In World magazine on July 17, Marvin Olasky called on “progressive evangelical” Jim Wallis to come clean and admit that he is not a non-partisan, as he likes to claim, but rather a devoted man of the Left. Olasky reported that Wallis’s organization, Sojourners, had received grants from George Soros’s foundation, the Open Society Institute (OSI), and had lent Sojourners’ mailing list to the Obama campaign.
Now, it isn’t news that both Sojourners and Wallis are friends of the Left; I explored the connections in my book Money, Greed and God, and others have connected the dots as well. But were Wallis and Sojourners actively involved with secular left-wing mega-donors and with the election machinery of the Left? After reading Olasky’s piece, I decided to look into the charges, and I now strongly suspect that Olasky is onto something that merits further inquiry.
Among the documents I now have are pages from the OSI website that list two grants to Sojourners — one for $200,000 in 2004, “To support the Messaging and Mobilization Project: Engaging Christians on the Importance of Civic Involvement,” and one for $25,000 in 2006, “To support a branding assessment” for the purpose of merging “Sojourners and Call to Renewal into one organization.” I have physical copies of these pages, which is good, because these pages seem to have disappeared from the OSI website (I’m sure that’s just a coincidence).
Still, until a few days ago, all of this looked to me like little more than a left-wing donor, George Soros, funding an organization that is working to sell some part of Soros’s political vision to Christians. That makes sense: Even if Soros is not personally religious, he surely recognizes the importance of reaching the religious segment of the U.S. population. This contradicts Wallis’s claim that he is non-partisan, but it’s hardly a scandal.
But there’s more to it. In two blog posts at Patheos published over the last week, Tim Dalrymple reported that he, too, was looking into Olasky’s charge, and in a thoughtful, unbiased interview published on August 9, he asked Wallis himself about Olasky’s charges.
Before responding directly, Wallis launched into bizarre invective against Olasky, claiming (among other things) that Olasky believes in a “sinless market.” This caricature is practically surreal to anyone familiar with Olasky’s actual views — actually, it’s beyond surreal, since surreal art has some illuminating connection to the original. Olasky is a Calvinist, which means he places particularly strong emphasis on human depravity in every area of human experience, including the market.
It’s not hyperbole or overstatement to say that Glenn Beck lies for a living. I’m sad to see Marvin Olasky doing the same thing. No, we don’t receive money from Soros. Given the financial crisis of nonprofits, maybe Marvin should call Soros and ask him to send us money.
So, no, we don’t receive money from George Soros. Our books are totally open, always have been. Our money comes from Christians who support us and who read Sojourners.
Well, as I said above, I’ve got physical copies of what appear to be grants to Sojourners from the Open Society Institute website, which have since been taken offline. Dalrymple does, too. In fact, until Wednesday, August 11, Dalrymple’s second blog post at Patheos had accompanying PDFs of the OSI webpages.
Alas, as I was writing this piece, the relevant webpages started disappearing. The first one to go was Dalrymple’s second blog post. Then, on the morning of Thursday, August 12, Dalrymple’s first blog post disappeared. The interview itself is still online as of this writing. I can’t say exactly what’s happening, but there seem to be a lot of disappearing webpages.
What to say at this point? At the very least, Wallis has abandoned even the pretense of civil discourse here. Olasky has evidence of Soros grants to Sojourners, so the most that Wallis would be justified in saying is that Olasky is mistaken and that the evidence is misleading or fraudulent (which seems unlikely). Instead, he says that Olasky is lying for a living.
As for Wallis’s denial, notice the verb tense he uses in his reply to Dalrymple: “So, no, we don’t receive money from George Soros” — “don’t.” Perhaps later he will clarify, “Yes, we have received funding from Soros in the past. But we don’t now, in this fiscal year, receive such funding.”
There’s almost certainly more to this story, though. According to Sojourners’ 990s (go here and search for “Sojourners” in “DC”), their total assets went from $513,896 in 2002 to $4,615,468 in 2009. Call me skeptical, but I’d be willing to bet that this windfall didn’t all come from humble readers of Sojourners magazine. If in fact Wallis did get money from Soros and various other left-wing foundations, what I don’t get is why Wallis doesn’t just say, “Sure, we get (or have gotten) money from left-wing foundations. We differ on a few points but agree on a host of important issues.” Instead, we’re getting cagey denials and disappearing webpages.
Jay W. Richards is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and author, most recently, of Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem.