It’s About Damn Time: ‘Progressive’ Christian Jim Wallis Finally Voices Support for Marriage Equality

Jim Wallis is one of the best-known “progressive” Christians and the founder of Sojourners (“Christians for Justice and Peace”).

Despite being a registered Democrat and a frequent critic of the Religious Right, he has never really been a champion of LGBT rights.

This is Wallis in 2008:

I don’t think the sacrament of marriage should be changed. Some people say that Jesus didn’t talk about homosexuality, and that’s technically true. But marriage is all through the Bible, and it’s not gender-neutral.

I have never done a blessing for a same-sex couple. I’ve never been asked to do one. I’m not sure that I would…

And when a group that “promote[d] LGBT-inclusion in the Christian church” wanted to purchase ads on his organization’s website and newsletter in 2011, this is what Wallis said about them:

“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.”

Yes. In the battle between equality and bigotry, Wallis wanted his organization to stay neutral. It was a cowardly position to take.

But Wallis has finally come around to being a decent person. I suppose it helps that he’s trying to sell a book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good.

In an interview with Jonathan Merritt, he (ever so slowly) explained how he now kinda, sorta, wishy-washily supports marriage equality:

I think the common ground could be that liberals and conservatives together could commit themselves to a recovenanting of marriage, a recommitment of marriage. We’re losing marriage in this society, among low-income people particularly and across the board. That is the most important question about marriage right now. How can we recommit to marriage, and then I would say, how to we find ways for same sex couples to participate in the benefits of that recommitment to marriage?

… I think equal protection under the law is something that does support the idea of a civil, civic decision that provides same sex couples the same benefits and rights under the civil law as married couples have. That’s the direction we’re going, but what the church says about sacramental marriage is a larger, deeper question that has to be resolved over time. They need freedom to look at the scriptures and determine what is possible. People can have different views theologically and still support equal protection, which is inclusive more and more of marriage equality.

Ok, so it’s really weak support. He was a little more forthright in a Huffington Post interview with Jaweed Kaleem:

I think we should include same-sex couples in that renewal of marriage, [but] I want to talk marriage first. Marriage needs some strengthening. Let’s start with marriage, and then I think we have to talk about, now, how to include same-sex couples in that deeper understanding of marriage. I want a deeper commitment to marriage that is more and more inclusive, and that’s where I think the country is going.

So… yay. It’s not proud support. It’s not enthusiastic support. It’s the type of support you give something you have no choice but to get behind, sort of like a Democrat who would rather not vote at all but ultimately casts a ballot for Obama because, well, what else were you gonna do?

It’s one embarrassingly small leap for mankind.

Look, I’m glad Wallis finally came to his senses. But it’s too little too late at this point. Younger Christians beat him to the punch on this issue, making his “new” views totally irrelevant.

Jim Wallis could have been a leader. He could have done the right thing a long time ago. But he didn’t. He wavered. He was silent when we could have used him. He took a “neutral” stance that might as well have been pure opposition. He proved that, even on some major social issues, “progressive” Christians are hardly an improvement from people who do nothing at all.

So let’s celebrate the fact that a prominent Christian finally said something sensible about marriage equality. But let’s not pretend Wallis is a role model here. Role models do the right thing no matter how tough it may be, not wait for the political climate to change and then jump on the bandwagon that other people built.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Some day, Christians will claim to have led the battle for gay rights.

    • http://twitter.com/arensb arensb

      And some have. Just as some Christians led the battle to end slavery, and some Christians championed women’s suffrage. Now all that’s necessary is to forget all about the Christians who wound up on the wrong side of history.

      • Matt Delemos

        Please, by all means, cite some examples of Christians leading the battle for gay rights.

        • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

          google search parameter “christians for gay rights”

          [copy+paste] from Wikipedia. header: List of Christian denominational positions on homosexuality

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominational_positions_on_homosexuality

          caveat: these examples may not be exactly defined as “christians leading the battle for gay rights” but they do show that many christian organizations have become incentivized towards bringing the lgbt community into their folds.

