Michael Gerson, a Wheaton College graduate, former George W. Bush speechwriter, and Washington Post columnist, is an evangelical Christian of conservative political sympathies. Jim Wallis is the founder of Sojourners, a progressive evangelical organization and an outspoken leader of the Christian left. I would imagine that Gerson and Wallis share a common faith in the Christian gospel, but have profoundly different political convictions.
Except on their mutual commitment to “the common good.” Gerson has several nice things to say about Wallis’s latest book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good.
In yesterday’s column Gerson writes:
…But the book has broader value in challenging a variety of shallow modern ideologies.
Contra libertarianism: The common good is not identical to the triumph of market forces. Constructing it is the shared duty of communities, corporations and government.
Contra modern liberalism: The common good is not identical to the triumph of autonomy and choice. Humans flourish in the context of binding moral commitments such as marriage and family. And the most vulnerable members of the human community deserve special concern and protection.
Contra secularism: The common good is not achieved by banishing religion from the public square. Religious institutions perform works of mercy, carry ideals of justice and should be sheltered by a generous interpretation of religious liberty.
Wallis’ argument, offered by a man of the left, reaches well beyond the left: In a political era of rights talk and special-interest pleading, a greater emphasis on the common good would make American politics more civil, admirable and humane.
Read the entire column here.
Bob Robinson says
I remember when Wallis took G W Bush to task (and in fact, his chief speech-writer at the time, Michael Gerson) in his scathing article on how Bush consistently misused words of faith to promote American imperialism.
“Dangerous Religion,” Sojourners, September-October 2003
“President Bush uses religious language more than any president in U.S. history, and some of his key speechwriters come right out of the evangelical community. Sometimes he draws on biblical language, other times old gospel hymns that cause deep resonance among the faithful in his own electoral base. The problem is that the quotes from the Bible and hymnals are too often either taken out of context or, worse yet, employed in ways quite different from their original meaning. For example, in the 2003 State of the Union, the president evoked an easily recognized and quite famous line from an old gospel hymn. Speaking of America's deepest problems, Bush said, “The need is great. Yet there's power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people.” But that's not what the song is about. The hymn says there is “power, power, wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb” (emphasis added). The hymn is about the power of Christ in salvation, not the power of “the American people,” or any people, or any country. Bush's citation was a complete misuse.
On the first anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, President Bush said at Ellis Island, “This ideal of America is the hope of all mankind…. That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it.” Those last two sentences are straight out of John's gospel. But in the gospel the light shining in the darkness is the Word of God, and the light is the light of Christ. It's not about America and its values. Even his favorite hymn, “A Charge to Keep,” speaks of that charge as “a God to glorify”—not to “do everything we can to protect the American homeland,” as Bush has named our charge to keep.
Bush seems to make this mistake over and over again—confusing nation, church, and God. The resulting theology is more American civil religion than Christian faith.”