home and in the church.”
 Wallis, GP, 326.
 Ibid., 326-327. Italics mine.
 Ibid., 327.
 Ibid., 328.
 Ibid., 328-329.
 Ibid. 329.
 Ibid., 330.
 If you can locate a second-hand copy of Bill Gairdner’s The War Against the Family, (Toronto: Stoddart, 1992), by all means get it! It is one of the best and most thoroughly documented works on the family.
 Wallis, GP, 331.
 Ibid., 332.
 Ibid., 333.
 Ibid., 334.
 Ibid., 335.
 If you go to their respective web sites you’ll find that both of these organizations are supported by a large number of liberal Christian denominations. Just thought I’d throw that in.
 Wallis, GP, 336.
 Ibid. Italics mine.
 Ibid., 337.
 Ibid., 340.