An Open Letter to Famous Progressive Christian Jim Wallis

Dear Mr. Wallis,

Hi! You and I aren’t personally acquainted or anything (though we are slightly affiliated, insofar as we both blog about religion for The Huffington Post). I definitely know that, as the author of New York Times bestsellers God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It and The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post–Religious Right America—and as president and CEO of Sojourners, and editor-in-chief of the highly influential Sojourners magazine—you are one of the guiding lights of American progressive Christianity.

That’s so awesome. Could you be more famous? Congratulations on all the fantastic things you’ve accomplished.

I’m writing because I believe you have someone on staff at Sojourners who, for some reason, is maybe not entirely clear on the work you and Sojourners do. And, alas, that person recently made a pretty awful mistake that I am sure you will want to right away rectify.

Recently the good people at Believe Out Loud produced a wonderful little video promoting LGBT equality in our churches. Here is that video:

Have you seen it before? Really tugs at the ol’ heartstrings, doesn’t it? I find it exceptionally powerful.

Anyway, last week or so the folks at Believe Out Loud tried to buy ad space for this video on Sojo.net. They were hoping the video might run on your site on Mother’s Day, for which of course it would have been particularly apropos.

I say “would have been,” because guess what happened? Someone at Sojourners turned down the ad buy for the video! Can you believe it? Me neither! In refusing the video, someone in your office wrote to the Believe Out Loud people, “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 [this] advertising may give the appearance of taking sides.” That person went on to say that Sojourners has not taken a stance on gay marriage, or on the ordination of homosexuals.

I know! Can you imagine someone working for you declaring that video to be too radical or controversial for Sojourners to be associated with? It’s mind-boggling, isn’t it? Hasn’t that person even read the Sojourners Diversity Statement, where it says things like:

  • We affirm the biblical truth of every human being’s inherent dignity and worth,
  • We affirm that in the Body of Christ there is no distinction or hierarchy according to racial, ethnic, gender, or social identity and economic status,
  • We celebrate diversity as essential to the unity and strength of Christ’s Body
  • We confess that both personal prejudice and systemic oppression are sin.

Calling personal prejudice and systemic oppression a sin! Now that is some seriously bold language, right there. I love it. Way to lay it straight out, so that no one can possibly misunderstand you.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that you might want to track down and correct whomever it is in your organization who is so egregiously failing to properly represent you and your wonderful work. (Hint: the person you’re looking for might be someone pretty high up in your organization; Believe Out Loud was told that the decision to refuse their video was made by “the folks in executive.” It’s almost funny, isn’t it?)

If you’d like a little more background on this matter, see this May 7 article on Religion Dispatches: LGBT “Welcome” Ad Rejected by Sojourners, Nation’s Premier Progressive Christian Org.

Thank you very much for reading this, Mr. Wallis. And thanks for doing, as I am absolutely confident that you will, the right thing.

Sincerely yours,

 

John Shore

[Update: Mr. Wallis and His Big Gay Waffle.]

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

    I suppose they fear they’ll lose too many funders and/or clout/authority if they become overtly LGBTQI friendly. That said, as the band RUSH puts it, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” And and as brother Martin put it, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King Jr.

    • trainwreck

      it might also be noted that King had a gay man bayard rustin working with him for years in the civil rights movement, actually influencing king to the point where the marches may not have happened…i didnt learn about rustin until my adult years….

      • Allen

        Funny, isn’t it, Trainwreck, what gets left out of History :-

      • http://www.hillsideslide.blogspot.com TinaC

        Rustin schooled MLK on non-violence. I didn’t hear about him either till LOGO ran that film on him, “Brother Outsider.” (highly recommend it)

    • http://gaychristiangeek.blogspot.com Rainicorn

      +10 for quoting both Rush and MLK in the same paragraph! :)

  • http://benhusmann.com Ben

    Love the video and I love the letter. Hoping we’ll see a response!

  • mike and leanne

    Thanks for writing the letter, John Shore!

  • http://j-rodsbrainemissions.blogspot.com J-rod

    interesting. i can actually sojourners not wanting to take a side. however, i read the magazine every month and have seen a number of advertisements for interfaith entities that would certainly offend many of the same people who would be offended by an acceptance of lgbt equality. this is the first time i’ve been disappointed with sojourners, which i think does excellent work.

  • Rebecca

    Thanks John…if Sojourners is silent on this issue what legitimacy can they claim on political issues?

  • Allen

    Thanks, John — pretty much the letter I’d write (without the “we’re in the same business, kind of” part) if I had time and/or thought Rev. Wallis would read it. My only connection to him is that our church studied God’s Politics and I heard him preach an adequate sermon to the Disciples of Christ General Assembly a few years ago. Your letter will get to him, I’m confident of that. Nice work.

  • http://RevolutionNYC.com Jay Bakker

    Well done John!

    • http://www.bing.com/ Cade

      So true. Honesty and everything reocgzneid.

