Wednesday, May 11, 2011

More on the Sojourners Story

Newsweek's "The Daily Beast" ran this story yesterday about the Sojourners Mother's Day ad controversy ... honored to be quoted along with Jim Naughton, Serene Jones and Integrity E.D. Max Niedzwiecki:
Jim Naughton, who was involved in the Washington diocese of the Episcopal church and now operates a small communications firm, said people inviting Wallis to policy briefings and White House meetings should realize that he "is far to the right of the people he's allowed to speak for." And now, when liberal Christians "are making progress by the second," he added, is a particularly bad time to hedge on the church's welcome of gays and lesbians.

Rev. Canon Susan Russell, an Episcopal minister and activist in Pasadena, California, said she considers Wallis an ally in opposing war and reforming immigration policy but that she believes the issue is a crucial one for his organization. "More disappointing to me was the statement from Wallis, who has stepped up many times for civil rights of LGBT people," Russell said. "The issue in the ad was, 'Is there room for a family in church on Mother's Day?' If [Sojourners] doesn't have a position on that, they need to re-evaluate."

Max Niedzwiecki, executive director of Integrity USA, a group that promotes LGBT inclusion in the Episcopal church, said his organization would "keep holding Sojourners' feet to the fire."Whether liberal Christian groups will reconsider their partnership with Wallis is unclear. Daniel Schultz said the ad flap would probably have an effect at the individual level, prompting progressive Christians to think twice before giving Sojourners their money. The organization's magazine is aimed at an evangelical audience, but Schultz said he knows many mainline Protestants—generally more gay-inclusive than evangelicals—who subscribe. The magazine, he said, also depends heavily on seminaries for advertising, and seminaries tend to be the most gay-friendly Christian institutions. The ad kerfuffle could have repercussions in those circles, where Sojourners has been viewed as a lone ally in the conflict with the religious right.

That alliance is likely strong enough to withstand this controversy, especially on the vast number of issues where Wallis and his more progressive allies agree. Most of the Christian leaders I spoke with expressed more disappointment than outrage and were hopeful that Wallis would eventually take stronger stands on gay rights. "Wallis has been so fantastic on issues of poverty and war, and any time we get a strong voice on that is to be applauded to the high heavens," said Dr. Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary. "But he has such dominance over the vast number of progressive Christians who have more developed positions on these issues, and they are not being represented."

"I know there are people in Sojourners' organization and on its board who think it's time for them to be more brave," Russell said. "Maybe this is the moment for that."
So there you have it. Let's not throw any babies out with any bathwater ... Jim Wallis and Sojourners have done amazing work challenging Christians to speak up and act up on issues of peace, poverty, education and other critical justice issues.

And ...

Sojourners has given the Believe Out Loud folks the best possible example of why their campaign is so desperately necessary. By not taking a "position" on LGBT equality Sojourners has taken a position. It is a position on the wrong side of both history and the Gospel -- and it is a position that friends of Sojo need to keep urging Wallis to "recalculate." It's never too late to do the right thing.


susankay said...

How can you be only selectively in favor of social justice?

Patricia Brush said...

The Anglican Church of Canada has been doing a series of Justice Camps, each one on a different aspect of justice. In 2006, the camp was in Ottawa. I was on the planning team and we chose to focus on Advocacy. Campers were taught how to do advocacy through learning how it works in one justice issue. There were 7 issues to choose from. I chose to do Aboriginal Justice as my wife is Algonquin. When we would reconvene over supper and share stories of what we had learned that day, there was one couple, who were reknowned in the Ottawa area for their justice work, who refused to accept any information that the Aboriginal Justice campers brought. They thought that the Indians got what they deserved and that we were learning a pack of lies. It brought into very clear focus how a person can be very strong in one justice area and blind to the next.