Sojourners has Lost All Credibility

A few years ago I was searching for an alternative to the Religious Right style of Christian politics and came across Jim Wallis as he was doing a media tour promoting his new book God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. It seemed like every website I went to and every news station I watched had a feature on Jim and his form of politics. It was a breath of fresh air to find an alternative way to be a Christian in America other than being in the tank for the Republican Party.

I never read God’s Politics, but I did sign up for regular emails from Sojourners, the organization that Wallis was associated with (I think he founded it, but can’t verify that) that is committed to “articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.” At the onset, I appreciated reading regular alternatives and perspectives on the political topics of the day.

I can say that no longer.

Sojourners has lost all creditability in my view. They are obviously in the tank for the Democratic Party and have lost any and all “prophetic distance” with which to be able to critique our culture, church, and politics.

Perhaps I had not noticed it for the years before the 2008 Presidential campaign and election, but as time went by I noticed increasingly partisan stances from their publications. Fair enough, I thought, perhaps the Republicans are beyond help. I tried to give Sojourners the benefit of the doubt. In the past few days, however, I have noticed something even more troubling: Sojourners talking points are the exact same talking points of the Obama administration and the Democratic representatives in Congress. To know what is coming in my email inbox the next day from Sojourners, all I need to do is watch a press conference with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs or any of the Democratic Senators or Representatives on Meet the Press or This Week.

This week Sojourners has hit an all-time low, in my opinion. Rather than simply advocating for the Democrats version of health care reform, they have taken to the tactic of smearing conservative personalities Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly. For three straight days I have received an email smearing each of these media personalities and supporting their stances with personal anecdotes. Here are some quotes from the closing lines of each of the three emails:

Does Bill [O'Reilly] really think that the health-care crisis is only a problem for poor people? Or that clinics alone are a real solution? While his band-aid suggestions and scare tactics obscure the issue, the health-care crisis is making people poor as costs skyrocket – even for those with coverage…

The major proposals for health-care reform ensure that all people have access to affordable care, either through an employer-based plan or through subsidies to buy insurance in an exchange marketplace. The proposals also ensure that mental health care is included. This affordable access could have allowed Joshua to live out his days and contribute to his community. Rush [Limbaugh's] deliberate misinformation about the health-care crisis in our country could block this important reform.

The major proposals for health-care reform would prohibit insurance companies from arbitrarily canceling insurance and from denying needed care due to pre-existing conditions. This would ensure that all people have access to the care they need, when they need it. If this provision existed, Robin could have had her surgery at an earlier time, before possibly critical months had passed by. [Sean] Hannity’s deliberate misinformation about “government rationing” could block this important reform…

What tips me off to their complete bias is their use of anecdotes to back up their stance, not any sort of economic or statistical data. You can’t make policy decisions for 300 million people based on anecdotes. But you can pull on people’s heart strings. And Sojourners is trying to rally the troops to support Obamacare without using any form of discerning speech, only by appealing to people’s emotions and by demonizing easy right-wing targets.

Christian organizations should always be in the truth-telling business. Both political sides want us to believe that we can reform our current system with no downsides, that all the personal anecdotes about health care atrocities that strike fear into our hearts will disappear if only their plan passes. Well, that is simply not true. No system will be perfect, and Sojourners, as a Christian organization, an organization in the truth-telling business, should own up to the potential downsides of the proposed system, not simply the downsides of the current system.

Sojourners is not a Christian organization, but a lobbying group for the Democratic Party. In my mind, they have lost all credibility.

[For other thoughts on Christianity, health care, and truth-telling, check out this post by Andew Tatum]

Comments

  1. says

    Good post Matt. I know some of my more conservative friends will wonder why it took so long to realize this, I have not really felt this until this week with the Limbaugh – O’Reilly – Hannity healthcare emails.

    This leaves me wondering about a few things:
    1. Was there a staff meeting that concluded that they needed more hits on the website? “Mission accomplished.”
    2. Is there a new person or a recently promoted person that has taken the ball and run with it … in what we would say the wrong direction? “Come into my office – we need to talk.”
    3. Did they steal the Focus on the Family playbook? “Let the layoffs begin!”

    While to me they have not lost all credibility (and I’m not a Democrat but I do appreciate Jim Wallis most days), I want to believe that this was a bad week for them. Hopefully, they will spend some time and rethink recent decisions and overall direction.

    • Matt says

      Yeah, I am wondering some of the same questions. It seems that there has been a fairly large change, either in strategy or leadership to make this happen.

