Politics and the Christian Faith

Check out the new chart on my website,

Politics and the Christian Faith.

I placed groups in "The Christian Left," "The Christian Center," and "The Christian Right."


Anonymous said...

Don't you think Sojourners belongs in the "Christian Left" column?

Bob Robinson said...

Granted, many of the writers who contribute to SOJOURNERS lean left.
But this is balanced by the leader of Sojourners, Jim Wallis, who is, in my opinion, the epitome of being a member of the "Christian Center."

Byron said...

I'm sorta with Anonymous. Outside of abortion, can you identify other significant areas where Sojourners comes down on the conservative side of things? Maybe gay marriage, but I don't know. It comes off to me that Sojourners is effectively a group of pro-life Democrats, but I could be wrong. Enlighten me.

Byron said...

Hello, hello??? Anybody home? Enlighten me...besides abortion and probably (HOPEFULLY!) "gay marriage", where would dear Jim come down on the conservative side of things?

Bob Robinson said...

Sorry, Byron. I've been too busy refuting you over at A Ticking Time Blog, that I haven't had time to refute you here! :)

I'm going to, though. I just need to find a minute or two...

Byron said...

Sorry, Bob, but I've drubbed you so badly on my home field that I thought I'd bring my game to your turf; you know, give you a fighting chance... ;)

Seriously, not looking to be refuted here, only enlightened...I just honestly don't know anything besides those two issues on which SoJo would be in the middle. Then again, your folks on the "Christian Left" are effectively liberals, theologically and otherwise; I don't even mess with them. I generally confine my remarks to evangelicals, and I'd put SoJo on the evangelical left. I'll have to think about whom I'd put in the evangelical middle...maybe me? OK, a bit right of center, but a bit left of right!!!

Byron said...


Bob Robinson said...


You must have prayed for patience...

Bob Robinson said...

Okay, okay, okay...
Byron's waited long enough.
(By the way, Byron, you should change your log-in to blogger websites so that we can access your excellent blog directly from clicking your name on your comments!)

Yes, in that middle column there are leanings left and right, but I still maintain that they are in the "center."

The "Left" column is filled with those who claim to follow Christ but define the Gospel primarily as social action--making the world a better place--without necessarily buying that Jesus is all that the "born-agains" claims he is.

The "Right" column represents those who wrongly assume that the USA is some sort of new Israel and that as such, we must force Judeo-Christian values upon the nation as a whole--as witnessed by their insistance that we are "one nation under God," with the conotation that other nations are not under God like the USA is. They insist that we are a "Christian Nation," and we must get our nation back to some mythical time in the past when we were Christian (they show an utter ignorance of the founding of the nation).

The middle column does not have that ignorance of American theocracy, but they share evangelical ideas about Jesus and his work of redemption for each person. But what they realize (correctly) is that the Gospel is more than saving souls from hell and getting them into heaven. They understand the concept of the Kingdom of God invading all aspects of human existence in the "here and now." So they insist that Christianity must be both a personal conversion experience that leads to personal piety AND a Kingdom-living experience that leads to social action.

Sojourners is more than just "pro-life Democrats" as witnessed by their petition during the last election. While it can be argued that the petition was a clear reaction against the Bush campaign, it can also be argued that the petition is biblical within an evangelical understanding of the gospel...in other words, the issues raised are worthy of evangelical discussion and can be believed by evangelicals who neither lean left nor right. (Notice the wide array of issues listed below--social justice, poverty, the environment, war and peace, integrity in politics, human rights, theology, and the sanctity of human life):

God is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat.We believe that sincere Christians and other people of faith can choose to vote for President Bush or Senator Kerry - for reasons deeply rooted in their faith.

We believe all candidates should be examined by measuring their policies against the complete range of Christian ethics and values.

We will measure the candidates by whether they enhance human life, human dignity, and human rights; whether they strengthen family life and protect children; whether they promote racial reconciliation and support gender equality; whether they serve peace and social justice; and whether they advance the common good rather than only individual, national, and special interests.

