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What should progressive Christians do about Jim Wallis?

What should progressive Christians do about Jim Wallis?

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.


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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Frederick W. Schmidt

Jim, thanks for this. I think that the shape of the debate also suggests that there is another, larger problem:

Bill Nichols

Agree completely with you, Eleanor. How welcoming brothers/sisters is an issue, I just don’t get. And as far as making LGBT a litmus test, well, I’d say that particular item’s already been taken care of courtesy of JW & Sojourners….

Eleanor Braun

He has written a reply here: He says: “We chose not to run the ad as this is an issue we want to openly discuss on and through our editorial pages and not through our ad space.” I don’t understand how being welcoming of all people in church is an issue that needs discussing. He also implies that other issues are more pressing.


unless you want to add GLBT rights to [right to choose] Abortion as the litmus test upon which any association or accommodation

IF ONLY!!!! God speed the day…

JC Fisher

Jim Naughton

I don’t hear anybody talking about taking their marbles and going home, Tom. The issue is that in official Washington, Wallis’s profile depends in significant measure on the perception that he is a leader on the religious left. Many of us feel that we have contributed to a credibility that is now being used against us. We have every right to make it clear that we are withdrawing out contributions.

As it is, religious lefties make common cause with all sorts of people with whom we have all sorts of disagreements–the Catholic bishops, for instance. We should continue to do so. But no one mistakes the Catholic bishops for our spokesmen. That isn’t the case with Jim Wallis, and if we are going to get our message out, we can’t have a spokesperson who speaks against us. All I am suggesting is that some clarity about this role be brought to the attention of the wider public.

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