No room in the tent

Once again…“interfaith” understanding runs afoul of other values, and loses.

As a committed Christian and a queer atheist who both work to advance interfaith and intercultural understanding, we’ve watched with heavy hearts as Sojourners and its evangelical founder Jim Wallis have been taken to task in the blogosphere this week for declining to run an advertisement sponsored by Believe Out Loud, an organization committed to full LGBTQ equality in Christian churches. The overwhelming reaction so far has mostly consisted of resounding condemnation, including from many people we both know and deeply respect.

That’s been my reaction, certainly. It’s a no-brainer. The issue at stake is: is it ok for religious people to shun people who want to attend their church, solely because the people in question are two women and their little boy? The answer seems pretty obvious: no. It’s not ok to shun people who are not, say, war criminals or mass murderers. It’s not “controversial” to say you shouldn’t shun people for being gay and that you should welcome them instead. Sojourner doesn’t agree – so Sojourner gets a lot of criticism. That seems fair to me.

Those who question the integrity of an organization that adopts a moderate position make it more difficult for many evangelicals to find common ground with the LGBTQ community, in the same way that bullying tactics used by conservative organizations like Focus on the Family under the leadership of James Dobson made it difficult for many of our queer friends to ever believe that they could build authentic relationships with or find common cause with evangelicals.

Well here we see the problem with this “finding common ground” obsession. Finding common ground is all very well, but there are limits. Clearly for a lot of people, one of the limits is refusing to accept a “let’s welcome gay people” ad. Comparing that to Focus on the Family is one comparison too many (to bastardize Bernard Williams).

The two of us may be very different — a heterosexual man committed to Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and a queer atheist who spends his spare Sunday mornings dreaming up new tattoos — but we share something more significant than our differences: a common desire to see compassion and reconciliation in the world between people of all religious and nonreligious perspectives. Sadly, controversies like these make it more difficult, rather than easier, to build these bridges and participate in the important work of healing the world’s bitter divisions.

We trust that Sojourners and Jim Wallis know this, and attempts to publicly shame them for trying to build broad coalitions make their job, and all of our jobs, that much harder.

Again – building bridges all very well, healing bitter divisions all very well, but not at the price of giving up core principles.

James Croft has a very nice post on the subject.

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