It’s fairly unusual to see open controversies between progressive, social justice-oriented Christian organizations and gay rights advocacy groups, but a conflict over a Mother’s Day ad made waves when Sojourners International, a Christian media organization, refused to run the ad on their website.
The advertisement, shown below, was created by an interfaith coalition, and was designed to “help bring recognition to the critical dialogue that needs to happen within the church among congregants and clergy.” The leaders of Sojourners, including its president, the Rev. Jim Wallis, have spoken out on behalf of gay rights, but they still refused to run the ad.
The director of communications for Intersections International, Joseph Ward, wrote that “our request was ultimately rejected because its message of inclusivity was viewed as too controversial to the publication whose audience is not of ‘one mind’ on this issue.” He added, rather pointedly, that Intersections International’s audience is rarely of “one mind” on issues either.
“I can’t imagine Sojourners turning down an ad that called for welcome of poor children into our churches. So why is this boy different?” the Rev. Robert Chase, director of Intersections International, asked in a column last week.
In a puzzling press release, Jim Wallis said that LGBT issues have not been at the “core of [Sojourners International's] calling, which is much more focused on matters of poverty, racial justice, stewardship of the creation, and the defense of life and peace.” To say that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation does not fit into this laundry-list of social justice causes is disturbing, to say the least. What kind of message is this progressive Christian organization sending, by saying that dialogue-building around sexual orientation is not about “the defense of life and peace?”
The good thing is, as Ward pointed out, that the controversy has pointed a large number of people to the “Believe Out Loud” campaign. But I have to say, as a progressive activist who is committed to bringing the causes I’m passionate about into dialogue with Christianity, it’s disappointing to see organizations like Sojourners International reacting in this way. It’s one thing to try to make sure that social justice concerns reflect the views of most members — but for an organization that says that it does not want to “silence voices,” this seems like a strange and disturbing decision. Although Sojourners has said that it doesn’t want to “take sides,” sometimes refusing to align is, tacitly, making a statement about an issue that, through its silence, rings out loud and clear.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.