          The Metropolitan Community Church was instrumental in the first legal challenges to the heterosexual legal definition of marriage in Ontario (see Same-sex marriage in Ontario).

          The Anglican Church of New Zealand has decided to allow homosexuals to become clergy.

          The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists,
          a group of some 50 churches and organizations, is committed to the “full inclusion” of gay and lesbian persons in their churches.

          The Community of Christ officially seeks to end all discrimination including discrimination against members of the LGBT community

          The Mennonite Church USA has many “Welcoming Congregations” which are churches who are welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ people in all levels of church life.

          The “Old Catholic” Churches in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands view homosexuality as moral, permit gay and lesbian priests, and bless gay couples.[citation needed] These should not be confused with the Roman Catholic Church,

          the Affirming Pentecostal Church International, the Covenant Network,[38] the Global Alliance of Affirming Apostolic Pentecostals (GAAAP),[39] and the Fellowship of Reconciling Pentecostals International (RPI).[40]
          Those Pentecostal churches that are gay affirming base their position on research done into scripture in the original languages, where they believe they find no condemnation of homosexuality

          The Presbyterian Church (USA),
          the largest U.S. Presbyterian body, has approved the ordination of
          non-celibate gays. On July 8, 2010, by a vote of 373 to 323, the General Assembly voted to propose to the presbyteries a constitutional amendment to remove the restriction against the ordination of partnered homosexuals. This action required ratification by a majority of the 173 presbyteries within 12 months for the proposed amendment to take effect.[43][44] On May 10, 2011, a majority of the presbyteries voted to approve the constitutional change.[45] It took effect on July 10, 2011.

          Quakers in many countries, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, are supportive of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, seeing this as necessary aspect of the Equality Testimony and part of historical Quaker activism against injustice and oppression. Quakers in these countries have become active in the fight for equality of marriage for same-sex couples, and perform same-sex commitment or marriage ceremonies are part of Quaker business.

          The United Church of Christ General Synod in 1985 passed a resolution entitled “Calling on United Church of Christ Congregations to Declare Themselves Open and Affirming”

      • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

        Very few.

        • baal

          ?! The number or percent of christians on the worng side of history with regard to the slavery issue wasn’t trivial. It was a majority of the southern States.

          • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

            You are correct. I meant that very few Christians led the battle to end slavery and very few Christians championed women’s suffrage.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Glen Beck and Bill O’Reilly will beat them (the strictly theological community) to it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jerome-McCollom/100000327150215 Jerome McCollom

      Well, they now claim to have led the battle for the right of women to vote, even though they were largely hostile against it.

  • http://twitter.com/arensb arensb

    So in this context, does “progressive” mean “only five years behind the times”?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    He will just get tossed into the pit of not a real Christian.

  • mikespeir

    I have more respect for someone who comes aboard after much agonizing than for someone who jumps right on the bandwagon.

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

    Re-post so that others may see this list

    google search parameter “christians for gay rights”

    [copy+paste] from Wikipedia. header: List of Christian denominational positions on homosexuality

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L

    caveat: these examples may not be exactly defined as “christians
    leading the battle for gay rights” but they do show that many christian
    organizations have become incentivized towards bringing the lgbt
    community into their folds.

    The Metropolitan Community Church was instrumental in the first legal
    challenges to the heterosexual legal definition of marriage in Ontario
    (see Same-sex marriage in Ontario).

    The Anglican Church of New Zealand has decided to allow homosexuals to become clergy.

    The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists,
    a group of
    some 50 churches and organizations, is committed to the “full
    inclusion” of gay and lesbian persons in their churches.

    The Community of Christ officially seeks to end all discrimination
    including discrimination against members of the LGBT community

    The Mennonite Church USA has many “Welcoming Congregations” which are
    churches who are welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ people in all levels
    of church life.