We are not single-issue voters.We believe that poverty - caring for the poor and vulnerable - is a religious issue. Do the candidates' budget and tax policies reward the rich or show compassion for poor families? Do their foreign policies include fair trade and debt cancellation for the poorest countries? (Matthew 25:35-40, Isaiah 10:1-2)

We believe that the environment - caring for God's earth - is a religious issue. Do the candidates' policies protect the creation or serve corporate interests that damage it? (Genesis 2:15, Psalm 24:1)

We believe that war - and our call to be peacemakers - is a religious issue. Do the candidates' policies pursue "wars of choice" or respect international law and cooperation in responding to real global threats? (Matthew 5:9)

We believe that truth-telling is a religious issue. Do the candidates tell the truth in justifying war and in other foreign and domestic policies? (John 8:32)

We believe that human rights - respecting the image of God in every person - is a religious issue. How do the candidates propose to change the attitudes and policies that led to the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners? (Genesis 1:27)

We believe that our response to terrorism is a religious issue. Do the candidates adopt the dangerous language of righteous empire in the war on terrorism and confuse the roles of God, church, and nation? Do the candidates see evil only in our enemies but never in our own policies? (Matthew 6:33, Proverbs 8:12-13 )

We believe that a consistent ethic of human life is a religious issue. Do the candidates' positions on abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, weapons of mass destruction, HIV/AIDS-and other pandemics-and genocide around the world obey the biblical injunction to choose life? (Deuteronomy 30:19)

We also admonish both parties and candidates to avoid the exploitation of religion or our congregations for partisan political purposes.

dave paisley said...

Just to throw more fuel on the fire, I'd say that Sojourners weekly spam^H^H^H^H emails show them to be more left than the "God is not a..." election manifesto.

I think it's a bit preumptuous to claim that "...define the Gospel primarily as social action--making the world a better place--without necessarily buying that Jesus is all that the "born-agains" claims he is" is a good definition of "left". It would be nice to see better criteria than that.

Also - Christianity Today - center? If they're center along with Sojourners that's a big, big center.

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks, Dave, for the insights.

I agree with you about the Sojo e-mails. You and Byron are beginning to show me the error of my ways. It's just that I am a big fan of Jim Wallis. I tend to agree with his commentaries 85% of the time (you know that he was the major writer of the "God is not a..." campaign, along with others, including Brian McLaren).

I, too, get frustrated with much of the rest of the mag that he heads up for it does indeed tend to be rather lefty.

So, maybe Wallis is in the center, but he inexplicably allows Sojourners to lean left.

And yes, Christianity Today is center too, for they make a real effort to not just publish articles from the right side of Christianity, but also from the left. They are one of the major players in pushing the new NAE statement of evangelical engagement in social issues. Their commentary page is most often very balanced, even many times calling out both the right-wing's and the left-wing's foibles.

So, in that middle you have leanings left and right, but a great deal of attempts to be balanced.

Would you suggest others that would better fit that center column?

Byron said...

I'm with Dave, and here are my things: one, again I'll ask, when it comes to practical positions, where besides the two I mention does Sojo come down on the conservative side? Because reading their mag/emails (which I get, by the way), it's hard to find any besides pro-life (a bit tepid even there for my tastes, but okay) and "gay marriage". I mean, I read the whole "God is not a Republican or a Democrat" deal, and sure, it raises some good points--as I've long said, evangelical lefties are good for the purpose of sometimes raising issues that maybe we conservatives don't think about...fair enough. I just don't like the prescriptions. The document addresses a whole range of issues, but from what I see, the slant of Sojo is politically left on everything but those two.

I'd call Sojo "Christian Center", if you include the liberals as "Christian", which by one definition, I do not. I'd call them Evangelical Left. But the point really isn't monikers. A deeper point I have for Bob is this: I know you like Jim Wallis, and he does have some really good things to say. But do you get balance (well, besides reading my blog)? :)

I mean, some of the economic things are an example. The typical Sojo response comes down on the side of defending big government, in my judgment, usually in a knee-jerk fashion (and no, liberals aren't the only knee-jerkers, I know that). You can make a very good case that, if you really want to help poor people, you should by all means favor the abolition of the minimum wage--not its increase. That's just one example.

I just really would encourage you to balance Wallis with World Mag, if you don't already, or something like that, Bobsta!

Bob Robinson said...

Your comment above reveals a lot about your presumptions, and the presumptions of many evangelicals in America today (including myself).

You say, “where besides the two I mention does Sojo come down on the conservative side?”

