Is Sojourners afraid of the big bad backlash?

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Intersections International has expended considerable resources creating Believe Out Loud, a campaign that’s

… a collection of clergy and lay leaders, LGBT activists, and concerned individuals, working together to help the Protestant community become more welcoming to gays and lesbians.


Using community organizing and social marketing strategies, we support individuals and churches in their efforts toward LGBT inclusion. A partnership of the country’s leading LGBT advocacy groups, both religious and secular, Believe Out Loud seeks to accelerate the existing Christian movement toward LGBT inclusion and significantly increase the number of local churches and denominations that are fully-inclusive of LGBT individuals, both in practice and policy. In doing so, we seek to create a widespread Christian movement for LGBT equality in the church and in broader society.

Central to the effort is a YouTube video that demonstrates what a clear and simple thing a word of welcome can be to an LGBT family desirous of church. (I note with some sadness that The Episcopal Church’s Hymnal 1982 seems to be used as some sort of pew-block device turning away this family. [Watch at 0:37.])

Other than the whole Hymnal thing, it seems sort of helpful. To me, anyway. So why would the web site for Sojourners say no to it? Believe Out Loud campaigners submitted the ad to Sojourners, then got a note back.

“I’m afraid we’ll have to decline. Sojourners position is to avoid taking sides on this issue. In that care [sic], the decision to accept advertising may give the appearance of taking sides.”

Intersections International’s Founding Director, Rev. Robert Chase, rang them up to clarify. Surely there had been some sort of misunderstanding?

I called the folks at Sojourners and asked what the problem was, what the “sides” in question might be. The first response was that Sojourners has not taken a stance on gay marriage (the ad is not about gay marriage); or on ordination of homosexuals (the ad is about welcome, not ordination); that the decision, made by “the folks in executive” (why such a high level decision?) was made quickly because of the Mother’s Day deadline. The rationale kept shifting. The reasoning made no sense.

Perhaps Sojourners’ reputation as a hub for Christian justice-seekers is unwarranted? It seems a fair question at this point.

Does the organization not really believe in welcome for “everyone” in our churches or do they believe everyone is welcome, but they are afraid to “believe out loud” for fear of alienating some constituents? On one level, it doesn’t really matter. Their dilemma, apparently, is a ringing testimony for both the urgency and the necessity of this campaign since the issues they confronted are similar to those that face congregational leaders in addressing this concern within their settings.

Perhaps Sojourners is less a bellwether than it fancies itself – or at any rate so fears potential backlash that it won’t even take an ad buy of this nature?

“The appearance of taking sides,” or the fear of alienating certain readers and advertisers? By taking a pass, is Sojourners – whose paid web ads seem sufficiently set apart from editorial content to avoid such confusion – effectively taking sides anyway?

Sojourners is largely synonymous with the Rev. Jim Wallis, the evangelical Christian writer and political activist best known as the founder and editor of the magazine running under the same name. We can only assume at this point that none of the media entities associated with the Sojourners brand wanted to “maximize visibility” for this particular cause.

Sojourners may have chosen not to participate, but you can. Watch the video, and share the welcome.

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Richard E. Helmer
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Richard E. Helmer

@Susan, like you, I had trouble with the ad for its new twist on clericalism: the laity seemed to be cold and unwelcoming, and the cleric takes on the role of the "welcoming hero." It's a tragedy to take on one prejudicial bias while reinforcing another (however odd it may be, as the laity have been ahead of the clergy on this particular question in many places.)

I agree that Sojourners needs to give a clearer and far less dissembling response than they have.

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revsusan
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revsusan

For the record, I didn't like the ad. When asked for comment here's what I said:

I think I ‘get” what they were trying to do in terms of showing clergy folk how critically important their modeling welcome is for a congregation.

And …

• It reinforces stereotypes about churches being narrow, exclusive, cold and unwelcoming. It felt like the visiting family was walking a gauntlet of homophobia.

• It modeled a hierarchical “father figure” telling the congregation what to do rather than modeling a nurturing collective process of teaching and affirmation that would have made the opening scene never happen

• Finally, one of the parishioners uses a 1982 Hymnal to block the seat next to her (how rude is THAT?) and it’s CLEARLY not an Episcopal Church … given the vestments of the “guy up front”

Bottom line: There may be Protestant contexts where this message is where they need to start but it’s not “culturally competent messaging” for the Episcopal Church and I could not commend it forward in our context.

Just me with an opinion. Anything else you want to know?

====

Now, ON the record:

Jim Wallis should be ashamed of himself. BIG TIME. PERIOD.

I'd have more to say, but it's Mother's Day and I've got a Laker's game to watch. More later. (Stay tuned!)

Susan Russell

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garydasein
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garydasein

Sojourners has never been a progressive organization. I have never understood the hype over Jim Wallis, who fancies himself a centrist while attacking the "religious left." On women's issues such as reproductive rights and abortion, he is lukewarm. He says he is for equal rights for LGBTs but he is against marriage equality. He might be for the separate-and-unequal institution called civil unions. He would use religious prejudice to justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry civilly. In church, he will not bless a same-sex couple.

LGBTs are too controversial for him to bother with.

He also tends to attack secularists, people who tend to support full equality and see no reason for religion to dictate secular law.

Gary Paul Gilbert

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maleveque
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maleveque

Extremely disappointed. I have sent Jim Wallis a message to that effect.

- Anne LeVeque

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Elizabeth Kaeton
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Elizabeth Kaeton

Whaaaattt?? Sojourners????? Say it ain't so, Jim Wallis.

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