This last May the progressive Christian mag Sojourners rejected a Believe Out Loud ad about accepting lezmos into your church because accepting fags in your congregation is apparently “a wedge issue” not related to “working for peace.”
But now Sojourners has finally seen the light by accepting a full-page ad from the Ali Forney Center about homeless gay youth. The group that runs Believe Out Loud doesn’t think this full-page ad means that Sojourners has changed its policy to fully accept homos, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
It’s no surprise really that Sojourners accepted an ad about gay kids—it’s the same reason why so many politicians who would never make a public speech about full LGBT equality feel OK with making an “It Gets Better” issue. Protecting kids, no matter their sexuality, is safer ground to stand on than advocating for repeal of sodomy laws or for same-sex marriage.
But why would a so-called “progressive” magazine refuse to support some of the most vilified and politically disenfranchised people in American society? Brian McLaren—who used to serve as Chair of Sojourners’ Board of Directors for for several years—explains:
Sojourners, as I understand it, is doing coalition work. They are currently focused on building a broad coalition of Evangelical Christians, Catholic Christians, and Progressive Christians primarily around the issue of poverty reduction. And the coalition they’re building is an essential one…
But again, there’s a cost to convening that kind of coalition. One can’t lead on other issues that would split the coalition. (Yes, one can stretch the coalition on some issues, but not too many, not too far, and not too fast.) If Sojourners decides to lead on LGBTQ issues, someone else will have to arise to lead a broad coalition on poverty issues, because Sojourners will be – as things stand – excluded from the table. Conversely, if Sojourners decides to lead a broad poverty-related coalition, others will need to lead on LGBTQ issues.
In other words, “You can’t lead a coalition of progressive Christians without being an outspoken leader on LGBTQ issues. But you can’t lead a coalition that includes mainstream Evangelical and conservative Catholic Christians if you are an outspoken leader on LGBTQ issues.”
It’s important to remember that not every organization, even progressive ones, are ready for a full-throated endorsement of LGBT rights; even though it is the right thing to do. It does everyone very little good when we have an either-or approach to getting support from our allies—that is, either you’re 100 percent pro-LGBT or you’re a bigot and part of the problem.
But how can we differentiate between the progressives who are ready to take up the rainbow flag and those who are a bit more reluctant? Washington Post religious writer Beck Garrison has an idea:
So I’d like to propose a compromise. Why not designate those “progressive evangelicals” who do not feel called to welcome LGBT people into their church communities by advocating equal rites for all as “traditionalist progressives”?”
That will distinguish them from those religious progressives in largely mainline and spiritual but not religious circles who advocate for women’s rights and full inclusion of LGBT people. Such a distinction will allow for funders and followers to have a clearer scope of the organization’s mission, so they can ascertain if this ministry is in line with their values. Also, this shift would be a start toward educating the media and the public at large about the growing multicultural nature of religious progressivism.
Gays And Lesbians Allied Against Defamation (GLAAD) works in coalition building as well, the sort that encourages media outlets like Sojourners and local newspapers to work towards incremental but significant coverage of gay issues. In helping design an ad that Sojourners felt comfortable running, they have taught us a valuable lesson. To win the hearts and minds of swing voters and Republicans who we need in order to successfully continue our fight for civil rights nationwide, it pays to know that our allies may be more sympathetic to certain, less-controversial seeming messages than other more direct messaging about LGBT acceptance.