A self-described activist preacher, Jim Wallis was born into an evangelical family in Detroit, Michigan in June 1948. In the 1960s his religious views drove him to join the civil-rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement. His participation in peace protests nearly resulted in his expulsion from the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois, a conservative Christian seminary where he was then enrolled. While at Trinity, Wallis founded an anti-capitalist magazine called the Post-American which identified wealth redistribution and government-managed economies as the keys to achieving “social justice.” He also railed against American foreign policy and joined the Students for a Democratic Society.
In 1971 Wallis and his Post-American colleagues changed the name of their publication to Sojourners, and in the mid-1970s they moved their base of operation from Chicago to Washington, D.C. Wallis has served as Sojourners’ editor ever since.
In parallel with his magazine’s stridently antiwar position during the Seventies, Wallis championed the cause of communism. Forgiving its brutal standard-bearers in Vietnam and Cambodia the most abominable of atrocities, Wallis was unsparing in his execration of American military efforts. Demanding greater levels of “social justice” in the U.S., he was silent on the subject of the murderous rampages of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. Very much to the contrary, several Sojourners editorials attempted to exculpate the Khmer Rouge of the charges of genocide, instead shifting blame squarely onto the United States.
Giving voice to Sojourners’ intense anti-Americanism, Jim Wallis called the U.S. “… the great power, the great seducer, the great captor and destroyer of human life, the great master of humanity and history in its totalitarian claims and designs.”
Following the 1979 refugee crisis in Vietnam, Wallis lashed out at the desperate masses fleeing North Vietnam’s communist forces by boat. These refugees, as Wallis saw it, had been “inoculated” by capitalist influences during the war and were absconding “to support their consumer habit in other lands.” Wallis then admonished critics against pointing to the boat people to “discredit” the righteousness of Vietnam’s newly victorious Communist regime.
In 1979, Time magazine hailed Wallis as one of the “50 Faces for America’s Future.” That same year, the journal Mission Tracks published an interview with Wallis, in which the activist evangelical expressed his hope that “more Christians will come to view the world through Marxist eyes.”
Wallis blamed America entirely for the political tensions of the Cold War era. “At each step in the Cold War,” he wrote in November 1982, “the U.S. was presented with a choice between very different but equally plausible interpretations of Soviet intentions, each of which would have led to very different responses. At every turn, U.S. policy-makers have chosen to assume the very worst about their Soviet counterparts.”
In the 1980s Wallis embarked on an editorial crusade in Sojourners to undercut public support for a confrontational U.S. foreign policy toward the spread of Communism in Central America. He published bitter denunciations of the American government’s sponsorship of anti-Communist Contra rebels against Nicaragua’s Sandinista dictatorship. After visiting Nicaragua in 1983, in the company of the pro-Sandinista group Witness for Peace, Wallis and then-Sojourners associate editor Joyce Hollyday co-authored several articles in which they whitewashed the brutality of the Sandinista government while condemning the United States for waging an “undeclared war” against “the people of Nicaragua.”
Under the sway of leftist evangelical movements like liberation theology, Wallis invited the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) — the public relations arm of the El Salvadoran terrorist group the FMLN — to take part in a number of initiatives with Sojourners. Among these initiatives was the so-called “Pledge Of Resistance,” a blueprint for mobilized protests and acts of civil disobedience to be carried out in the event that the United States were to launch an invasion of Nicaragua.
Wallis later expanded the Pledge to include opposition to any U.S. military action anywhere in Central America. It was not until 1999 that he would admit to second thoughts about his unquestioning support for the Sandinista regime. In the course of an editorial decrying both the U.S. bombing campaign against Iraq and its sanctions against Saddam Hussein‘s government in Baghdad, Wallis conceded: “The Sandinistas were responsible for serious mistakes and violations of human rights, which led to their downfall no less than U.S. aggression did.”
To this day, Wallis remains fiercely opposed to capitalism and the free market system. In many interviews, he has stressed his belief that capitalism has proven to be an unmitigated failure. “Our systems have failed the poor and they have failed the earth,” Wallis has said. “They have failed the creation.”
In 1995 Wallis founded Call to Renewal, a coalition of religious groups united in the purpose of advocating, in religious terms, for leftist economic agendas such as tax hikes and wealth redistribution to promote “social justice.”
