Jim Wallis gets it wrong, Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson wrote in his Feb. 21 BreakPoint column. That prompted an open-letter response from the founder and editor of Sojourners and author of a new book, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. Colson, recently included on Time’s list of America’s 25 most influential evangelicals, took Wallis to the woodshed for “moral equivalency” in saying it is as important for Christians to be concerned about poverty as abortion.
Colson, a Nixon White House aide who served time in prison for the Watergate scandal before a highly publicized conversion to Christianity, said Wallis and other evangelicals are wrong to suggest that Christian voters might have to choose between the sanctity of life and social justice.
“The implications of this argument are clear: that is, all moral issues are equivalent,” Colson wrote. “So, pick and choose among them; as long as you get seven or eight right answers, you’re okay.”
Colson called that logic “muddled at best.”
“We oppose abortion because we respect the fact that all humans are made in the image of God,” he continued. “How can you be genuinely sympathetic to the poor and the downtrodden if you don’t respect their most fundamental right? I would go so far as to say that unless you’re consistently pro-life, you’re not going to be a reliable defender of the poor.”
Colson noted that Wallis “is much in demand among Democratic leaders” who want to hear his contention that “the religious left is more in tune with the Bible than are conservatives.”
In an open letter on the Sojourners Web site, Wallis denied equating all moral issues, but said he advocates a “seamless garment of life” that regards all issues pertaining to human life as important.
“I challenge Democrats on abortion, and I challenge Republicans on war and poverty,” wrote Wallis, a speaker, author and activist with a 30-year record of advocacy for the poor.
“I believe deeply that Christians must seriously be concerned about everything that threatens the lives of people created in the image of God,” Wallis said. “Abortion is important; war and economic justice are also important.”
Colson asked his readers: “Why help the poor if we don’t believe all lives are equal in God’s sight? If you support ending the life of a child because it will be born into poverty, how can you logically call yourself an advocate for the poor?”
Wallis replied: “The reverse is also true. If you support protecting an unborn life but don’t provide the necessary support to the mother and child in poverty after birth, how can you logically call yourself pro-life?”
Colson concluded his column: “The religious left is trying to tell us that you can take away the reason for doing something and still expect people to do it. Nobody’s going to win the allegiance of serious evangelical or Catholic voters by offering handouts to the poor with one hand while taking away their human dignity with the other. Sorry, Jim Wallis, all issues are not morally equivalent. The first one, the right to life, is non-negotiable. It undergirds all others: Take it away, and the whole house of cards collapses.”
Wallis said he sees “a new option for American politics that follows from the prophetic religious tradition,” one conservative on issues of personal morality and yet progressive or even “radical” on issues like poverty, racial justice and the environment.
“That’s the message that is resonating around the country, Chuck,” Wallis shot back. “Not that all issues are ‘morally equivalent’ but that, indeed, as you say, the ‘first one, the right to life, is non-negotiable.’ Perhaps the difference between us is that I believe that non-negotiable right continues after birth.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.