On Wednesday evening, two evangelical Christian leaders representing the left and right wings of their faith met at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. for a spirited discussion of religion’s role in the 2012 election cycle.
Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Rev. Jim Wallis, a spiritual adviser to President Barack Obama and president and CEO of the “justice and peace” organization Sojourners, discussed an array of issues including the need for immigration reform, the irrelevance of GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith and the virtues of foreign aid.
One of the most dramatic disagreements between the pair was their choices of where to place blame for America’s current economic malaise.
While Land explained that he is not “a tea partier,” he blamed Washington and defended the tea party. Wallis, who has been speaking and associating with the Occupy Wall Street movement, blamed Wall Street.
“The tea party is overwhelmingly socially conservative,” Land said explaining the tea party is actually made up of a great number of people of faith. “They are in the 85 percent range in terms of people that are pro-life. The libertarian wing of the tea party is very small. They are by and large previously unactivated parts of social conservatives in America — Catholic and Evangelical.”
Land added that tea partiers tend to be whiter, older and slightly more affluent than average, but said they are people who became politically active because after working hard and playing by the rules, they see President Obama as a threat to their retirement and future generations.
Wallis did not mince words in expressing his displeasure with the tea party.
“I distrust a movement that lifts up a philandering Russian atheist who said she hated Jesus — Ayn Rand — as their philosophical guide,” he said.
In Wallis’ view, Rand’s libertarian principles are in direct conflict with the tenets of Christianity.
“I think extreme libertarian politics may be, in my mind, the least Christian option out there. ‘Just leave me alone I don’t care about anybody else,’ is not a Christian way of life,” he said. “We are our brother’s keeper and that is how we are. I am sympathetic, however, with the people who feel like they have been left out and left behind, unrepresented,” he said, explaining that he does not understand how the tea party can protest Washington’s power without protesting Wall Street’s power.
Wallis added that tea party activists should be consistent: If they are protesting concentrations of power in Washington, D.C., they should also — like the Occupy movement — protest concentrations of economic power on Wall Street.
Land took issue with Wallis’ characterization, explaining that if anybody had it correct, it is the tea party.
“I would say that the tea party’s aims are better than the Wall Street occupiers because the biggest problem was Washington — the biggest problem is Washington — the biggest concentration of economic power is in Washington, and it was Washington policies that first pressured banks to give loans to people who could not afford them, starting with the Community Reinvestment Act of 1979, and given a steroid shot by Bill Clinton in 1997,” Land said.
“If we are going to talk about aim, the tea party’s aim is pretty good. The problem started in Washington and it is going to end in Washington.”