Moral Equivalency: The Religious Left Gets It Wrong

“Failure makes you reassess.”

So says Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners magazine, and he ought to know. A number of Democratic Party members are looking to Wallis right now to help with their own political reassessment. Wallis is what the New York Times calls a “leader of [the] religious left,” and as he says, “The Democratic Party has increasingly had a problem as being perceived as secular fundamentalists.”

So now Wallis is much in demand among Democratic leaders who want to learn “to be much more forceful and clear in communicating their faith and values to the electorate.” Wallis’s favorite argument, as reported in the Times and elsewhere, is that the Bible makes more than three thousand references to poverty-far more than abortion or homosexuality—and yet religious conservatives, in his opinion, are obsessed with the abortion issue. So, says Wallis, the religious left is more in tune with the Bible than are conservatives.

This argument was popular during the presidential campaign, repeated even by some conservatives. You may remember my commentary on historian and author Mark Noll. I admire Noll greatly, but I was disappointed by his decision not to vote because he thought neither party was right about the issues that concerned him most, including poverty. It is a perfectionist attitude that fails to take into account the fallen world we live in. Even the magazine to which I’ve been a contributing editor for more than twenty years wrote an editorial suggesting 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. So, pick and choose among them; as long as you get seven or eight right answers, you’re okay.

Frankly, I find that thinking muddled, at best. We oppose abortion because we respect the fact that all humans are made in the image of God. 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 prolife, you’re not going to be a reliable defender of the poor.

Why do you suppose that in this ministry we have been going into the prisons for the past three decades? Why do we help people dying of AIDS? Why do we—and so many other Christians—visit the most dangerous places in America? Because the people there are our brothers and sisters, created, like us, in the image of God.

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?

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.