© 2011 John Casimir O'Keefe

to sojourn alone

I am but a single, small, voice in the conversation and I have to say, I am very disappointed on Sojourners’ (Sojo) stand on an ad in support of inclusion in our communities of faith. Recently, Sojourners’ received a request to run some ads on their website. Their rejection of the ads, and Jim Willis’ (Jim) posts in response to why they rejected the ad, seems, at best, a grasp of straws. I have to say, I completely disagree with Jim and his stance to reject the ads. Before I share with you my views of their reasons, let me say this, I have always been a big support of Sojo, and of Jim.  I think his voice is a key voice when it comes to injustice, poverty and other issues. I usually find that I agree with him, but not in this case. I believe Sojo lost the opportunity to bring together differing voices, and to be part of the solution. Their rejection of the ad shows the deeper issues surrounding the LGBTQ issue.

The ad in question was not an “In Your Face Ad” designed to cause controversy. It was a simple ad showing a family being welcomed into a church pew – nothing out of the ordinary, or controversial. It is actually a very pleasant ad. In Jim’s replay he said, “Like the larger church, Sojourners’ constituency, board, and staff are not of one mind on all of these issues.” Jim also wrote, “LGBTQ issues may not be our primary calling as our work against poverty and hunger, and for peace, but based on some reactions to our decision, I want to use this as an opportunity to clarify the positions and practices of Sojourners on this important discussion on the life of the Church in the early 21st-century.” But maybe we should find a way to become one, and the only way to do this is to address the issue head on. To do that, please allow me to address Jim’s points, one at a time, and how I see each point.

Point One: Sojourners has consistently taken a social justice position on behalf of civil rights for gay and lesbian people.

I think the word “consistently” seems out of place. If that is the case, accepting the ads would not be against the “primary calling” of Sojo. If there is a consistency in how Sojo faces the issue of the Church and the LGBTQ community, they should take the ads.  Jim wrote, “Our message has always been that no matter what your theological perspective or biblical interpretation on the issue of homosexuality, every Christian has the obligation to defend the lives, dignity, and civil rights of gay and lesbian people.” If this is the case, placing the ad on Sojo would not cause an issue. It seems out of “consistently” to me to say those words, at the same time you are explaining why you are not being consistent.

Point Two: Sojourners has also encouraged churches to be welcoming of all people, regardless of race or ethnicity, gender, age, disabilities, religious background or denomination, or sexual orientation.

Speaking words must be followed by action. Words without action are dead. Jim states that Sojo has been a place that has accepted “gay staff” and I have no reason to doubt him. But, while that is a step it is a very small step. Hiring “gay staff” can simply be seen as the first step in a long journey, a journey we take together even for a short time. Saying that you encourage churches to being a welcoming and affirming community of faith is great, but now is the time to back-up the words with actions, and taking the ads would have been another step. The idea of welcoming and affirming has less to do with the church being comfortable and more with the idea that a loving God would reject no one from the table. Those are not “buzzwords” used to create division, and many do not see them as such. At some core level, Sojo is closing the table by not allowing the ads.

Point Three: We have also suggested that the major differences of theology and biblical interpretation in the church with regard to issues such as the nature of homosexuality, gay marriage, and ordination are not issues that should be allowed to divide the churches.

Whether they are “allowed” to or not, your rejection of the ads has invited those who disagree to make a stance. Jim continues to say, “[T]hat local churches should lead the way here, and that an honest, open, respectful and, hopefully loving dialogue should characterize the church on these very controversial questions.” We could say the exact same thing about poverty and other forms of social injustice, that the local church should be the place where those issues are faced – and at that point Sojo becomes mute. Bu the problem is, the local church will not take those steps unless voices from outside the church stand-up for the rights of the LGBTQ community – it can only happen when the collective voices join in and stand united that any movement in the local church can happen. This could have been an opportunity for Sojo to become a voice in that conversation.

We also need to take into account that the ad had nothing to do with the ordination, or marriage, of LGBTQ peoples. It simply centered in inclusion – and if I am not mistaken, that is a social justice issue.

Point Four: But these debates have not been at the core of our calling; which is much more focused on matters of poverty, racial justice, stewardship of the creation, and the defense of life and peace.

This point confuses me greatly, mainly because it seems to contradict what was said in point one. My confusion continues as Jim says, “Essential to our mission is the calling together of broad groups of Christians, who might disagree on issues of sexuality, to still work together on how reduce poverty, end wars, and mobilize around other issues of social justice.” If the goal of Sojo is to mobilize around other issues of social justice I would think that includes the issues of social justice that surround the LGBTQ community.

Point Five: Given the time Sojourners is now spending on critical issues like the imperative of a moral budget, the urgent need to end the war in Afghanistan, and the leadership we are offering on commitments like immigration reform, 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.

When did Sojo ever stand on any issue alone? Sojo faces each issue with a band of supporters and voices that are willing to back them up and add their voice to the collective.  Let’s be honest, how much time will it take from Sojo? You run the ad, get some complaints, stand your ground and continue on doing what you do. There is not much time involved in defending your views. The funny thing about it is I bet you are spending as much time defending your reasons not to run the ads, as you would be defending the ads. This almost sounds like “We fear losing funding from some of the sources” more than it sounds like, “We do not have the time.”

It seems weird that you would take “this opportunity to affirm our commitment to civil rights for gay and lesbian people,” while rejecting an ad that adds to their voice.

Point Six:It is our hope that differing viewpoints are not silenced, but are lifted up in a display of Christian, and often interfaith, sisterhood and brotherhood.”

In what way? How can one claim their hope that voices not be silenced, when you silence the voice? To view the position of the LGBTQ to a political stance belittles the reality that it is not political, it is spiritual – it is placing all beloved, God-breathed people of God on the same playing field. When we take the issues of the LGBTQ community and make them political, we remove the spiritual reality we are to live under in Christ. This is not an editorial issue – it is a spiritual issue of justice in God’s Kingdom.



The response to Jim’s posting on Sojo has caused many people to question the motives behind refusing the ads. Some have questioned if Sojo is concerned about losing other ads, or if they are simply missing the big picture. I believe they are refusing the ad because they fear losing funding. Sojo’s lack of stance on taking the ad has brought to light a rather large blind spot in their understanding of social justice. They are striving to walk along the fence line without picking a side.


  1. Erik Turnberg
    Posted 2011/05/09 at 11:17 pm | #

    Thanks for posting. My heart is with you strongly on all of this. I’m so tired of “progressive” Christians leaving the LGBT community to bare the weight of the struggle alone whenever it is not convenient. I have a particularly hard time when this is clothed in a message of unity, as if to seem righteous.

  2. KM
    Posted 2011/05/10 at 8:37 pm | #

    John, I was looking at your responses to the Sojourner statements about “civil rights” and wonder if you see civil rights and ecclesiastic norms as being part of the same bundle whereas some of the Sojourner board might dissociate the two categories.

    There are many people for whom it’s justifiable to affirm equal secular rights for all but not justifiable to offer the same level ground within the context of the church. That dissociation doesn’t wash with me but it has recurred enough in my conversations with fundamentalists for me to start acknowledging it.

  3. john o'keefe
    Posted 2011/05/10 at 8:49 pm | #

    km –

    good point. maybe not, but i also believe that “ecclesiastic norms” need to be changed 🙂

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