Love Kindness. Do Justice. Change the World ... Right Now!
Love Kindness. Do Justice. Change the World ... Right Now!
By JIM BURKLO
"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."
– Martin Luther King Jr, Letter From A Birmingham Jail, 1963
Jim Wallis, I respect and admire your' work as an evangelical activist for economic justice all these many years. You've taken bold positions for justice that go against the grain of the religious right, time and again.
That's why I'm bewildered by your inconsistency in failing to be forthright about full inclusion and civil rights for LGBT people. One needn't read too far between the lines of what you say to know that in your heart of hearts, you are in favor of LGBT equality and the right to same-sex marriage, and that you have abandoned belief in the biblical strictures against homosexuality. So it's past time for you to tell your truth and take your stand, as you have done on so many other issues.
Your recent statement on the subject is pretty much the same excuse that was used by many liberals back in the early '60s, during the civil rights struggle: we've got to focus on stopping Communism, addressing poverty, and the like – we don't have time for lesser issues like segregation. The answer of the black civil rights activists was this: we've waited 400 years too long! It's no different now for gays and lesbians. Thousands of years of discrimination have been plenty long enough for them to endure. Poverty is still with us after a very long struggle to end it, so that is no excuse for holding back support for marriage equality, ordination, and full inclusion in the church for homosexuals.
Clearly you are trying to play to your base so you can hold together your coalition, but apparently you don't know your base anymore. The wave of the future has already hit the beach among young evangelical Christians. I am a theologically and socially progressive Christian working on a university campus where I have much contact with evangelical students, both straight and LGBT. More and more of them tell me they are done with the head-in-the-sand attitudes of their evangelical elders regarding homosexuality. They are done with focusing on the Bronze Age moral codes in the scripture. They're disgusted by the patronizing "hate the sin, love the sinner" attitude that is projected toward gay and lesbian people in self-styled "emergent" churches today. And instead of dropping out of their churches right away like they used to do, more and more of them now feel empowered to speak out and argue with their pastors first. These young people are fast approaching a critical mass that will overwhelm evangelical Christianity. As long as you keep equivocating on the LGBT issue, you'll be a follower, not a leader, in your own community: not just on this issue, but on all the causes you hold dear.
I don't ask you to change your focus away from economic justice issues. I believe that you will be much more effective in your core agenda if you show that you are a person of courage and integrity. The gay-unfriendly folks in the evangelical world already know you aren't on their side on this subject. Taking a strong public stand for full LGBT inclusion will gain you more allies than you will lose. And you will give voice to the huge groundswell of young evangelicals who are ready for real change in the church, not just on LGBT issues, but on all other social justice issues, as well. Read the new book, American Grace by Robert Putnam and David Campbell. The authors show that the key issue driving young adults away from the church (23 percent unaffiliated, and growing) is not its stands on economic justice, but its discrimination against gay and lesbian people.
People criticized Martin Luther King, Jr. for drifting away from his "core agenda" when he spoke out against the U.S. war in Vietnam. But he knew that injustice done anywhere is injustice suffered by all. The fact that gay and lesbian people are second-class citizens, at best, in evangelical Christianity today is an outrage that weakens the moral influence of evangelicals in the struggle for economic justice.
WWJD, Jim Wallis? You already know the answer. If Jesus walked among us in the flesh today, he'd declare the Bronze Age to be over, he'd declare a New Testament of love with LGBT people, and announce that God made them the way they are and meant them to have the same fulfillment in life that straight people enjoy.
So show some spine, Jim Wallis! You've got it in you! It won't hurt your campaign against poverty and war. It will advance your agenda – our agenda – for real justice, peace, and compassion everywhere.
With prayerful hope,
Reprinted with the author's permission from his blog, Musings. Comment on this article below.
By Frederick Schmidt
Jim Wallis is often galvanizing public opinion, but I am sure that he regrets having done such an effective job of recently. The decision to refuse airtime to an on-line ad from Believe Out Loud advocating a welcoming posture toward LBGT adults and their children has precipitated a firestorm of criticism. And Wallis' effort to explain Sojourners' position has done little more than throw a damp rag on the conflagration.
The debate quickly became more than a debate over inclusion, however. It also became a debate over the viability of "Progressive Christianity" itself. Speaking for many, Jim Naughton, Canon for Communications and Advancement for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington wrote:
I was more or less in favor of the big-tent strategy pursued by progressive religious leaders in Washington in the wake of Barack Obama's election as president. The thinking—as I understood— went that in reaching out to moderate evangelicals on a certain set of issues it might be possible to make legislative progress on behalf of the poor. One upshot of that strategy was that Jim Wallis . . . became the embodiment of the Progressive Christianity in the eyes of the Obama administration and the Washington media . . . So here we sit, us religious lefties, with a movement led by a man who occupies a position to the right of Dick Cheney on LGBT issues. I am assuming people savvier and better connected than I am will understand that this situation is not tenable. The big tent collapsed this weekend, and it was Sojourners who yanked out the tent poles. Someone needs to alert official Washington that Jim Wallis and his minions no longer speak for us—if they ever did.
There is little to be accomplished by adding to the fire. So I won't break into the supply of well-cured wood behind the house. (It has been raining today and it's wet anyway.) But I have found myself wondering why the debate is about political agendas and the way in which the Progressive Christian voice is represented to the White House.
The answer, I think, is this: A debate is never over the issues it should be when the adjectives in a movement's label are more important than the nouns. Put another way: "Progressive" Christians have yet to articulate in theological categories what they believe in, so it is hard to identify what they believe out— except by resorting to political assumptions.
That's a problem for the movement and, if it isn't addressed, it will not last. Why?
Quite simply, the answer is this: If all that Progressive Christianity has going for it is that it is politically progressive, then there is really no reason to wrap churchy language around it. There's a political party for that. It is far better financed and organized. It's a bigger player than the church will ever be. And it doesn't need to worry about how it is represented to the White House. It can occupy it. Put another way: A religious movement shaped by a political agenda will never have significant traction, if it isn't fundamentally religious.
Of course, this is as true of conservative versions of Christianity as it is of progressive versions. And it raises serious questions about the perennial effort to rebrand the faith at all.
But be that as it may, the point is this: No expression of Christianity can give a convincing case for its existence without defining what it means to be a Christian. Without doing that, in fact, every debate like this will be more about politics and policy than about something spiritually definitive.
So, where does the conversation begin? With explicitly religious and spiritual questions, perhaps like these (though there is nothing fixed about the list):
I can't offer the answers to those questions. I am not even sure that it is important to institutionalize the "progressive" brand. Christianity, properly understood, has always struck me as a pretty progressive thing anyway and the noun has had more staying power than any of the adjectives. But in the absence of a conversation shaped by questions about the meaning and nature of our faith we will inevitably find ourselves talking about politics, the White House, and "wedge issues."
To "believe out" the church needs to know what it "believes in."
Reprinted with the author's permission from his weekly column, "The Spiritual Landscape,"published on Patheos.com.
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