Adding Nuance to the Sojourners Kerfuffle

Adding Nuance to the Sojourners Kerfuffle May 12, 2011

Some of my friends have weighed in the on the Sojo-BelieveOutLoud controversy, as have some commenters on yesterday’s postNadia Bolz-Weber comes out of blog-hibernation to write,

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.

Brian McLaren, writes as an LGBTQ Ally and a former board chair of Sojo.  Sojo is, he writes, a coalition-building organization, and as such it has to walk a tightrope:

If I were to boil down messy contemporary reality to an equation, here’s what it would be:

– You can’t lead a coalition of progressive Christians without being an outspoken leader on LGBTQ issues.
– You can’t lead a coalition that includes mainstream Evangelical and conservative Catholic Christians if you are an outspoken leader on LGBTQ issues.

That leaves Sojo in a precarious position, and it seems to leave Jim Wallis with a choice to make: Does Sojo want to build a mainline-progressive coalition or an evangelical coalition.  I don’t think he can do both.  Sadly, that’s the reality of the church in America these days.

On Facebook, Mike Clawson challenged my argument yesterday that evangelicals have already abandoned Sojo.  Not so, he says, based on the advertising in recent issues of Sojourners Magazine:

Mike makes a good point.  He also says that Jim Wallis is still asked to speak at places that Brian McLaren and I are not, particularly evangelical college chapel services.  I can’t confirm this since Jim’s speaking schedule at doesn’t list many speaking gigs.

It does, however, list the Wild Goose Festival, where Jim and Nadia and Brian and I and many others will be.  Let’s hope that we can have a public conversation there about the role of GLBT Allies and coalition building in the church.  In fact, let’s hope that conversation can be public.

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  • tom c.

    A blog posting that may be of interest to some here —

  • JoeyS

    Tony, did you see this from the Huffington Post?

    This paragraph, in particular, seems important:

    “We don’t actually wish to defend Sojourners’ decision not to run the ad. Nor do we intend to diminish the important work of Believe Out Loud. But we would like to defend Sojourners’ right as an organization — especially one with a theologically and politically diverse constituency, who must walk an unenviable tightrope to broker relationships among an unprecedented diversity of Christian organizations and denominations with fundamental theological disagreements about what “full LGBTQ equality in the church” means — to make the kind of decisions necessary to hold their constituency together and advance their mission of seeking out common ground and mobilizing for social justice. We may not always agree with every decision an organization makes, but those disagreements shouldn’t eclipse the important work an organization like Sojourners has done and will continue to do, especially when the question here is not about whether Sojourners agrees that Christians should be welcoming but a question of their ad policy.”

  • Marty Carney

    Personally, this reality is why I have now also subscribed to Christian Century. I almost chose not to renew my Sojourner subscription. But I will hold on to it one more year, hoping against hope. For me, it may also come down to my own financial stewardship. This also says something, I believe, about my own spiritual evolution in response to the compassionate Spirit of Jesus Christ.

  • I thought after the whole Rob Bell issue in March Christians were a terrible bunch when it comes to getting along but now it’s really gone nuts! What’s funny is the same people who were probably upset about the Christian response to Rob Bell are now turning around and doing the same to another good Christian leader and organization all over one decision.

    First, “it seems to leave Jim Wallis with a choice to make: Does Sojo want to build a mainline-progressive coalition or an evangelical coalition. I don’t think he can do both. Sadly, that’s the reality of the church in America these days.” – Ummm… really? One or the other? We can’t have different opinions? We need to be separated into just two camps; two groups taking sides? Yes, you can be on the side of human rights and poverty but if you are not a full-fledged, 100% supporter of anything and everything LGBT, you need to go over there! Hmm… well I guess the whole argument of wrestling with faith and its many decisions and arguments are thrown out the window ‘cause apparently there are just two camps of “progressive Christians” and then there is that camp way on the right with their headquarters in Colorado Springs. Or actually is it… if you don’t believe strongly on every progressive issue, you can’t be a progressive Christian therefore we banish you to the same group in Colorado Springs?

