Sojourners is well known as one of the most progressive religious organizations around—except, apparently, when it comes to, well, us. The group opposed capital punishment and Republican budget cuts on social programs while embracing world peace and nonviolence as the route to regime change in oppressive countries. But when Believe Out Loud, a project to promote welcoming gays and lesbians in churches, approached Sojourners about running an ad in its magazine advocating that far-from-radical idea, Sojourners said no, thanks. Apparently even Christian progressives have their limits when it comes to dishing out the love and respect to the gays.
So what’s Sojourners’ reasoning for rejecting the ad? Well, that depends on the day you ask. In its written statement to Believe Out Loud, Sojourners said, “I’m afraid we’ll have to decline. Sojourners position is to avoid taking sides on this issue. In that care [sic], the decision to accept advertising may give the appearance of taking sides.” (Yes, you wouldn’t want to go out on a limb and suggest that you actually wanted gay families in your congregation.)
In an entry on his blog, Sojourner’s CEO Jim Wallis tied himself in more knots while trying to justify the decision. While pointing out that he had recently taken a courageous stand against antigay bullying (how very 1989 of him), Wallis said that gay issues don’t fit into “our primary calling as our work against poverty and hunger, and for peace.” Unless we missed something, we didn’t think running someone else’s ad commits you to embarking on a major theological mission.
More to the point, Wallis also acknowledged that “like the larger church, Sojourners’ constituency, board, and staff are not of one mind on all of these issues,” bringing up gay marriage, gay clergy and “the nature of homosexuality”—or in other words, practically everything not mentioned in the ad. In fact, despite a lot of high flown rhetoric, Sojourner’s credentials on gay issues can lean more right than left. For example, Ron Sider, a contributing editor at Sojourner’s magazine, has staked out the dubious position of being a Christian left leader against gay marriage.
As for Believe Out Loud—it’s hardly a fly-by-night outfit that offered to pay for its ad in small, unmarked bills. It’s a project of the four-year-old Intersections International, a New York-based non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to promoting justice, reconciliation and peace. Intersections is a permanent multi-faith, multi-cultural effort of the Collegiate Churches of New York, the oldest corporation in North America, dating back to 1628. Its founding director, Rev. Robert Chase, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and a former communications director in that denomination.
Chase believes ultimately it doesn’t matter what reason Sojourner’s cooked up for turning down the ad. “Their dilemma, apparently, is a ringing testimony for both the urgency and the necessity of this campaign since the issues they confronted are similar to those that face congregational leaders in addressing this concern within their settings,” he notes.
With “Christians” like these, who needs the religious right?
Photo credit: Believe Out Loud