An annual Christian music festival has drawn unexpected controversy over one of its featured speakers – Jim Wallis.
Though Wallis is among some 58 speakers this year at Lifest, some local Christians have protested his appearance and one sponsor recently pulled its support.
"After researching extensively the words and published positions of Jim Wallis and his organization, Sojourners Magazine, and seeking fervently the guidance of the Holy Spirit in prayer, we believe the social justice message and agenda they promote is a seed of secular humanism, seeking an unholy alliance between the Church and Government," Q90 FM, a Christian radio station based in De Pere, Wis., stated.
For months, Lifest founder Bob Lenz has been in conversations with local pastors and others who raised concerns over featuring Wallis – who is considered a progressive Christian – at the popular Lifest, which kicks off July 7 in Oshkosh, Wis.
By including Wallis in the speaker line-up, some accused the festival of compromising the Gospel. Crosstalk radio host Ingrid Schlueter expressed her opposition to presenting Wallis as "a credible Christian leader" and said youth are in "spiritual peril" if they attend the five-day event.
"There is spiritual danger here," she said. Youth will be "sitting under the tutelage of a religious and political radical who is ... hostile to the biblical Gospel."
Mary Danielson of Calvary Chapel in Appleton, Wis., said Wallis claims to be an evangelical pastor, but is merely using Scripture to "justify his radicalism."
"He does not hold to the central tenets of biblical Christianity but he reads a brand of social justice into the Bible," Danielson said on Crosstalk radio.
Responding to the uproar, Wallis, who also serves as a spiritual adviser to President Obama, released a statement, saying: "Let me be very clear that we believe in the separation of church and state. We believe the church and the government are able to best fulfill their roles when they function separately and apart from institutional intrusion.
"However, that does not mean we believe in the separation of values from public life."
"The biblical definition of social justice has to do with helping bring about God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, just as Jesus taught us to pray," Wallis said, according to The Post-Crescent. "And in a world where half the population lives in poverty, there is a great need for God's Kingdom to be more fully present."
Lenz has tried to calm the storm by reaffirming Lifest's purpose, which is to preach the Gospel, bring people to Jesus and promote unity among believers on the core issue of the Gospel.
"My concern is that the people who have raised their voices the loudest are drawing attention away from the true purpose of Lifest," he said. "We hope you will be a part of putting it back in focus from the moment the gates open."
"When we bring someone in to speak at Lifest, I promise from the best we know that this person loves Jesus and is pursuing a relationship with Him, and that this person, as far as we know, is also living out the Gospel," Lenz explained.
Lenz does not agree with all of Wallis' politics or even some of his "non-essential theology," but he said he cannot remove him from the line-up based on the accusations that have been made.
He assured supporters that Wallis will being sharing "the true Gospel, his conversion, and a call for us, the church, to take on our responsibility for the poor."
"I know Jim Wallis. Jim Wallis loves Jesus," he added. "I would have no hesitation having my kids, young Christians, and seekers alike hear his message. It's a message that I feel the church desperately needs to hear."
In another measure of reassuring supporters, Lenz added endorsements from various evangelicals who support Wallis.
"Agree or disagree – Jim Wallis touches your heart, stretches your mind, and challenges your values," stated Leith Anderson, president of National Association of Evangelicals. "He thunders like an Old Testament prophet, yet he is gentle and gracious. With a heart for people and a dream for a better tomorrow, Jim Wallis looks tough times in the eye and talks of hope."
Q90 FM, meanwhile, noted that they are not calling for a boycott of Lifest and they do not consider Wallis an enemy. "We just have a fundamental disagreement on the wisdom of bringing Mr. Wallis to Lifest," the radio station said.
Lifest 2010 will take place July 7-11 and feature dozens of speakers and over 100 musical artists and performers. Other speakers scheduled to appear include evangelist Luis Palau, abortion survivor Gianna Jessen, Bo Boshers with Willow Creek Association, and Tiger McLuen of Bethel University. Some 15,000 people are expected to attend.