    The “Old Catholic” Churches in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the
    Netherlands view homosexuality as moral, permit gay and lesbian priests,
    and bless gay couples.[citation needed] These should not be confused
    with the Roman Catholic Church,

    the Affirming Pentecostal Church International, the Covenant
    Network,[38] the Global Alliance of Affirming Apostolic Pentecostals
    (GAAAP),[39] and the Fellowship of Reconciling Pentecostals
    International (RPI).[40]
    Those Pentecostal churches that are gay
    affirming base their position on research done into scripture in the
    original languages, where they believe they find no condemnation of
    homosexuality

    The Presbyterian Church (USA),
    the largest U.S. Presbyterian body, has approved the ordination of
    non-celibate
    gays. On July 8, 2010, by a vote of 373 to 323, the General Assembly
    voted to propose to the presbyteries a constitutional amendment to
    remove the restriction against the ordination of partnered homosexuals.
    This action required ratification by a majority of the 173 presbyteries
    within 12 months for the proposed amendment to take effect.[43][44] On
    May 10, 2011, a majority of the presbyteries voted to approve the
    constitutional change.[45] It took effect on July 10, 2011.

    Quakers in many countries, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and
    the United Kingdom, are supportive of gay, lesbian, bisexual and
    transgendered people, seeing this as necessary aspect of the Equality
    Testimony and part of historical Quaker activism against injustice and
    oppression. Quakers in these countries have become active in the fight
    for equality of marriage for same-sex couples, and perform same-sex
    commitment or marriage ceremonies are part of Quaker business.

    The United Church of Christ General Synod in 1985 passed a resolution
    entitled “Calling on United Church of Christ Congregations to Declare
    Themselves Open and Affirming”

  • LesterBallard

    So, it took him and his god this long to figure it out.

  • Daniel In The Lions’ Den

    It looks in this case like the leadership for christians, including progressive christians, comes from the secular community. I think it takes a non-christian to show how christian leaders pick and choose what the bible states. They forget the bible is pro-slavery, the bible does not condemn abortion, the bible does not support roles for women in the church or society, and the bible condemns those who do not honor the sabbath, in the 10 commandments. Also, anyone who is divorced and remarries is committing adultery, which is punished by stoning. But they do remember verses that condemn homosexuality. Funny how that works.

    As an atheist, when the topic of biblical condemnation comes up, I suggest christians should look into the verses that affect their own behavior and lives. If they pick and choose to forget those, they can damn well pick and choose to forget condemnation of gay people too. Their Jesus was not fond of hypocrites.

    If Wallis is coming around, it looks like he’s another who is undergoing a reluctant evolution, being led by his followers who themselves are being led by ideas of fairness and inclusion, which I don’t think come from the bible but rather from secular society.

    • Equal Rights For ALL

      Jesus never supported Stoning for adultery, breaking the Sabbath, or the other things you talk about. As you say, Jesus was not fond of hypocrites; after all, you can hardly love your neighbor as yourself if you have enslaved him.
      But there is nothing in atheism that is inconsistent with enslaving people, killing them for violating various laws set up by the government, aborting viable healthy unborn humans, or even being a hypocrite.
      There is nothing inherently fair in atheism, if you are equating that with “secular society”.

      • Art_Vandelay

        Sure he did. Jesus reiterated constantly that all of the laws of the OT were completely valid and in effect. Jesus made those laws. Jesus is just a human manifestation of YHWH.

        • Kid Charlemagne

          True statement

  • http://www.suburbansweetheart.com/ Suburban Sweetheart

    Jim Wallis is a really, really, REALLY nice man in real life, & his belief in his faith is genuine. He uses his position of leadership to do great things to help the world, & he convinces others to do the same. I’ve long hoped he’d come around on marriage equality & LGBT rights so that I could feel more committed to liking him as much as I do. You’re right that this is weak support, but I really hope it grows from here.

  • TaylorMaid

    Geez Hemant, obviously he found “the best course of action to be avoiding the whole world of drama altogether”. Surely you can relate.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Point taken :)

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    I’m not convinced Wallis is in support of marriage equality. He has been asked directly about it in both the interviews you cited and still couldn’t bring himself to really say he supports it. His answers are nebulous and confusing.

    My problem with him is that he still believes that Christianity has the monopoly on marriage. He doesn’t understand that not everyone is Christian and that we have rights too.

