[Update: For a list of responses to frequently asked questions regarding the Believe Out Loud advertisements, please click here.]
Some controversy has arisen about an ad campaign that a new coalition wanted to run in Sojourners on the issue of the LGBTQ community and the church. We chose not to run the ad as this is an issue we want to openly discuss on and through our editorial pages and not through our ad space. Like the larger church, Sojourners' constituency, board, and staff are not of one mind on all of these issues. However, we at Sojourners seek to foster honest, fair, and loving dialogue among Christians. LGBTQ issues may not be our primary calling as our work against poverty and hunger, and for peace, but based on some reactions to our decision, I want to use this as an opportunity to clarify the positions and practices of Sojourners on this important discussion on the life of the church in the early 21st century:
- Sojourners has consistently taken a social justice position on behalf of civil rights for gay and lesbian people. Just recently, I wrote on the issue of gay bullying in a blog that got a lot of attention and positive feedback. And we have spoken on this issue, making a particular point of doing so in conservative evangelical schools and venues. Our message has always been that no matter what your theological perspective or biblical interpretation on the issue of homosexuality, every Christian has the obligation to defend the lives, dignity, and civil rights of gay and lesbian people. I have often said, "Every Christian, no matter what their theological views, should be standing between Mathew Shepherd and his attackers." And we have often challenged some on the Christian Right for using gay people as a scapegoat for their fundraising activities.
- Sojourners has also encouraged churches to be welcoming of all people, regardless of race or ethnicity, gender, age, disabilities, religious background or denomination, or sexual orientation. We have been accepting and welcoming of gay staff here at Sojourners for many years. And I have discussed this issue with many pastors and heads of church denominations, encouraging them to be welcoming of all people. We have said that the most important message we have to offer is the love of Jesus. Clearly, many gay and lesbian people have not felt loved by the church and, indeed, have often been mistreated. We believe such abusive treatment saddens the heart of God and is not what Jesus would have us do. So at an even deeper level of "welcoming" and "affirming," which have become such code words for competing positions, we believe Jesus would have us be "loving" first and foremost.
- We have also suggested that the major differences of theology and biblical interpretation in the church with regard to issues such as the nature of homosexuality, gay marriage, and ordination are not issues that should be allowed to divide the churches -- that local churches should lead the way here, and that an honest, open, respectful, and, hopefully, loving dialogue should characterize the church on these very controversial questions.
- But these debates have not been at the core of our calling, which is much more focused on matters of poverty, racial justice, stewardship of the creation, and the defense of life and peace. These have been our core mission concerns, and we try to unite diverse Christian constituencies around them, while encouraging deep dialogue on other matters which often divide. Essential to our mission is the calling together of broad groups of Christians, who might disagree on issues of sexuality, to still work together on how to reduce poverty, end wars, and mobilize around other issues of social justice.
- Given the time Sojourners is now spending on critical issues like the imperative of a moral budget, the urgent need to end the war in Afghanistan, and the leadership we are offering on commitments like immigration reform, we chose not to become involved in the controversy that such a major ad campaign could entail, and the time it could require of us. Instead, we have taken this opportunity to affirm our commitment to civil rights for gay and lesbian people, and to the call of churches to be loving and welcoming to all people, and promote good and healthy dialogue.
- It is our hope that differing viewpoints are not silenced, but are lifted up in a display of Christian, and often interfaith, sisterhood and brotherhood. It is for this reason that we wish to engage first and foremost in dialogue on difficult issues within our editorial pages, and we typically do not display advertising relating to issues amongst people of faith that have unfortunately, and too often, been reduced to political wedge issues. At Sojourners we always try to ask what would Jesus do and will continue do so with these issues as well.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.