An Open Letter to Jim Wallis from Writers about American Religion and Politics

I was recently asked, and agreed, to add my name to the following letter, in response to an article by Jim Wallis published here. My name’s position at the top of the list of signees is purely an accident of alphabetization.

I previously blogged on Mark Pinsky, who is discussed in the letter, here

Dear Jim Wallis,

We are writing in response to your e-mail to the Sojourners list on September 29th, and your similar piece on The Huffington Post, in which you claim that “some liberal writers” — whom you do not name — are broad brushing evangelical Christians as “intellectually-flawed right-wing crazies with dangerous plans for the country.” You characterize unnamed writers — writers like us — as people who are “all too eager to discredit religion as part of their perennial habit and practice.” This charge is as unfair as it is unsubstantiated.

You may recognize some of us as people who have written in recent years about such tendencies in modern Christian evangelicalism as dominionism, apocalyptic demonization, Christian Reconstructionism, and the New Apostolic Reformation. We see these forces as playing a significant role in our religious and political lives.

We are concerned about your recent attacks for three main reasons.

Our first concern is your claim that writers who are critical of these tendencies are making broad, unfair claims about “most or all evangelicals.” This is just not so. We understand and try to reflect in our work the idea that some, but certainly far from all, evangelical Christians embrace or are influenced by these important movements.

We agree with you that evangelicals are highly varied; are not all politically conservative; and that certainly not all are Republicans. None of us has ever thought or written that they are. Indeed, some of us are evangelicals ourselves. We know that former Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are evangelical Christians. And some of us have written about how elements of the above-mentioned movements and tendencies are also involved in the Democratic Party.

We understand that there are complexities in life, religion, and politics. We take seriously the need for and the extraordinary privilege of constantly learning. As writers, we are quite varied among ourselves. We are religious and non-religious; Christian and non-Christian. We have different histories and emphases in writing about religion, theology, and politics. We do not always agree with one another. But we all do agree on this much: These exclusionary Christian movements and tendencies are real, overlapping, and significant in evangelicalism specifically and in our political and electoral culture at large. We invite our readers to consider that there are aspects to these movements and tendencies that are profoundly problematic, and we invite you to consider that as well.

Second, we are concerned that you have endorsed the essay by Mark I. Pinsky that appeared recently in USA Today. That piece attacked some of us by name and all of us by implication. Pinsky’s is but the latest in a series of prominently published smears against those of us who write about these subjects and their ties to powerful political interests. We are disturbed that you would cheer on these ad hominem attacks.

Finally, Pinsky tries to blame much of the published criticism of these elements of evangelicalism on left-wing Jews. We, including the majority of us who are not Jews, view this as a transparent effort to intimidate Jewish writers. We are shocked that you are endorsing and promoting Pinsky’s attack on these writers, whose work is well-sourced and painstakingly researched.

We are also shocked that you equate these Jewish writers with “secular fundamentalists” whom you say “want to prove that evangelicals are stupid and dangerous extremists.” You do this by immediately following this claim by stating that Pinsky’s essay is one of “the best responses to the recent articles about evangelicals.”

We want to remind you that in his essay Pinsky goes so far as to compare the work of those four Jewish writers to some of the worst anti-Semitic smears in history, including false claims that Jews had “horns and tails, ate the blood of Christian children and poisoned the wells of Europe with plague.. [and] conspired to rule the world through our Protocols.”

Whatever one may think of any of our published work, the fact is that none of it is remotely analogous to the false claims in the various notorious anti-Semitic forgeries known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Pinsky ‘s equation of the work of the writers he names with the Protocols is despicable.

We would like to believe that despite our differences with you, you share with us a common desire for a just and peaceful world. We value honest disagreement and debate, and hope that you value these as well. Indeed, as writers we know how essential they are to clarifying and even resolving differences, correcting errors of fact — and dare we say, perspective. These are necessary ingredients for democracy itself. We invite you take issue with any specific facts or characterizations in our work. Then we will have something to talk about. But we will not be silent in the face of smears and intimidation tactics — which are so very far from the values of the faith traditions from which many of us hail, and the civic values of free speech and respect for religious pluralism that we all share.

We call on you to stop making false characterizations of our work and stop promoting the false characterizations of others. We also specifically ask that you rethink your support for Pinsky’s smear and withdraw it.

Richard Bartholomew
Blogger, Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion

Russ Bellant
Journalist and author of The Religious Right in Michigan Politics

Chip Berlet
Journalist, blogger, co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort

Bill Berkowitz
Independent journalist. Contributor to BuzzFlash, AlterNet, and Z Magazine

Rob Boston
Assistant Editor, Church & State Magazine
Columnist, The Humanist Magazine

Frederick Clarkson
Journalist, blogger, author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy; editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America

Joe Conn
Editor, Church & State Magazine

Barry W. Lynn
Publisher and Columnist, Church & State Magazine
Host, CultureShocks Radio Show

Greg Metzger
Independent journalist. Contributor to Christian Century, Commonweal, Books & Culture and Touchstone

Rev. Dr. Bruce Prescott
Blogger at Mainstream Baptist
Host of Religious Talk radio show

Sara Robinson
Journalist, blogger, Senior Fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future

Adele M. Stan
Washington Bureau Chief, AlterNet

Rachel Tabachnick
Researcher and featured writer, Talk to Action

Bruce Wilson
Co-founder and featured writer, Talk to Action

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  1. […] Bartholomew signs an open letter to Jim Wallis from writers about US religion and politics. The letter says Dear Jim […]

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