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Jim Wallis and Michael Wear: Is Gov't Aid Christian Charity?

Jim Wallis
Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, holding up a "Poverty and Justice Bible" at the "Faithful Filibuster" protest, Washington, D.C., Oct. 10, 2013. |

Recently I wrote a piece criticizing Jim Wallis and his politically progressive magazine Sojourners for misrepresenting Scripture in order to sell socialist economic policies as something Jesus would advocate. It caught the attention of former Obama staffer Michael Wear, a progressive Christian who works to bridge the gap between evangelicals and the Democrat left.

Peter Heck
Peter Heck is a speaker, author and teacher.

Unsurprisingly he took exception to my piece, calling it "slander" and "reprehensible." While I would disagree with those characterizations, I chose to engage Michael and asked him directly if we could at least both agree that Christian charity, as Jesus defined, is to be born of a generous heart and not compulsion at the end of the gun of government. Wear didn't answer, instead offering a checklist of liberal social programs that comports with his ideological dogma:

"Say what you mean, Peter. Do you believe taxation is theft? Do you oppose Medicaid/Social Security/food stamps/school lunch programs?"

To be honest, I wasn't sure if Michael was attempting Obamaesque misdirection with that response or whether I had communicated my point so poorly. Giving Wear the benefit of the doubt and assuming it was the latter, allow me to clarify.

It is more than fine if Jim Wallis or Michael Wear want to disagree with me on those topics. I don't believe anyone is unchristian for supporting the Social Security ponzi scheme. Politically wrong and unwise? Yes, but not unchristian. I don't question the Christian bona fides of anyone who wants to ramp up Medicaid or the SNAP food stamp systems. I may disagree with them politically, but those aren't issues of belittling or abusing the Word of God.

My objection to Wallis was and is that he teaches and many of his followers repeat that support of socialist redistribution policies is synonymous with obedience to the call of Christ to care for the "least of these."

But if the government takes from me and gives to the poor, I am not fulfilling the command of Jesus to be personally charitable. Anyone who teaches that deserves rebuke.

Similarly, if I am in a position of power in government, and I use the force of law to take from certain citizens and redistribute to other citizens, I am not fulfilling the command of Jesus to be personally charitable. Anyone who teaches that also deserves rebuke.

Yet this is a point that progressive Christians will not acknowledge, and that alarms me not as a conservative or a Republican, but as a Christian who believes anyone wearing the name of Jesus has a duty to correctly handle the word of truth. And it's not just Jim Wallis and Sojourners.

In response to Hurricane Harvey, the progressive "Red-Letter Christian" organization tweeted out this tone-deaf proclamation: "Natural disasters: when we all become socialists."

Just like I did with Wallis, I called them out for this same offense. The organization reached out to me to have a productive dialogue about these issues. I agreed. Here's the extent of that dialogue:

Red Letter Christians: "Brother @peterheck, like 1st century Xtns, at times of disaster we hold each other in common (Acts 2:44-45)."

Heck: "No doubt, friends. But you would acknowledge what is happening in Acts 2 is far from the moral and political equivalent of socialism, right?"

And that was it. No answer, no acknowledgement, no response. Just silence. As an evangelical Christian who has conservative politics, I am more than happy to concede that policy differences are typically not matters where our faith compels us to be rigid and dogmatic. But when it comes to twisting and using Scripture to advance our policy preferences (particularly when those policies lead to dramatic suffering for the poor, as in the case of socialism), all believers must oppose such an offense.

The fact that progressive Christians won't acknowledge that is extraordinarily bizarre and particularly concerning.

Peter Heck is a speaker, author and teacher. Follow him @peterheck, email peter@peterheck.com or visit www.peterheck.com.

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