Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sojourners and the Missing Video

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Jeremiah 31:31, 33-34

The Evangelical social justice movement, website and magazine, “Sojourners,” refused to run an ad from an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) advocacy group called “Believe Out Loud.” The video in question does not advocate for gay marriage or ordination, but only for inclusion in the church. It pictures two moms and their young son going into a church where they encounter many uncomfortable silent stares until the pastor speaks and welcomes them. The message says, “Open Your Heart . . . Break the Silence.” As a footnote, the ad was funded by the Collegiate Church of New York City, known to some of us as the preaching home of Norman Vincent Peale.

The ad is innocuous, but Sojourners declared that this was an issue on which they would not “take sides.” The obvious question would be how there can possibly be “sides” to welcoming people to worship. But they know, and we know, that the goal is not just to have everyone feel welcome at Sunday morning worship.

Sojourners sees itself as a broadly based evangelical coalition focused largely on issues of economic justice. They have spoken out prophetically against racism and war, and over the years they have been remarkably faithful to the biblical witness. Their coalition is built across the political and denominational spectrum. They have made an important witness.

In rejecting the ad, Sojourners explained that if they were to take sides on this issue, they would jeopardize their coalition on the broader issues of social justice. It’s not about prejudice, said Sojourners leader Jim Wallis, it’s about priorities.

As the country song says, “the secret of life is . . . keep your eye on the ball.”

As the great preacher Henry Hitt Crane said long ago, “Don’t major in the minors.”

That’s all good as far as it goes (and I am not going to criticize either Henry Hitt Crane or Gretchen Wilson) but haven’t we heard that before? Like about half a century ago, when the issue was segregation?

When I have testified at the State House in favor of gay marriage, opponents have consistently insisted that gay rights are not the same as civil rights. And they insist that Martin Luther King would never have supported gay marriage. But as James Russell Lowell wrote in that wonderful old hymn, “new occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth.”

I never met Martin Luther King, but I knew two of his teachers very well. And I know that Paul Deats and Walter Muelder spent their final years advocating for gay rights.

Jim Wallis and the folks at Sojourners need to decide whether their goal is to maintain a political coalition, or to witness for the gospel. Sometimes you can’t do both.

I’m reminded of a Bob Dylan song:

Well, I rapped upon a house
With the U.S. flag upon display
I said, “Could you help me out
I got some friends down the way”
The man says, “Get out of here
I’ll tear you limb from limb”
I said, “You know they refused Jesus, too”
He said, “You’re not Him

1 comment:

  1. I am also surprised about this. I know of Jim Wallis & Sojourners and generally think highly of them. To me, it does not fit their "profile" but perhaps I am wrong. My prior church, The UMC of Babylon, put together a committee to study whether to become a reconciling church. The effort was shelved. I believe, had the Babylon church gone this way it would have had an exodus of several prominent members. This even though several openly gay partners were VERY active members of the congregation.

    Al Meyer