What should progressive Christians do about Jim Wallis?

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Updated again: Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches quotes from this post in her story about Sojourners’ rejection of Believe Out Loud’s ad.


Updated with this link to Sojourners’ deeply unsatisfying response to the negative publicity that they have received in the wake of their decision to refuse the advertisement discussed below.

Here’s the crux of it:

Editors’ Note: Sojourners stresses the importance of dialogue amongst those on all sides of these issues. It is our utmost hope that differing viewpoints are not silenced, but are lifted up in a display of Christian and often interfaith sisterhood and brotherhood. It is for this reason, that we wish to engage first and foremost in dialogue on difficult issues within our editorial pages and we typically do not sell display advertising relating to issues amongst people of faith that have unfortunately and too often been reduced to political wedge issues.

Voila. The question of whether LGBT people and their families should be welcomed in churches is now a “political wedge issue.” And here I was thinking that it was just a question of good manners. Meanwhile, please see a release from Integrity on this issue by clicking Read more.

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I was more or less in favor of the big-tent strategy pursued by progressive religious leaders in Washington in the wake of Barack Obama’s election as president. The thinking–as I understood–went that in reaching out to moderate evangelicals on a certain set of issues it might be possible to make legislative progress on behalf of the poor.

One upshot of that strategy was that Jim Wallis (not the Rev. Jim Wallis as one so often sees it) became the embodiment of the Progressive Christianity in the eyes of the Obama administration and the Washington media, despite the fact that he wasn’t necessarily progressive on issues like abortion and LGBT rights. Perhaps I should have been more concerned about this, but I don’t need a leader who agrees with me about absolutely everything, and the opportunity to pass some anti-poverty legislation seemed too good to pass up.

But last week, Wallis’s magazine Sojourners rejected an advertisement from Believe Out Loud, an organization that works for LGBT rights within the church. The advertisement took no political position, its only point was that LGBT people and their families should be made welcome in our faith communities. Yet Sojourners turned it down.

It would seem to me that if you can’t bring yourself to say that LGBT people shouldn’t be chased out of our churches you have no business passing yourself off as a progressive leader, Christian or otherwise. In fact, based on recent polling on the far more sensitive subject of same-sex marriage, you have no business passing yourself off as a moderate leader, either.

So here we sit, us religious lefties, with a movement led by a man who occupies a position to the right of Dick Cheney on LGBT issues. I am assuming people savvier and better connected than I am will understand that this situation is not tenable. The big tent collapsed this weekend, and it was Sojourners who yanked out the tent poles. Someone needs to alert official Washington that Jim Wallis and his minions no longer speak for us–if they ever did.

Integrity Challenges Sojourners to Walk Their Talk

Integrity USA stands with those calling on Sojourners to re-evaluate their refusal to run the “Believe Out Loud” ad encouraging churches to welcome all mothers on Mother’s Day. We challenge Jim Wallis and Sojourners to live up to their own mission statement and to walk the talk of social justice they purport to embody.

The Sojourners mission is “to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world” and their Diversity Statement includes “Publicly advocate for civil rights and legal non-discrimination to protect the safety and dignity of all people” and the belief “ that unity in diversity is not only desirable, but essential to fulfilling God’s ultimate desire for God’s people, as expressed in scripture (Acts 2, Revelation 7:9), and thus an essential element of seeking God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.”

Given those articulated core values, it is incomprehensible to us that they would decline to run an ad that quite simply depicts a pastor modeling for his congregation that “all are welcome” as a lesbian couple and their son visit the church on Mother’s Day. The Sojourner spokesperson refusing the ad said their “position is to avoid taking sides on this issue” — reducing a family seeking a spiritual community to “an issue” and needlessly politicizing the call for a pastoral response. It is deeply dehumanizing to gay and lesbian families and antithetical to protecting the safety and dignity of all people Sojourners claims to advocate.

“Integrity is proud of its long history of building bridges of collaboration across differences with allies in the struggle for justice, said Max Niedzwiecki, Executive Director of Integrity USA. “We have through the years stood with Jim Wallis and with Sojourners on issues of poverty and peace – most recently in reflections on the death of Osama bin Laden and what it means to follow the Prince of Peace in times of war and violence. Today, we call on that long relationship and urge Wallis and Sojourners to claim this opportunity to be part of the solution – not a perpetuator of the problem – of homophobia.”

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Ecumaniac
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Ecumaniac

This is also what happens when one prizes access over principle. I don't believe the Obama administration understands the progressive side of Christianity and, like so many of the other political elites, lumps Christians together in one pile and then caters to the edge of the pile most amenable to its own needs. We've gone along with that on the grounds that we get access--and you can see how far it's gotten us.

I would rather we speak clearly on the issues that metter to us and on the basis of values we hold dear rather than snuggle ourselves into coalitions that mute justice and inclusiveness.

Gary L. Harke

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Jim Naughton
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Jim Naughton

I should probably clarify. I am speaking of a very particular political problem. Whether Wallis speaks for you personally is more or less beside the point. The people who book television news shows, convene policy study groups on the hill and issue invitations to briefings at the White House think of Wallis as a progressive leader. His stature is elevated by their perception that he speaks for people whom he not only doesn't speak for, but whom it is now clear he is happy to silence. That is a significant political problem for the religious left.

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Bill Nichols
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Bill Nichols

"I would hope that the Administration .. [will] not assume...." I agree that between ourselves & JW we should act as we otherwise would. I _disagree_ that we should merely "hope" the Obama admin knows he is not the voice for all. That kind of "hope" (i.e., assumption) is what created the opportunity for this situation.

MOVHO is that an open letter from as many vested (in the stakeholder sense) people possible should go forth to *insure* the admin knows there are a lot more people involved than merely one prejudiced voice....

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Bill Carroll
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Bill Carroll

I assume we should respond to Jim the same way that we do when we encounter folks like him in the parish. Love him, work with him when we can, and express our disagreements clearly. I'm not at all surprised by this move, and I never considered him a spokesperson for my position. I would hope that the Administration will continue to work with Wallis and keep him part of the coalition but not to assume that he speaks for the whole Church. I would also hope that Christians who believe as we do would work with secular LGBT organizations to ensure that Obama keeps his promises to the LGBT community and goes beyond them to move the country forward.

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phballou
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phballou

Jim Wallis never spoke for me because of his lack of support for a woman's right to choose what happens to her own body. I wasn't aware that anyone thought that he *did* speak for me. I was never asked. Sojourners' anti-LBTG stance came as no great shock to me, either. They're evangelical Christians, and I don't think they've ever hidden that. Someone's been assuming too much.

Priscilla Ballou

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