Cancelling Jim Wallis?

on August 16, 2020

Jim Wallis, age 72, is a venerable Religious Left patriarch, having founded what became Sojourners magazine, originally called The Post-American, in 1971. Now Wallis has stepped down as Sojourners editor after he tried to delete an article accusing Roman Catholicism of rampant racism. His attempt prompted two other editors publicly to resign. The now restored article is called “The Catholic Church Has a Visible White Power Faction.”

Wallis, who identifies as Evangelical Left, has often sought alliance with liberal Catholics, such as with his “Call to Renewal” coalition founded in the 1990s. In more recent years his “Circle of Protection” has included the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to lobby for federal funding to social welfare programs and for more permissive immigration policy.

Sojourners “White Power” article originally alleged that a 2018 U.S. Catholic bishops anti-racism statement declined to condemn swastikas, Confederate flags, and nooses.  Wallis, noting the bishops had cited swastikas and nooses, removed the article as inaccurate. He explained it was “offensive” and included “unwarranted insinuations and allegations against many Catholics, many in leadership, including the bishops, and within the wider Catholic Church who are working toward and are committed to racial justice.”

A second explanation from Wallis further explained “the article too closely linked the words, actions, and ideologies of individuals and groups to the leadership of the Catholic Church.” He committed to “confronting white supremacy and white nationalism.”

Wallis’s third explanation cited “outrage” from “our dearest, closest, and long-term progressive Catholic allies,” including Catholic bishops and “progressive national Catholic organizations.” He said the article was “misleading and inflammatory.” The article’s “whole foundation” for suggesting the Catholic bishops were, in its words, “harboring a culture of  hate” was unsubstantiated.

Although Wallis diplomatically tried to praise its author’s “scholarship,” the article was mostly polemics and insinuation, claiming remote Catholic ties to white supremacism and the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, while ominously citing Catholics such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Pat Buchanan, Steve Bannon, and Kellyanne Conway.

Wallis sensibly had recognized the article as incoherent and conspiratorial without evidently realizing that postmodern intersectionality disdains linear reason in favor of drawing ideological lines connecting all sinister oppressions.

So in a fourth statement, recognizing his transgression, Wallis begged “forgiveness for my errors and sins,” from all who had been offended by the article or its removal. A subsequent statement announced Wallis was no longer Sojourners magazine editor-in-chief but remains as Sojourners president.

One of the editors who resigned then complained via Twitter: “The 2 editors of color who resigned from Sojourners for its lack of integrity & ethical treatment have not received an apology or concrete amends from Jim Wallis or Sojourners.” The other editor had tweeted: “Three years of experiencing this toxic environment as a Dalit woman/WOC [woman of color] + recent events is the reason why I decided to leave.”

Another former editor, who now works for an Ohio religious abortion rights group, tweeted in support of her former colleagues: “As a former editor for @Sojourners magazine, I affirm this decision to remove JW as editor-in-chief. It’s been long overdue, but it only occurred after two POC [people of color] editors publicly resigned. Both @DanielJCamacho & @dhanyaddanki deserve public apologies.” She added: “More than that, though, this is the collateral damage of white supremacy — even among our beloved progressive communities. Glad these steps are being taken at @Sojourners, but the damage is deep and won’t be undone overnight.” And: “I’m one of several staff of color who has left Sojo with lifelong friendships AND yet still carry many scars from working there. All of it has ultimately taught me what NOT to do as I run my own organizations, but the cost has been too high.”

Several Sojourners writers have declared they no longer will contribute, with one saying: “I’ve written for @Sojourners but I’ve since resolved to not write for them. There are too many restrictions on content – on LGBTQ, abortion, race – due to fear from the top about being divisive.'”

For many years Wallis has often been careful about abortion and sex so as not to impair relations with Catholics and theologically orthodox Evangelicals who share his liberal politics. He says he wants to reduce abortion but opposes legal restrictions. For much of the last decade he has backed same sex marriage, at odds with Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism.

Wallis as a young man was active in the radical Students for a Democratic Society. In the 1980s he and Sojourners, although he is pacifist, waxed warmly about armed Marxist revolutionary movements in Central America. But in the later 1990s Wallis became more moderate in his rhetoric as he sought wider appeal and coalitions, becoming mainstream within Democratic Party politics. In 2007 his Sojourners/Call to Renewal presidential candidate forum included Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He also has steered away from anti-Israel causes, unlike some other Religious Left activists.

As his critics of late have noted, Wallis is “an old white man” who’s not keeping up quickly enough with fast moving woke culture. Can he at age 72 adapt to the latest intersectionalist political demands? Will he pivot away from 20 years of seeking mainstream legitimacy in favor of alignment with the very latest street and online zealous activisms?

Or is Wallis’s stepping back from Sojourners magazine the first step in his ongoing cancellation by an increasingly frenzied woke culture, whose greatest fire is often aimed at longtime progressives?

  1. Comment by Thomas Brown on August 16, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    Ah, Revolutions eating their own. How unfortunate. And predictable.

  2. Comment by David on August 16, 2020 at 3:23 pm

    Revolutions typically consume their own children. This is the latest example, even if the revolution is limited to the pages of one magazine.

  3. Comment by Gary Bebop on August 16, 2020 at 3:37 pm

    The culture of postmodern intersectionality bears bitter fruit. It’s telling that Jim Wallis entered the mists of confusion through SDS, which many did.

  4. Comment by Tom on August 16, 2020 at 6:37 pm

    Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. Mr. Wallis has apparently severely misunderstood the nature of the people he is associating with.

  5. Comment by Timothy on August 17, 2020 at 6:20 am

    The adventures of Wallis and his ‘crew’ seems like an article from the Babylon Bee.

  6. Comment by LukeinNE on August 17, 2020 at 11:59 am

    Having seen this sort of thing up close at the ELCA seminary I attended, Wallis’ misfortune is unsurprising and he won’t be the last.

    These new woke intersectionalist types are a completely new kind of leftist, with no concern for processes, rules, or even logic/reason. The liberal old guard of which Wallis is a member doesn’t quite know what to do with them and is constantly getting caught between trying to co-opt the energy while trying to check the extremism. In the end they just get cancelled and their organizations are taken over. By 2030 (and probably sooner) every church and institution of the Christian Left will be uniformly marching to the beat of the woke drum.

  7. Comment by Dan Allison on August 17, 2020 at 5:08 pm

    Reaping what he sowed

  8. Comment by David Stewart on August 18, 2020 at 7:34 pm

    I tried reading Sojourner’s once, during a brief time trying to understand “Progressive Christianity”. I couldn’t bear it one, maybe two issues.

  9. Comment by Joan Sibbald on August 22, 2020 at 11:59 am

    It’s frightening that the former editor works for an Ohio Religious abortion rights group!

    Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

    Isaiah 49:1 : “Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb He has spoken my name.”

    Jeremiah 1:4 “…I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb…”

    Luke 1:41 “At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elisabeth’s child leaped within her…”

    Luke 1:44 “When you came in and greeted me, my baby jumped for joy in the instant I heard your voice.”

  10. Comment by David Gingrich on August 23, 2020 at 7:49 am

    Unfortunately, it is unlikely that sliding-to-the-Left Christianity Today (now CT Magazine) will learn a lesson from this.

  11. Comment by Diane M on August 24, 2020 at 12:50 pm

    The irony here is priceless, Mark!

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