By Nadia Bolz-Weber
I’m not so much of a blogger anymore but several people have asked for my response to the fact that Sojourners, described as a progressive Christian commentary on faith, politics and culture seeking to build a movement of spirituality and social change, has refused to sell ad space to Believe Out Loud an organization who is helping churches become fully inclusive of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
I’ll start by telling a short personal story.
Two days after Osama Bin Laden was killed, my father asked if he could read a sermon I wrote a few months back, “Loving Your Enemies Even When You Don’t Really Mean It” to the guys at his men’s prayer breakfast. Here’s what you need to know about that: my Dad is a member of the Church of Christ (they do not ordain women…indeed women are not even allowed to be deacons or lead a prayer at worship) and the men to whom he was reading my sermon are (to the best of my understanding) wealthy, privileged, and both theologically and politically conservative. Later that day when we spoke he said “That sermon was so powerful Nadia, I can’t imagine the teachings of Jesus being put more poignantly. You could have heard a pin drop in that room.” I was thrilled. Until he said “Of course I didn’t tell them who wrote it”. And then my heart sank.
I texted him that “perhaps for those in the room who believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply cannot be preached by a woman it might be important to know who wrote the sermon they just heard”. He texted back “I’ll fight one battle at a time, thank you very much” Did this feel like shit? You bet. Did I feel betrayal? No question. But even in the midst of this I was grateful that 2 days after Osama Bin Laden was killed and amidst the inevitable celebration of our “victory”, that a group of wealthy conservative men heard the message about how Jesus calls us to love our enemies. And they may not have had ears to hear if they knew I wrote that sermon. This is the ambiguity of our fragile, messy human existence. I long for black and white, I really do…but that’s not how I experience the world.
My name is on the Sojourners God’s Politics Blog and I serve a church that is self-described and indeed is “queer inclusive”. Some of my progressive Christian friends and colleagues are calling for a boycott of Sojourners until they make a bold stand for the full inclusion of our GLBTQ brothers and sister in the church. I respect this. I too want to take the strong stand for those who are always asked to eat last and least at the table or who are prevented from coming to it in the first place. The change needed in and indeed being experienced by the church right now in terms of full inclusion calls for bold action by those who are willing to take a stand.
But as I thought about what to say or do in response to Sojourners I felt confronted by a terrible ambiguity. The ambiguity is this: Sojourners has, in my assessment, done more than any other organization to call Evangelical Christians to the reality that a central part of following Jesus is a concern for the poor, a truth largely absent from much of American Evangelicalism. They have a platform to speak about social justice to those who otherwise may not have ears to hear and this is critical. While mainline Protestantism is on a clear trajectory toward full inclusion (shout out to the PCUSA here) our free-church Evangelical brothers and sisters are by-in-large not there yet. By taking a stance on GLBTQ issues Sojourners may lose their ability to be a voice for the poor in the more conservative areas of the church.
Are the poor more important than GLBTQ folks? Is it ok to throw the rights of one group under the bus so that another group’s rights might be upheld? I wish there were really clear back and white answers here but the fact is that we live in a much more ambiguous world than that. As a Lutheran I confess to living in the tension of being simultaneously sinner and saint and living in a world filed with the paradox of such.
So here’s my response: I confess the ways in which I have favored the rights of one group over another. I confess the ways in which I long for black and white answers to questions that elude them. I confess the fact that by staying in relationship with Sojourners I may be hurting my GLBTQ brothers and sisters. I confess that I may very well be wrong about all of it.
But perhaps by being the sell-out who claims to try and change the system from the inside I might be the one who is changed into one through whom the gospel can be proclaimed to those with whom I disagree. And who knows, maybe one day I might actually preach at a Church of Christ and if that happens may I be granted humility and grace….because I don’t naturally have those in my heart. Trust me on that one.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor in Denver, CO and blogs at Sarcastic Lutheran.