I recently went to hear Jim Wallis speak near Minneapolis. I went because I had a question I wanted to ask him and because I wanted to see if my annoyance with him is more than me just being cranky. He was pimping the paperback version of his most recent book so I thought I would go. He talked for a long time and was “funny” and “charming” and didn’t really say any thing I haven’t heard from him before in radio interviews or writings for Sojourners. I haven’t even read his book and I’m tired of it.
I have been somewhat aware of Jim Wallis and Sojourners for about five or six years now. That was about when my sister became an intern for them. Since then, I have tried to keep up with what Wallis and Sojourners are talking and writing about. I’ve appreciated the peacey social justice message and I’m concerned about the things that show up in Sojourners – for instance: faith, politics, and culture – all interesting to me. And they even take a slant I would generally agree with. I’ve begun to get weary of it though, especially Wallis. He has begun to sound like a broken record as he sticks awfully close to talking points most of the time. (following is an excerpt from a comment I posted on his blog that explains my major beef with him – yeah, I’m starting to sound like a broken record now too)
I’d like to comment on Wallis’ very (very) disciplined talking points. I often read Wallis stating something along the lines of “conservative Christians care only about the wedge issues of abortion and gay marriage and we (progressive evangelical Christians) are more about social justice issues of peace and poverty and …” I think this is a bit of a cop-out so that Wallis can avoid talking too much about divisive things like gay marriage and other issues of justice for the lgbtq community. I wonder if Wallis avoids this because he is afraid that if he was too clear on his thoughts, he might find he has alienated half of his constituency? Instead, by remaining largely silent and avoiding clarity, he allows all parts of his constituency to assume he is in line with them. The more liberal see him as “progressive” and therefore can assume he is for justice for lgbts while to the less liberal he is “evangelical” and therefore can assume he thinks gay marriage is immoral. By being both “progressive” and “evangelical” he can be all things to all people and while taking a weak stand either way and keeping the support of all. Is this a position of leadership and integrity?
I wonder if it is possible for us to have a clear, engaging and respectful discussion on lgbt issues while still working together on other important issues like peace, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and issues that are important to us all even when we don’t agree on homosexuality. I’d love to have some more clarity from such a leader as Wallis rather than just talking points that avoid uncomfortable subjects.
I guess what really gets me is that it feels to me like he is speaking feel-good progressive fluff most of the time but doesn’t seem to want to touch one issue that gets my blood pumping. (maybe I’m whiney and selfish and want to hear about the things that are really important to me but it seems like he purposefully leaves this out of the discussion most of the time).
So…I went to his speech so I could ask him about this. I dutifully wrote my question down on the paper provided and when he was done speaking, I handed it to the usher. They then asked about three questions that other people had written down which he long-windedly answered and it was over. I got up and left with everyone else.