feel-good progressive evangelical leader getting old

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.

Comments (4)

  1. Becky Bible

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I saw you had a letter to the editor in Sojourner’s this month and I thought you were right on, they are ignoring the gay issue completely.

  2. Pthunk

    I think you’re missing the point of what Wallis is trying to do.

    He’s not trying to be left-wing here, he’s specifically defining himself as trying to straddle the middle. That would mean he’s not defining a strong left-wing position of support for a homosexual lifestyle- he is criticizing those on the right who are specifically anti-homosexual. The moderate position would neither strongly support nor strongly criticize homosexuality.

    To say that one must choose between either firm support for or firm support against, is to say that there can’t be real nuancing in the positions we choose. Americans tend to end up in polarized camps – you may not agree with it, but it sounds to me like Wallis is being consistent with the posiion he’s staked out.

  3. Katie (Post author)

    Ahh, the middle. You are correct, he is trying to straddle the middle, that is my critique. The problem is that while he is straddling the middle so as not to be polarizing, I just hear a lot of silence. Because he gets to get married, he gets respect, he doesn’t worry if some “moral Christian” is going to kick his ass on the way home if he looks “too queer.”

    I like a lot of things Wallis says, he want Christians to work to end poverty, and violence, and against racism and HIV/AIDS. He says that Jesus had a lot to say about social justice. I say, “Amen, you are right brother.” But he is nearly silent when it is so called “Christians” that are bashing queer folk, I have a hard time hearing all that other good stuff. So, yeah, he isn’t “anti-homosexual.” Good for him but I don’t hear much of a critique of that from him.

    I don’t think I’m missing the point, I think I get it just fine, thank you, I just think he is wrong.

    Two quotes from Dr. King come to mind for me:
    “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” and “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.” – MLK Jr.

    Also, I’m very curious about this “homosexual lifestyle” you mention. What does that mean? Is it like the “heterosexual lifestyle?” Because I’m not so sure I’m in support of the “heterosexual lifestyle,” what with all the adultery, domestic violence, and obsession with sex. I really would love to hear more about this “homosexual lifestyle” from someone who seems to know all about it. Do tell.

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