10 May 2011

An Open Letter To Rev. Jim Wallis and Sojourners

There has been a great deal of controversy in the past few days over the progressive evangelical Christian magazine Sojourners' refusal to run a video advertisement from the interfaith group Believe Out Loud. In the video, a young child is shown walking down the aisle of a small church, holding the hands of his two parents while receiving stares and awkward looks from those seated in the pews. The reason for the awkward looks is revealed when the camera pans back to show his two parents are two Moms.

In an article in Religions Dispatches, Rev. Robert Chase of Believe Out Loud decried Sojourners' refusal to run the ad. He noted that Sojourners officials wrote back to him, “I’m afraid we’ll have to decline. Sojourners position is to avoid taking sides on this issue.” Rev. Chase wondered what “sides” of the “issue” they were talking about. He asserted that the ad wasn't about same-sex marriage or the ordination of homosexuals, but rather was simply about welcoming everyone into a congregation regardless of sexual orientation.

In a printed response dated May 9, 2011, Jim Wallis (the CEO of Sojourners) stated that it's Sojourners' official policy to be welcoming of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, and that he and the organization have strived to encourage acceptance and combat bullying and prejudice. He went on to say, however:

“We have also suggested that the major differences of theology and biblical interpretation in the church with regard to issues such as the nature of homosexuality, gay marriage, and ordination are not issues that should be allowed to divide the churches – that local churches should lead the way here, and that an honest, open, respectful, and, hopefully, loving dialogue should characterize the church on these very controversial questions.”

With that background, here's my response to Jim Wallis and Sojourners. If you are also supportive of full LGBTQ inclusion in the Church, please consider taking three simple actions:

READ my letter below
SIGN this letter (as a comment on this post)
SHARE this letter as widely as you can (via Facebook sharing or direct messages, emails, in your own faith community, or wherever you feel the call to circulate the word)

If I can accumulate a decent amount of “signatures,” I'll forward this on to Sojourners and Rev. Wallis.


Rev. Wallis,

I have read the various articles discussing Sojourners' refusal to run the video ad from the group Believe Out Loud, as well as your response on May 9.

First, I take some issue with the characterization of the matter by Rev. Chase. Yes, the ad itself did not explicitly discuss same-sex marriage or the ordination of homosexuals, but both of those issues are very much in the forefront of the debate in so many Christian churches today, and the ad clearly hints at them.

More importantly, however, I take issue with your characterization of the debate and your assertion, “[T]hese debates have not been at the core of our calling.” Sojourners' own mission statement reads, “Our mission is to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.” How the full inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the life and ministry of the Church doesn't fit into the core of social justice, hope, and transformation baffles me. And yet, in your own extensive Diversity Statement, Sojourners manages to completely avoid any mention of sexual orientation or gender identity.

There are genuine differences of opinion within the Christian community regarding same-sex marriage and the ordination of homosexuals. However, differences of opinion, no matter how genuine, cannot be the basis for a prophetic response to an issue of such critical importance in today's Church.

I know you are familiar with the arguments, pro and con, from Scriptural authority and Church tradition. The provisions from the Hebrew Scriptures characterizing homosexual behavior as an “abomination” are on the same page (literally) as those condemning the weaving of clothing from two kinds of fabric or the eating of shrimp. The Pauline condemnations of homosexual behavior come from the same author who also wrote, “Slaves, be obedient to your masters,” and, “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over men.”

We are long since past the time when it was acceptable in the Church to cite Scriptural authority or Church tradition for the practice of slavery, and most of us have moved beyond barring women from pulpits or positions of authority in the Church. Likewise, it is now time to move beyond our outdated notions of Scripture and tradition on LBGTQ issues, and time for us to proclaim the prophetic message of full inclusion, full marriage rights, and full ordination rights for all of God's children.

Yes, there are two sides to this issue, just as there were two sides to the debate over slavery and the debate over women's rights. Those two sides are Right v. Wrong. Please, consider taking a prophetic stance for right, for justice, for inclusion on this issue also, just as you and Sojourners do on so many other issues we face as a society and as a Church.

Dan Browning


Anonymous said...

Jessica D. Hand

Lee Hansen said...

I think the Sojourners refusal to run the video in support LGB
TQ has to do with fighting the battles they think they can win. If, further on down the road as a society, we make progress in this area, this group will support those of alternate sexual orientation and gender identity. They don't think they can win this war at this time and feel that the backlash would do more harm than the good to their organization. They will wait for the rest of society to be the "point man", and then, when the danger subsides to some degree, will come out in support of this position. Different groups have different levels of courage. Obviously, Sojourners is not a "point man" organization. They are an, "I will go along until the tide turns and makes it safe and comfortable for me" type of group.

Cathleen said...

Cathleen E. Corrie, Ph.D. and seminary student

Keith said...

Good job, DB.

- Keith Abney, Cal Poly

Rex said...

Interesting, isn't it, that this whole thing comes up just at the moment at which the PCUSA votes to amend its constitution to allow for the ordination and service of gay clergy:


The Episcopalians, the Lutherans, and now the Presbyterians. "The times, they are a'changing." Let's hope that both Sojourners and the UMC can summon up the courage to change with them.

Kirsten said...

Sojourners - you disappoint, and that's so unlike you. Not living up to who you say you are.

Michael said...

Thanks for writing this letter Dan. I pray Sojourners will have a change of heart and allow the Believe Out Loud advertisement.
Michael R. Vaughan

Unknown said...

Thank you Dan,
Laura J. Galligan

Kristin said...

I didn't expect this from Sojourners. Thanks for writing this, Dan.

Dennis Rice said...

Dan, Add my name to the list,
Dennis Rice

Jean Ewing said...

Thanks for making us aware of Sojourner's refusal to lead on an important social justice issue in the church.
Jean Ewing