Christian Worldview

An Open Letter to Jim Wallis

The February 21 BreakPoint commentary “Moral Equivalency” generated a great deal of response, including an open letter to Chuck Colson from Jim Wallis, who was the subject of the commentary. Thank you for all your comments. We appreciate them and the dialogue that has been generated. Chuck has articulated his position in this open letter to Jim Wallis. Dear Jim, I’ve just now had a chance to read your open letter responding to my BreakPoint commentary entitled “The Religious Left Gets It Wrong.” First, I think you know me well enough to know that none of my remarks were intended to be an attack on you, certainly not personally. You and I worshipped together and spent time together in the early days of my ministry. You greatly influenced my views about the inner city, the poor, and the marginalized. Frankly, I’ve admired your ministry in persistently reminding the evangelical world of its obligation to the less fortunate, the words of Matthew 25, and of what the imago Dei means when it is played out fully in life, as, of course, we both agree it must be. The difference I have with you is the same difference I have with Mark Noll. It’s captured in the last paragraph of your letter. You say that the right to life is non-negotiable, and so are all the rights that continue after birth. True, but I cannot give them moral equivalency, as you seem to do, because respect for life reflects the imago Dei that is in every human and is a necessary precedent to right thinking about all other questions.  The respect for life undergirds our entire worldview and how we see our biblical responsibility in every area. The difference between us Jim, when it comes to politics, is that I don’t think we can evaluate a political agenda and say that a candidate is 80 percent correct on a biblical scorecard if he wants to help the poor, reform the prisons, defend everyone’s human rights, care for the widows and orphans, but is pro-choice. My belief is that his pro-choice position undercuts all of his professed concerns in other areas of life because it is simply inconsistent. If I’m mischaracterizing your position, I apologize; we’ll have to blame the New York Times and others, because this is the way your position has been characterized. I must say that in your open letter to me quoting your interview in Christianity Today that you suggest this when you say “It’s important for the Democrats to change the way they talk about a moral issue like abortion.” And then acknowledge in the same sentence that they will, however, “retain the legal option of abortion which Democrats are going to do because that’s part of their plank.” That is not giving the same biblical validity to the pro-life position as it is to helping the poor, let alone giving it the prime position. So if that is what you’re advising the Democrats to do, I think you’re off base. I could not advise any politician to take that position because I think it’s contrary to the clear thrust of the Scripture. There is a hierarchy of values, which is the point I tried to make in my piece. Surely you would not say that someone who favors partial-birth abortion can prove himself morally and biblically justified by casting votes in favor of more aid for education or community relief programs. I can’t put those two things on the scales and get them to balance. As I argued, the right to life has to be non-negotiable from a biblical perspective. If someone is pro-life and comes along thereafter and makes what I consider to be an unwise decision in terms of helping the poor, then I will oppose him. On other than life questions, however, we have to leave room for differences on prudential grounds. The reason for opposing a measure to aid the poor may be simply a challenge to the means proposed. He might prefer providing help through private agencies, while you might think the government agencies should do it. This kind of question does not rise to the level of a moral test. I should not have to be making this argument with you. I’ve spent the last 30 years of my life working with the poorest of the poor in the prisons.  I’ve also spent the last six years working diligently to bring an end to sexual trafficking (something the Clinton administration, by the way, basically defended as a way of empowering women and refused to try to stop it. President Bush has gone after it with a vengeance.) I’ve also worked on the issues of help for the Sudanese Christians who have been persecuted and sold into slavery, for the issues in Darfur, for getting AIDS help to Africa. The coalition we formed in Washington, by the way, has gotten a lot of assistance from the likes of David Saperstein and some of the human rights groups on the left.  But the religious left has been curiously absent in this effort. I think it says something about conservatives that we do understand there has to be a certain consistency to our positions. I care deeply about the unborn and because I do, I care deeply about people at every stage of life. You and I may be falling into a trap, Jim, of being divided according to ideological beliefs. I think the blue/red division in America is a tragedy. Because we have lost an overarching sense of truth and moral authority in culture, the curse of post-modernism, we have no basis for judging the common good. Therefore our debates deteriorate. Instead of being able to argue great issues, we huddle with our ideological kinsmen in our own little battle camps. Ideology has replaced revealed truth as the way we decide issues in American life. I refuse to fall into this trap. Ideology is the enemy of the Gospel and the enemy of historic conservatism which is governed by revealed truth in nature, beauty, the law inscribed on our hearts, and of course supremely in biblical revelation. I think the right and the left today, Democrats and Republicans, are largely fighting over ideological issues. From my perspective, when they do this it’s a plague on both houses. My view of life is shaped by a biblical worldview and one that has been informed by conservative tradition. What that means to me is a respect for order out of which freedom flows, a healthy respect for the wisdom of the past, and religious convictions. I prefer not to take part in ideological combat. I have always counseled Christians not to embrace one partisan agenda over another, but rather go where the Bible leads. If we both do that, we’ll in due course end up in the same place. I do respect and appreciate you, Jim. Bless you. Chuck Colson


Chuck Colson



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