Unpacking The Sojourners Snafu

After the book God's Politics became a best-seller in 2004, the accompanying website launched two years later became the "go to" place for conversations that tried to broaden the definition of what it meant to be a follower of Christ.

When I published my first book in 2006, I welcomed the opportunity to blog for such an active site.  My focus was on deconstructing the Bush administration while highlighting a growing movement of progressive Christians. I found I had more or less free reign to pursue most topics that interested me as long as I stayed clear of postings focusing on abortion and LGBT rights.

These two "wedge issues" were seen as dividing the progressive community and any commentary on this topic would come from Wallis or one of the other male elders.

In 2009, I accepted Sojourners offer to make me a contributing editor despite their history with these aforementioned issues. I hoped I could use whatever influence I had to shift the discussion toward including women and LGBT people into the social justice mix.

After repeated requests to let me say “something” about the anti-gay measures going on in Uganda, I was able to blog about the Family's role with the C Street scandal provided I didn't delve into their role in hosting the National Prayer Breakfast or influencing the kill the gays bill in Uganda. Eventually, I was permitted to slip in a few lines into a blog posting regarding my decision to march in the 2010 NYC Pride Parade to show my support for those Ugandans who were being killed for trying to live their lives just as they are—children of God created in Her image.

But as the 2010 mid-term elections neared, the blog became increasingly on message with postings targeted to their latest fundraising efforts such as the distribution of WWJC (What Would Jesus Cut?) bracelets. Still, I kept hearing privately about people connected with Sojourners who claimed to be pro-gay.So I held out hope that perhaps the tide might be shifting here especially after Gallup released a poll in 2011 noting that for the first time in Gallup's tracking of same sex marriage, the majority of Americans (53%) favor this measure.

Along those lines, in 2010, I embarked on a year-long cross country pilgrimage where I interviewed radically affirming Episcopal communities for a book with Church Publishing. In compiling these stories, I observed that almost all of these churches included LGBT folks in every aspect of the church.

Therefore, I was shocked when in May 2011 Sojourners' rejected an LGBT welcome ad from the Believe Out Loud campaign.

Then again, as of the writing of this posting none of those listed on Tony Campolo's Red Letter Christians page have spoken out against Campolo's comparison of the Red Letter Christians to the theology behind the Family even though this site lists leaders who claim to be pro-gay. I remain skeptical yet hopeful that at least a few of those listed on this website will risk their place of power as "Red Letter Christians" and speak out against a comparison to the actual words of Christ.

I've concluded the time had come for Christians progressives to pick a lane—either stand in solidarity with the growing number of inclusive denominations that strive to grant LGBT folks equal access to the same rights and rites, or continue with this line of evangelical thinking that privileges white straight males.

In this context, progressive evangelicals might do ministry "to" a marginalized community by say following Sojourners' lead in accepting an ad for LGBT homeless shelter. But they tend to follow New Monastic icon Shane Claiborne lead by noting this isn't an issue they're prepared “to die on a hill for.”

As I reported on the Ship of Fools website yes, some shifting has transpired in the past 20 years. But the evangelical world continues to lag way behind not only their mainline brethren but the secular culture at large when it comes to welcoming LGBT people and advocating for their rights as part of our shared humanity as global citizens on this planet.  The ambivalence regarding the Wild Goose Festival demonstrates how progressive evangelicals remain conflicted when it comes to fully affirming those they perceive to be "the other." (See here and here).

Still, I chose to remain on the masthead in the hopes that this “evangelical great gay awakening” promoted by Sojourners might become more of a reality. Would those who spoke out privately or semi-publicly via Facebook on this topic come forth and push for a greater inclusion of LGBT issues on the blog and in the magazine? Will progressive author/speakers risk losing book deals and speaking gigs in order to stand with those who have been marginalized by some really bad evangelical theology? Can Sojourners stop playing partisan politics and return to the prophetic roots that attracted so many people to their original vision?

These questions remain unanswered, at least for now. Sometime between the end of August and mid-September, my name was removed from the masthead as a Contributing Editor. I don't know the exact date because I never received any communique from Sojourners regarding this decision. Given Sojourners never posted about the closing of abortion clinics, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell or the recent murder of three Iranian men for having gay sex, I think one can safely assume that despite claims to the contrary, God’s Politics is not fast becoming a go-to place for faith-and-politics content.

Given these developments in evangelical/emergent progressive circles, I decided to coin the term "traditionalists progressive" to distinguish progressive evangelicals 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.

Post new comment