The presumption is that the “Christian Conservative” side is really the “Christian Center”—that if you are really being a “centered Christian,” you would share many conservative values. But the issues that the “God is not a…” petition address are simply biblical, ethical issues: social justice, poverty, the environment, war and peace, integrity in politics, human rights, theology, and the sanctity of human life. For you to keep insisting that the only two things that Sojo lists as important Christian issues that would be “center” must deal with “pro-life” and “gay marriage” is to not see with your eyes wide open. Look again at those issues.

You also say: “I know you like Jim Wallis, and he does have some really good things to say. But do you get balance (well, besides reading my blog)? :)” The issue is not that I am out of balance; it is that evangelicalism is out of balance. Evangelicalism is overwhelmed by only one side of the story so much that somebody must provide some alternative views. I get balance not from listening or reading conservative pundits (for I am sick of the lies that spew from the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity), but I do engage with good thinkers from both sides. And yes, Byron, you’re one of them.

You say, “The typical Sojo response comes down on the side of defending big government, in my judgment, usually in a knee-jerk fashion (and no, liberals aren't the only knee-jerkers, I know that).”

Again, I agree that knee-jerk reactions are not good. But the right knees jerk a whole lot more than Christians are ready to admit. This last budget, for example, is not scrutinized AT ALL since it is presumed that cutting federal spending on the poor is a good thing. That is as knee-jerk as it gets. Especially when the budget also proposes to make permanent the tax cuts for the very rich. Where’s the real analysis from the Right on this budget?

Lastly, you say, “I just really would encourage you to balance Wallis with World Mag, if you don't already, or something like that, Bobsta!”

I attend a church now that prominently displays dozens of copies of World Magazine in their atrium. I sit down and read them all the time. But here, again, is the rub: Why isn’t Sojourners displayed next to it? In the church bookstore is Ray Moore’s new book, displayed front and center. Why isn’t Jim Wallis’ book next to it? Is it not on the every bestseller list in America?

The problem is not that I am out of balance; it is that evangelicalism is out of balance.

Bob Robinson said...

Jim Wallis was on this past Sunday's Meet The Press. This is what he said:
"I think a consistent ethic of life is a good moral guide for politics and it cuts both ways; cuts Republican and Democratic. Religion should be able to critique both the left and the right, not be ideologically predictable or loyally partisan."

Josh said...

Hi. I found this through Planet Emergent and I thought I'd post a comment because I've blogged on this topic a couple times.

I think that where Jim Wallis is ideally (where he wants to be and where I want him to be) is neither left nor right, but I wouldn't classify it as center either. Having read his book and heard him speak, I think that what Wallis really wants is to get beyond left and right because it is a dichotomy that has been unhelpful (and possibly harmful) for the Church in carrying out its mission. Placing Jim Wallis in the "Christian Center" acknowledges that he is neither right nor left, but validates the whole left/right spectrum which I find problematic.

Now this is all good in theory, but in practice I think that Sojourners (apart from Jim Wallis) tilts to the left. And you can tell by the advertisements that run in sojomail that it is intended for the "Christian Left."

Still, to say that Wallis is a lefty when it comes to everything except a few issues is inaccurate. We can see this particularly when looking at Jim Wallis's editorials pre-9/11 (when lefty's were accusing him of caving in to Bush.)

Perhaps a Republican preaching compassionate conservatism, working with Democrats who want to fight for poor working families, and both joined by faith-based organizations at work on the streets could accomplish things that neither Democrats and Republicans have been able to do.

--Jim Wallis Sojomail 12/22/00

I didn’t vote for George W. Bush, and didn’t agree with the way this election was finally decided. But I liked the new president’s inaugural address. I thought it was a great speech, in tone and content. Sure, it was only a speech, and critics are already saying he didn’t mean the things he said or won’t do anything about them.

I say let's give him a chance, and help him turn his words into reality.

--Jim Wallis Sojomail 1/26/01

Of course, you don't have to look that far back even.

I disagree with some of Bush's Democratic critics who found nothing new in the domestic portion of his speech. There are new and promising directions in his notion of "an ownership society," which focuses on things like tax credits, educational equality, and home ownership for lower-income families as an alternative to relying only on entitlement programs. In an interesting article in The New York Times magazine last Sunday, conservative writer David Brooks laid out a vision for "progressive Republicanism," which has a clear role for the positive action of government to make work actually work for low-income families through a range of wage supplements and wealth creation for poor working families.

