What Jim Wallis Might Be Missing

What Jim Wallis Might Be Missing May 10, 2011

So, it seems that Jim Wallis* has gotten into a bit of a kerfuffle for rejecting a magazine ad from Believe Out Loud, a pan-denominational campaign to increase the number of congregations that are welcoming** to LGBT folks.  The best rundown of the controversy with all the important links can be found at Religion Dispatches.

As RD posted and others have made clear, Wallis has avoided addressing LGBT issues for years.  And that’s because Wallis knows, as he states in his apologia, that LGBT issues in the church constitute a “wedge issue.”

But more to the point, affirmation of gays in any way in the church in America these days is a shibboleth, as I have written previously.  That is, if you affirm that homosexual persons who are in any way sexually active can have a role of leadership in the church or should be afforded to right to marry and awarded all of the privileges accorded thereto, then you are, de facto, kicked out of evangelicalism.  Suddenly, 60% of the Christian market in America is, for all intents and purposes, closed to you.  No more fundraising therein, and no more book sales thereto.

Jim Wallis knows this.  Jay Bakker and I and other straight allies of GLBT persons know this first-hand.  Rich Cizik knows this.  And any number of other Christian leaders on the scene today have watched the examples of those of us who publicly ally ourselves with GLBT issues in the church, and it has scared them off from publicly stating what they privately believe, which is that gays should be included in the church.

To those who pastor churches, I understand your hesitation to speak publicly in affirmation of gay ordination and gay marriage.  You have congregations to pastor, and you may feel that your commitment to the unity of the flock trumps your personal convictions on a particular and controversial matter.  But to Jim Wallis, I have this to say:

If you publicly affirm GLBT persons and their full inclusion in the life of the church and in the marriage laws of our country, you will be amazed at the support that you will receive.

I’ve been asked many times if I regret making the decision to publicly support GLBT persons and issues, and I can unequivocally say that, no, I have no regrets.  I’ve heard Jay Bakker say the same thing.  It may have cost us support, speaking gigs, and book contracts, but it’s been totally worth it.

Nota bene, I am not a martyr. I made a public stand on this issue as I have with many others.  I have no congregation to shepherd.  Therefore, I have more freedom to take controversial stands with minimal consequences.  I think that Jim Wallis is in the same boat (though I recognize that he shepherds a large, donation-based non-profit.)

But here’s the thing.  I get questions like this a lot: “C’mon, you know him, what does Jim Wallis/Rob Bell/Shane Claiborne/fill-in-the-blank really think about gays?”  The point is, a lot of people are making a lot of assumptions about leaders in the Protestant church who are progressive on other issues.  And the questions those people ask me, I think, disguise a more fundamental question: Can someone who is theologically thoughtful and progressive on other biblical and social issues remain conservative on issues of human sexuality?

Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, and others have, to this point, answered yes to that question.  I have my doubts about whether that position is tenable in the long run.

But here’s my final point, and the one that Jim Wallis may be missing: regardless of his stance on GLBT issues, I think that evangelicals have already kicked him out. They have Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, and me.  I think they have him as well.  So, if (when) Sojourners does publicly affirm gays, I don’t think they’ll see any change…except maybe an infusion of donations.

*Sojourners = Jim Wallis

**Welcoming ≠ open, affirming, gay marriage, or gay ordination.  Welcoming = welcoming, and nothing more.

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