    • ortcutt

      The ongoing debate over marriage equality has convinced me that many religious people aren’t comfortable with the idea of civil marriage or the idea of positive law. They can do their sacraments any way they want as long as I can have a gender-neutral marriage statute.

  • Equal Rights For ALL

    I look forward to the day when atheists support equal rights for ALL Human Beings.

    • Tainda

      This is your lucky day then! I am an atheist who supports equal rights for ALL human beings and most of us do.

      I don’t care what you practice in your own home or church/synagogue/mosque but keep it out of government and schools.

  • SeekerLancer

    As the public support continues to take more of the majority, so do more dominoes like this fall.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003507967305 Neal Lindberg

    Additional info from Christian Post:

    “A spokesperson for Sojourners confirmed with The Christian Post on Monday that this was the first time that Wallis has publicly stated that position. Wallis was stating what he believed from a “civil legal perspective” what the law should be, but was not stating a theological position about whether churches should endorse same-sex marriage, the spokesperson said. The spokesperson could not say whether or not Wallis believes homosexuality is a sin.”Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/jim-wallis-now-supports-same-sex-marriage-93468/#Sx4KLsOJURoE6ucp.99

  • Duh

    If the Good Lord had wanted a man to have sex with a man, a woman to have sex with a woman, or a man or a woman to perform anilingus, cunnilingus, or fellatio, He would have created men and women with tongues, lips, and anuses, women with vaginas, and men with penises.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    I think the common ground could be that liberals and conservatives together could commit themselves to a recovenanting of marriage, a recommitment of marriage. We’re losing marriage in this society, among low-income people particularly and across the board.

    This is actually the problem I have with this whole mindset. Why should marriage be privileged over all other relationships? If we are “losing marriage,” is that necessarily a bad thing? Why is getting married considered better than living together? Plenty of people live together for 30, 40, 50 years without any legal paperwork. And if people decide they no longer want to live together and that their relationship has run its course, why is that automatically considered a failure? Why is it that the only respectable ending to a relationship is for one of the partners to die?

  • Kid Charlemagne

    First of all, it’s not weak support; it’s ice breaking support. He’s easing into it, clearly.

    Second, you’re an incredibly judgmental person, even more than the Christians you criticize.

    Third, last time I checked, the standard for “human decency” was not based on one’s gay marriage view, as you assert it is. You speak authoritatively like you have the corner market on truth. You don’t. You’re just another overeducated educator with an opinion. And a straw one at that

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

      I’m somewhat baffled that Wallis’s statement could come across as anything other than weak support.

      What the church says about sacramental marriage is a larger, deeper question that has to be resolved over time. They need freedom to look at the scriptures and determine what is possible.

      That seems awfully weak to me. He’s not taking a stand in favor of sacramental marriage for same-sex couples, that’s for sure. He didn’t even say specifically that he supported the right to legal marriage, just equal protection and benefits, which could mean something watered down like civil unions.

  • bob

    Wallis is not quite the “leader” he thinks he is. He fills a media vacancy. His writing reads like transcriptions of whatever he dictated into a recording device. He is “progressive” only in the context of his “Evangelical” self-identification.

  • peicurmudgeon

    From the Wikipedia article referenced above:

    “The United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant denomination in Canada,
    affirms that gay and lesbian persons are welcome in the church and the
    ministry. The resolution “A) That all persons, regardless of their
    sexual orientation, who profess Jesus Christ and obedience to Him, are
    welcome to be or become full member of the Church. B) All members of the
    Church are eligible to be considered for the Ordered Ministry.” was
    passed in 1988. This was not done, however, without intense debate over
    what was termed “the issue”; some congregations chose to leave the
    church rather than support the resolution.

    The church campaigned starting in 1977 to have the federal government
    add sexual orientation to federal non-discrimination laws, which was
    accomplished in 1996. The church has also engaged in activism in favour of the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada, and on July 20, 2005″

    A rare exception, and not supported by many of the members. Of course, many individual Christians of all denominations support equal rights. It just takes the so-called leaders a while to catch up.


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