Asked in a January 2003 interview with the Harvard Political Review about the then-looming Iraq War, Wallis stated that because the United States had previously supported undemocratic regimes, it now had no right to preemptively oppose one in Iraq. “Saddam Hussein is an evil man,” Wallis said, “but so are many rulers around the world. Other human rights violators just as bad have been on the U.S. government’s payroll. … We have a history here that isn’t very admirable.”
More than a mere religious leader, Wallis, a registered Democrat, is also an adroit political operative, publicly portraying himself as a politically neutral religious figure whose overriding allegiance is to God. Always with the disclaimer that neither major political party can claim to authoritatively represent the values of religious faith, Wallis passionately contends that Republican policies tend to be immoral and godless.
After the 2004 presidential election, Wallis acknowledged that he had cast a vote for the Democratic candidate, John Kerry. Owing to the popular post-election consensus among Democratic Party members that their defeat could be attributed to their party’s disconnect from religious voters, Wallis became an overnight celebrity within Democratic ranks. Democratic strategists and politicians turned to him as the man who could sell their party to the coveted religious demographic. In January 2005, Senate Democrats invited Wallis to address them in a private discussion. Meanwhile, some fifteen Democratic members of the House made Wallis the guest of honor at a breakfast confab whose subject, according to The New York Times, was devising ways to instill support for the Democratic Party into the hearts of the religious faithful.
On December 14, 2005, Wallis organized an event where some 115 religious activists protested a House Republican budget plan’s spending cuts (of about $50 billion over a five-year period) by refusing to clear the entrance to a congressional office building.”These are political choices being made that are hurting low-income people,” said Wallis. “Don’t make them the brunt of your deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility.” Wallis and his fellow demonstrators were arrested for their actions.
According to a March 10, 2007 Los Angeles Times report, in recent years Wallis has sought to re-brand traditional slogans of the religious right, like “pro-life,” to refer to such leftist agendas as working with AIDS victims in Africa or helping illegal immigrants in America achieve legal status so they can continue to live with their U.S.-born children.
Wallis’s affinity for Marxism and socialism is evident in many things he himself has said. For example, in 2005 Wallis stated that private charity to help the poor was insufficient, and that true social justice could be achieved only by an omnipotent central government empowered to redistribute wealth: “We have to be very clear about this. Voluntary, faith-based initiatives with no resources, no resources to make any serious difference in poverty reduction, is not adequate. That’s a charity that falls far short of Biblical justice.”
In a January 13, 2006 radio interview with Interfaith Voices, Wallis was asked, “Are you then calling for the redistribution of wealth in society?” He replied, “Absolutely, without any hesitation. That’s what the gospel is all about.”
In a January 21, 2010 interview, Wallis recounted his first meeting with the Marxist Dorothy Day (founder of the Catholic Worker movement), whom he greatly admired. He said: “My Dorothy Day story happened in Chicago. She was just leaving … We were living in Chicago … So I ran 20 blocks [to meet her], and I’m in the parlor of Catholic Worker, and in walks the great lady. Dorothy wrote a book about her life called Love Is the Measure. But she wasn’t ever soft … very tough. [She said] ‘So, you were a radical student like me, right? You were a Marxist like me, right?’ [I said] Yeah.”
Wallis criticized the Tea Party Movement and derided the Libertarian values upon which the movement was based: “The Libertarian enshrinement of individual choice is not the pre-eminent Christian virtue. Emphasizing individual rights at the expense of others violates the common good, a central Christian teaching and tradition.” According to Wallis, “anti-government ideology just isn’t biblical.” Wallis also smeared the Tea Party Movement with the charge of racism:
“There is something wrong with a political movement like the Tea Party which is almost all white. Does that mean every member of the Tea Party is racist? Likely not. But is an undercurrent of white resentment part of the Tea Party ethos, and would there even be a Tea Party if the president of the United States weren’t the first black man to occupy that office?”
“Pumping our fists in victory or celebrating in the streets is probably not the best Christian response to anyone’s death, even the death of a dangerous and violent enemy. The chants of ‘USA, USA, USA’ are also not the best mantra for believers who should know that they are meant to be Christians first and Americans second.”
Wallis also chastised U.S. Christians for having valued innocent American lives “more than the innocents who were in the way of our wars in response to the attacks against us.” Moreover, he asserted that the “violence of terrorism, the violence of war, and even the violent reprisal against Osama bin Laden on Sunday should all push us to deeper reflection, and even repentance, for how we have allowed the seeds of such destruction to take root and grow in our hearts and in our world.”