    And you thought the far right gave Christianity a bad name? Gotta love my fellow Christians. I guess being left in the middle, I stand without a home. I mean, I truly care about human rights and the poor but I’m not “progressive enough I guess”. And, oh yeah, this notion of questioning and wrestling with the Bible and faith and God and Jesus… not anymore. The line was drawn in the sand when Sojourners refused an ad.

    I mean this all to try to show how ridiculous you all look. Why is an organization and person being so maligned because as they stated, they wanted to have this issue “openly discuss[ed] on and through our editorial pages and not through our ad space”. Which I have to ask Nadia, how is that saying “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 think it’s pretty clear that they are actually OPEN to this discussion and WELCOME it. That seems very different than DENYING and “throwing under the bus”.

    I didn’t know that as a church we are not allowed to be of different minds with different opinions. I thought that created growth?

    I just hope this doesn’t prevent them from continuing to do the good they have already done.

    Another reason why it’s so hard to be of the Church and to call myself a Christian. Every day I get closer and closer to just saying, “No, I’m a Jesus follower. Those other people? They can’t get along. Everything for them is a fight. Even doing good… they find ways to tear each other down. I don’t need to be a part of that.”

  • Brian A (nekkidbaptist)


    Thanks for this post and for adding more complexity to the conversation. I appreciate your efforts towards charting a path in which one can speak clearly in support of LGBTQ folks and still engage a conversation with folks who aren’t in the same place.

    My concern in the way this thing around Jim Wallis/Sojourners is playing out is that folks coming at it from all angles have tended to talk about LGBTQ community and folks in poverty as separate entities. Because the faces and voices of LGBTQ folks most often seen and heard are a lot like mine — white, male, and middle-class — we tend to ignore the reality that “LGBTQ issues” and issues of poverty and non-violence are deeply intertwined.

    Liberation theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid smartly critiqued her mentors for constituting “the poor” in terms of peasant men, and in so doing failing to pay attention to the women, transfolk, and queers who were made vulnerable by systemic economic exclusion in Latin America. Both here and there the “LGBTQ community” includes homeless youth and sex workers. It also includes the uninsured, immigrants, and single parents lacking in legal protection for financial support of their children from ex-partners.

    So this is where I agree with Jim Wallis: there are a lot of important issues that I wish the church would spend more time on than my intimate relationships. That’s what happens when we make being LGBTQ the issue in and of itself and fail to recognize that issues LGBTQ folks face are entirely consistent with Sojourner’s stated concerns. To be fair, let me also say that there are a lot of important issues I wish the LGBTQ community would spend more time on than accessing the rather broken institution of civil marriage (be clear, I’m talking about the legal construct here, more than its religious counterpart) and military service. When we build our case for marriage equality on issues like access to healthcare and immigration, seems like we ought to be working equally hard at coalition building with folks working on healthcare and immigration reform. Perhaps as a nation we ought to be asking questions about what it means to be a supposed great beacon (and violent enforcer) of human rights when adequate medical services and even citizenship itself are dependent on relationship status.

    That’s the progressive Christian movement I want to be a part of — the one in which identity politics gives way to coalitional, multi-issue engagement, but simultaneously acknowledges our very real experiences of different social locations. Sure, there are very real and particular issues that we same/multi-gender-loving folk face. I want to be able to speak openly about them. And I want to be in conversations about poverty, racism, and non-violence. I might even want to be in conversations in which we can acknowledge that they are all products of the same interlocking systems.

    Looking forward to seeing you at the at the Wild Goose Festival in June!


  • Nadia

    I’m in.

  • John Edmond

    Jim knows that political stance is favorable to LGBT (or has this acronym changed?) he misses out on all the money in the Evangelical community.

  • I clicked through to comment exactly what Brian A. said. So no need to rehash it. I’ll just add “Yes, that!”

  • By not taking a side, Wallis is taking the side of the oppressors. He is silently allowing the status quo of prejudice, injustice, pain, etc. to stand unchallenged. In the words of Elie Wiesel: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” It’s true. And it reminds me of all the moderates who silently allowed slavery to occur and then allowed racial prejudice to continue to hurt African Americans after slavery.

    Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about the problem he had with moderates who wanted to play it safe:

    “I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

  • I think it’s worth allowing that different organizations can (and do) serve different purposes and address different audiences. I agree. And I think the Nazi comparisons are really out of place.

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