  • Lee Walker

    Surely Sojourners is aware that a really good chunk of their constituency/membership/readership/support base are people inclined to be LGBTQ-affirming?

    • http://www.briangerald.com Brian Gerald Murphy

      Perhaps it’s time for those of who are LGBTQ-affirming… who put are necks on the line for a truly bold, prophetic, and inclusive call for justice to stop propping up people and organizations who aren’t.

      When we stay subscribed and keep sending the checks, we give tacit consent to these decisions.

      • Charles Lindsey

        Gotta agree with Brian here! There ARE progressive Christian organizations that fully, bravely, prophetically support LGBTQ folk, and these organizations deserve our talent, time and resources. I will be watching closely to see Mr. Wallis’ response. Time to put up or shut up, Jim!

        • Wayne Johnson

          Agreed. Sojourners is promoting not only bigotry but outright dishonesty by acting in direct contradiction to the mission and values they claim to support.

  • http://www.hillsideslide.blogspot.com TinaC

    http://blog.sojo.net/2011/05/09/a-statement-on-sojourners-mission-and-lgbtq-issues/#disqus_thread

    While I’m disappointed by the folks at Sojourners regarding LGBT people and issues, I’m glad the comments are telling a whole ‘nother story when it comes to Christians & LGBTs.

    If this is important to you, or a loved one, I hope you’ll consider leaving a comment as well.

  • Mindy

    Well said, John. They must take a stance. They cannot NOT take a stance, without taking a stance.

    Either you believe your mission statement, Rev. Wallis, or you don’t. Kinda gettin’ the “don’t” message at this point, and really hope you take it upon yourself to fix it. Soon.

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

    Well played, friend. Thanks for drawing my attention to this beautiful video.

  • http://www.alise-write.com Alise

    While I’m deeply disappointed with Wallis’s response, I must say that the comments over at Sojo tonight have made me pretty freakin’ happy.

    My friends aren’t an issue. And this video is beautiful.

    Well played, Mr. Shore.

  • Rev Ann

    Not taking a stand is actually a more progressive stance than Sojourners had 25+ years ago when the magazine (if not the whole Sojourners community) was openly disapproving of glbt relationships. So their community probably has a more diverse membership as far as opinion on this than they used to.

    But as someone already said, by not taking a stand, their silence puts them on the side of oppressors. When it comes to Christian orgs, the default setting is still opposition to full glbt rights.

    • Robin Sutherland

      This phenomenon has been around quite a while. An ancient Roman once observed,

      “Qui tacet clamat.” (He speaks, who is silent.)

  • Tony

    That was really lovely and touching. I hope they reconsider and allow it. I’d like to suggest people post it to their facebook pages.

  • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    The lady putting the hymnal down as the kid and his moms walked past… gave me a flashback to riding the bus in high school. I’m not gay – just a freak… just that. whole condescending “subtle rejection” thing is something instanly recognizable and painful to a person who’s experienced it.

    One of the places I frequent, a loosely termed – “writer’s” website (where literature goes to die, actually), has a lot of kids on it who like to put memes in their profiles. I hate the copy-paste memes becuase the people who use them will have about ten pages of them on their profiles and I have to scroll down to see they’ve written all of one or two actual stories *sigh.* One of the longer and more obnoxious ones is one about homophobia. It has a nice sentiment, really, but half of it is so over the top that I think “some kid with a lot of zeal but not a lot of research created it. A few things on the meme do ring true, though. One of them is “I wanted to believe, but the church turned me away at the door.”

  • http://www.selahsopinion.wordpress.com Machelle

    So let’s just “sweep it under the carpet”, push the issue aside and deal with “more important issues at hand”….”NO, that’s just not good enough. Shame on you, Sojourners, that’s a cowardly stand to take.

  • Roger Wolsey via Facebook

    IMO, Wallis isn’t a “progressive Christian,” but rather, a “liberal evangelical Christian.”

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

    IMO, Wallis isn’t a “progressive Christian,” but rather, a “liberal evangelical Christian.” It’d be nice if he became one though.

  • Adele Sakler via Facebook

    CAN’T believe it has been a year and NOTHING has changed at Sojo!

  • http://www.facebook.com/nwbuckeye Pat Hux via Facebook

    I rather like the “Mr Wallis and His Big Gay Waffle” bit. Is this the second never?

  • http://www.facebook.com/nwbuckeye Pat Hux via Facebook
  • Roger Wolsey via Facebook

    well, they have started allowing certain pro-gay ads to be published in their magazine, but yeah, not much change. sure, it’d be nice if they evolved, but it isn’t essential to the success of the progressive Christian movement.

  • Roger Wolsey via Facebook

    it could be said that Wallis and the Sojourners folk were the original “emerging Christians”; i.e., young evangelicals who are re-examining and re-prioritizing the core emphases and values of their faith. And, unlike progressive Christianity, emerging Christianity is of mixed minds and doesn’t have consensus about homosexuality.


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