      I don’t have a problem with any one person in the group, including Jim Wallace, but as an organization, they have become a faceless lobbying group. That’s not what drew me to them, so I don’t have much use for them anymore.

  2. says

    Thank you for writing this! My association with Sojourners is similar to yours, but most of the time I don’t read the e-mails anymore. Today, when I saw the Glenn Beck e-mail with the call to (basically) boycott advertisers I realized that rather than being a political third way as I had hoped. They are, as you said, “a lobbying group for the Democratic Party” just as religious groups in the past have been voices for the Republican party. Just another reason I try to avoid political discourse.

    • Matt says

      “Just another reason I try to avoid political discourse.” That’s part of the problem in my view! Organizations like this tend to inevitably end up in the tank for one side or another without being able to maintain any distance, and so thoughtful people like you just give up hope. We have to be able to critique the politics of our day. The Barmen Declaration is a good example for us to follow: if a group is too enmeshed with a political party, there is no way they will have the courage to speak out against it like those in Barmen. Again, to me, it comes down to being willing to speak truthfully. When we are no longer willing to speak the truth because of an agenda, our witness as Christians is lost.

  3. says

    Maybe Wallis was getting jealous of Jon Stewart’s success and wanted to pile on the conservative blow-hards. All joking aside, what I’ve been reading from Sojourners is that they believe universal healthcare is a very Christian idea…and, therefore, are hitching their wagon to the plan that is currently on the table. I don’t feel that their comments are smearing the Limbaugh / O’Reilly / Hannity crowd…but they are certainly in full attack-mode. Sojourners’ new tactics have made me wary of their real intentions, but I wouldn’t say they’ve lost all credibility as a Christian organization. Thanks for posting your thoughts!

  4. says

    I thought todays article in respect to Glen Beck was right on the mark, except for the apologetic for current legislation proposals. Granted, it may be in part that it was written before Baucus bill was published…

    What could have happened was an attempt to dialog on what unites all. They could have agreed with Mr Becks concerns, yet also brought up the fear of insurance company caps, or the expanding requirement in some states for women’s sterilization in order to obtain private insurance coverage. The concerns of both parties are valid… to dis one or the other is not helpful.

  5. alaina says

    I, too, had noticed a singular perspective on the issues, particularly with healthcare. It’s sad to see something lose balance.

    By the way, thanks for stopping by the abandoned shop. I am still writing. Just not in the blog arena. :)

  6. Brian says

    I have read through the quotes above from the emails you received from Sojourners, and I am not sure what the problem is with the way they are quoted or what they refer to. Rather than “smearing conservative personalities” these quotes simply note what many responsible voices in today’s health care politics do not disavow–the repeated disinformation and misinformation being repeated by national talk-show figures that has been used to stir people into fear and hatred of the poor, strangers, and even the President himself. For “prophetic” Christians to be naive to the tactics of these figures and not call them out on what they are doing is, well, hardly prophetic. Not sure where you see “smears” here, coming from Sojourners. I am not defending them or speaking for them—they can do that themselves. But I don’t see what you are talking about from what you have posted here.

  7. says

    I think sojourners is facing the truth. Our health care is broken. That does not mean we have to go with Obama and his proposal. What it means that many of the extreme right like Beck and Limbaugh are either denying the truth or defending the current system. Our current system takes the worse from both Government intervention and Capitalism. Americans pay the most of any country in the world and get 37th best health care. I like David Goldhill’s piece that documents the problem of health care http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200909/health-care He also gives a Capitalistic solution, which I agree with and unfortunately not on the board. Most Republican politicians agree that health care needs overhaul, they just are looking for different solutions. To say that Sojourners is now only a mouth piece for the Democratic party because they are calling out the extreme right wing (They are not sending emails to the Wall Street Journal, National Review or any the other conservative source.) is a bit of a stretch.

  8. Michael O'Hara says

    These people are not only smearing the famous, but I have been the subject of attempted intimidation by this organization after having written a letter to the editor expressing my disagreement with the current administration’s plan to usurp the authority of the people by socializing the health-care industry.
    I was sent (anonymously) a letter besmirching my intelligence by someone using an envelope of the Sojourners. Ironically, it was not even an original snipe. It was an editorial cartoon upon which someone had written my name.
    May I make a suggestion to these lowlifes, if you’re going to try to intimidate people, at least use your own creation not one of an editorial cartoonist. How sad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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