--Jim Wallis Sojomail 9/3/04

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks for pointing out how balanced Jim Wallis has indeed been. Like I said, Sojourners indeed leans left, but Wallis has proved very balanced.

I like your idea of getting "beyond left and right."
I don't think that the politicos will ever get beyond that, but one would hope that Christians could get beyond that!

But as long as there are groups like the ones listed in my chart on that right side, it will be difficult to get Christians to hear this.

Why? Because those right-side Christians have very loud voices.

I don't think that most of the people that attend my church even know who Jim Wallis is, let alone that he has the number 11 bestselling nonfiction book in America today. They know who James Dobson is; they watch the 700 Club; they listen to Rush Limbaugh; they watch FOX NEWS CHANNEL.
But they do not get any balance in their diet of ideas about what a Christian worldview should be on a more holistic scale.
How do we get beyond left and right in this milieu?

dave said...

Sojourners is effectively a group of pro-life Democrats

If this was true, then Sojourners would be in the middle. Only in the US would a Democrat (i.e. a member of the US Democrat Party) be considered on the "left".

churchNstate said...



DLW said...

I agree that Wallis is showing more statesmanship, trying to make the best of whatever political situation he finds himself in and treating his political leaders with charity.

I have generally found sojourners to be to the left of ESA. They're basic approach is to mix the idealism of the sixties with white USEvangelical language.

And there's nothing wrong with that, but Wallis generally does not come across as treating the difficulties of working with the existent two-party system with all of its flaws in part due to the inflammation of the cultural wars.

I'm of the opinion that he and Call to Renewal were wrong to focus on making Kerry move to the left economically in this past election, rather than helping Kerry communicate better with social/religious conservatives so as to stem their turn out in the election. For me the bottom line was that two groups were competing for control of our gov't and that it was important to keep the more economically-conservative party from getting and consolidating its control over the US gov't. The best way to move the center more to the left is to reduce the faith-based acrimony caused by the cultural wars.

My problem with Ron Sider from before the election was that because of his involvment with the NAE, he completely acceded to the way the religious right was framing various social issues and their significance.

I don't think his strategy of affirming these existing issues as they were being framed and then encouraging voters to include more issues was very effective.

Anyways, I think we should get over the terms center, right and left and seek to creatively improve the dynamics of our political system. That is why I wrote my own ideal-type political party platform.

Sorry for rambling,

Bob Robinson said...

I really appreciate this conversation!

The Big Lowitzki is right when he says, "Only in the US would a Democrat (i.e. a member of the US Democrat Party) be considered on the "left"." If you talk to true-blue liberals, they often feel very betrayed by the Democratic Party. They feel that the margin between the Republicans and Democrats is far too narrow.

I like what David Wetzell says: "I think we should get over the terms center, right and left and seek to creatively improve the dynamics of our political system."
I read his "Christian Pragmatic Progressive Party Platform" and see some good ideas there.

But for the matter of where we are today (until that mythical day when we no longer think in terms of left and right), I still think we need to consider who we listen to and what implications that has on what we believe. If all I listen to is the people in the Right column (or the Left column), as we are increasingly doing in the USAmerica, we do not open ourselves up to new ideas and challenges to our own thought-processes. We are no longer in dialogue with others as we seek to find solutions to our world's problems.

By the way, in light of the excellent discussion here, I modified the chart. Check it out now! ...I have arranged the "center" column to include leanings left and right.

How's that? Better?

DLW said...

Hi Bob, I prefer to be referred to by my pseudonym.

I tend to like the US's system where the main parties more or less compete for the control of the gov't by moving towards whereever the "center" happens to be. It guarantees continuity and change in the forms of governance, leaving the impetus to interest groups and third parties to make the center more dynamic to the issues that need to be dealt with.

I agree that we need to encourage a broader dialogue, but I think it is more essential to do our best to resolve politically the contentious issues of the cultural wars and to redirect the political activism of the religious right in different directions, not unlike what I posted in my party. There are a number of natural fissures between religious and economic conservatives and if we can depoliticize abortion and edge out the homosexual marriage issue from being prominent in our elections, it will go a ways to improving the health of our democracy by making it so the social conservatives don't sell their votes so cheaply and readily to the economic-conservative-dominated Republican party.