Have you heard about the flack Sojourners is taking over rejecting an ad from Believe Out Loud? Jim Wallis is the famous figure behind Sojourners, the leading progressive Christian political advocacy group. I don’t want to spend loads of time giving the back story on Jim Wallis on Sojourners, or even Believe Out Loud. You can find more information in this article by David Sessions. I’ll just say that Believe Out Loud advocates full inclusion of the GBLT community in Protestant churches. Although it’s not explicitly stated on their website, I’m going to speculate that BOL is largely directed at mainline churches.
Sojourners declined to run a one-minute BOL video on their website, and now Wallis is under fire. Here’s an excerpt from an article run at Religion Dispatches, written by Rev. Robert Chase.
So, you can imagine our dismay when Sojourners refused to run our ads. In a written statement, Sojourners said, “I’m afraid we’ll have to decline. Sojourners position is to avoid taking sides on this issue. In that care [sic], the decision to accept advertising may give the appearance of taking sides.
I called the folks at Sojourners and asked what the problem was, what the “sides” in question might be. The first response was that Sojourners has not taken a stance on gay marriage (the ad is not about gay marriage); or on ordination of homosexuals (the ad is about welcome, not ordination); that the decision, made by “the folks in executive” (why such a high level decision?) was made quickly because of the Mother’s Day deadline. The rationale kept shifting. The reasoning made no sense.
My first reaction to this is that running an ad for an organization that supports gay marriage or the ordination of homosexuals will seem like tacit support of those positions, even if the ad in question doesn’t mention those issues. If the folks at BOL want to go after Sojourners for refusing to take an affirmative position on those issues, go for it. But it’s disingenuous to suggest that Sojourners could run a BOL ad at their website without seeming to support BOL’s package of issues.
Okay, that was my first reaction. And then I watched the ad. I agree with the spokespersons from BOL on this: there is nothing advocated in the ad which should be objectionable to any follower of Jesus. The video advocates welcoming visitors to your church, even if the visitors happen to be a gay couple and their child. Right on. I am definitely pro-that. And yet, I really dislike the ad. Watch it, so that I can explain why. I’ll wait.
Done watching it? Looks like a mainline church, right? And that makes sense, since the campaign is directed at mainline Protestant churches. But where is this strange and primitive community in the U.S. wherein the entrance of two women and a child to a mainline church causes a full blown freakout? People are staring and whispering, children are pointing, a woman blocks the seat next to her so that the visitors won’t sit in her pew. Really? Help me out, mainline friends. Would that happen at your church? In fact, I’ll open the question to evangelicals and Catholics, too. Would that be the reaction to this family in your church?
I’m a member of the Church of the Nazarene: Wesleyan, evangelical, theologically conservative but not fundamentalist. And I would be willing to bet my last dollar (which, at this point in the week, is what I’m usually down to) that if those women entered my church they would be warmly welcomed. We’d probably be slow to pick up on the gayness, honestly. Couldn’t they be friends, sisters, cousins, neighbors? Where is the dead giveaway in this video? We have to be careful with assumptions in the church. My poor husband once warmly greeted a new family and asked each of the three young ladies what grade they were in so that he could direct them to Sunday school. Alas for him, young lady number three was the very youthful stepmother. It was an awkward moment. But even if our congregation recognized (correctly) that this couple was gay, I think the vast majority of people would keep their cool.
But back to the video. I think if you want to encourage people to be warm and welcoming, you should not begin by insulting them. And this video insults mainline Christians by implying that they will react like cartoon villains when confronted with homosexuals. I thought, watching the video, that if the creators were going to have everyone behave cartoonishly, they should have just gone ahead and made a cartoon. Then they could have someone’s eyes pop out, and someone else’s jaw could hit the floor with a clang, and maybe someone’s head could even turn into a teapot or a steam whistle.
Do the folks at BOL naively think that most Christians don’t know anyone in the GBLT community? News alert: most of us do. We have coworkers, family members and friends who are gay. Whatever our politics, whatever our position on gay marriage or gay clergy, we have learned how to navigate family dinners and class reunions and business trips and college dorms. In fact, not only do we know some gay people, many of us love some gay people!
Or do you suppose, BOL, that for Christians the church is our sanctuary from the world, the last place we expect to encounter “sinners”. Can I give you another news alert? This Sunday the sanctuary of my church will house addicts and adulterers and cheats and gossips and fools. And I’ll be one of them. In worship we draw near a perfect God, not perfect people.
Can I guarantee the welcoming behavior of everyone in my church – or any other church? No, of course not. Among all the other sinners in any given congregation, there’s probably someone who still gets the heeby-jeebies at the mere site of a gay couple. Is that a reason to broad brush all Christians, the way the BOL video seems to do? Have ugly stereotypes really served the GBLT community well in the past?
Now, in our imagined scenario, after we welcome the gay couple to our service and their child has a blast in children’s church, and maybe they even join a bunch of us at Carisillo’s for lunch -after all that, it may turn out that they find our denomination’s stance on homosexuality to be alienating. They may decide that the handshakes and the smiles aren’t welcome enough. I would understand that. At least that would be real people sadly divided by a real, complicated issue. BOL’s video doesn’t give us that. It gives us cartoon Christian bigots who are worried about catching gay cooties. I think better of most people, mainline Protestants and otherwise.
(But maybe I’m wrong. I’d love to hear from some of you on this subject – either from experience, or from speculation. How would your church welcome this family?)