Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Social justice, but not for everyone

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
--Martin Luther King, Jr.

Does this video look controversial to you?

An organization called Intersections International created this video and asked to place it as a paid ad on the Sojourners Web site. Sojourners is a "progressive Christian social justice organization," founded by Jim Wallis, author of God's Politics, frequent commenter on the Huffington Post, and spiritual advisor to President Obama. The organization has done wonderful work on behalf of health care reform, immigration issues, climate change, the war in Afghanistan, countering religious extremist, and combatting poverty, racism, and human trafficking. This is the organization's stated mission (on its Web site):
Our mission is to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.
However, this call to social justice and transformation does not include standing up to those who seek to exclude gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals in the church. Sojourners refused to accept this video, claiming that it did not fit with its mission and that it did not want to cause a controversy. Well, that's pretty humorous...because what a controversy it has created.

The Huffington Post and others in the blogosphere caught wind of this issue, and the shit has hit the fan. I first heard about this issue from John Shore, who is the real deal as far as progressive Christianity goes.

Jim Wallis responded to his critics in this "Statement on Sojourners' Mission and LGBTQ Issues," claiming that he and Sojourners encourage "churches to be welcoming of all people, regardless of race or ethnicity, gender, age, disabilities, religious background or denomination, or sexual orientation." He also said "Every Christian, no matter what their theological views, should be standing between Matthew Shepherd and his attackers.” However, "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."

What is the most galling about this statement of Sojourners (and yes, it's a statement even though that was exactly what they did not intend to do) is that the video is so innocuous. It's not asking evangelical Christians (some of Wallis' followers) to embrace gay marriage or gay clergy. It's not asking them to endorse homosexuality. All it's doing is encouraging Christians to "stand between Matthew Shepard and his attackers" by being loving and welcoming. Period.

As one of the commentors on the Sojourners blog said, "I am not an "issue"; I am a human, a Christian, and a believer that the validity of human rights and dignity ought not depend on reaching some mythical state in which there is no controversy. The courage that underlies social justice movements is the willingness to do the right thing even when it is not universally popular." How is this refusal to run an ad about welcoming all people into church any different from refusing to stand up to racism and slavery, or the persecution of the Jews during World War II?

As another commentor wrote, "How many more gay people does God have to create before Christians start paying attention?"

John Shore shares his own insightful thoughts on his excellent blog post titled, "Mr. Wallis and His Big Gay Waffle." (I am completely in love with that title!!) I encourage you to read it--the man is a brilliant writer and advocate for social justice and a compassionate Christianity.

I started with Martin Luther King Jr. on social justice, and I'll end with his wife Coretta:

"For many years now, I have been an outspoken supporter of civil and human rights for gay and lesbian people, Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Ga. and St. Augustine, Fla., and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions. We have a lot more work to do in our common struggle against bigotry and discrimination. I say 'common struggle' because I believe very strongly that all forms of bigotry and discrimination are equally wrong and should be opposed by right-thinking Americans everywhere. Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy, as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender, or ethnic discrimination."
-- Coretta Scott King


  1. "All it takes for evil to thrive is for good ment to stand by and do nothing."

    Love this post. The church's systemic oppression of gay people is what led Jason and I to leave our old church and come to MOTA. We always asked ourselves, "What if our child is gay? What does it say to him to be raised in a faith community that at its worst has persecuted homosexuals and at its best claims to "tolerate" them?" I don't want my child "tolerated" - I want him embraced, loved and cherished, regardless of sexual orientation. That is one reason I love MOTA. Noah will be loved no matter what!

    Side note since you quoted the Kings: Our good friend is Coretta Scott King's godson! We are hoping to meet some of the King family at his wedding in Hawaii this summer! Fingers crossed :)

  2. Absolutely! I agree completely. The MoTA welcoming vote was long in coming, and it was frustrating at times hearing the (minority of, but still) arguments of people opposed to it. I do not believe in a God who would cast out people. All should be welcome and loved fully for who they are.

    That is wonderful about your King connection. I would love to have some sort of connection that family.