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I thought this was an interesting addition to the conversation from Brian McLaren, former chair of the Sojourners board.


Steven Shiffrin

Mary Jean, awfully good response in that little box. Would be happy to share notes in Chicago. I look forward to seeing you.

Mary Jean Dolan

Hi Steve,
How nice to get a response from you! And yes, I do love this blog -- in fact, reading your post on finally drawing the line and leaving the Catholic church was the last push for me to attend the United Church of Christ (no one in my family agreeing to come along, I'm going to reflect more this summer - maybe we can discuss in June, I think I'll see you in at AALR).
I agree with you that it would lack integrity if Jim Wallis took a public position he felt was morally wrong, solely in order to maintain influence. That's not really what I meant to suggest. All my years in the Catholic world have steeped me in that culture (similar to the evangelical in some ways) enough to understand the social/institutional power felt by committed members, and also the highest, best case to be made on divisive issues of gender, especially abortion and same-sex relations/marriage.
I have complete, whole-hearted admiration and respect for Jim Wallis, after following him for some years, including the weekly Sojourners column. I also fully support gay Christians (and people more generally, of course), and their rights to participate fully in their faiths and religious/secular institutions, and would go to the mat against harsh religious leaders who use the gay issue to promote themselves, stir up hatred.
But I disagree with condemning people who are living their best vision of faith, and appear somewhat reluctant, yet sincere in their position of "love the sinner, hate the sin" - especially when they are leading so well on many critical issues.
And I think it's short-sighted to insist on agreement on every single issue. You might be interested to hear that during Obama's presidential race, I put together a "brief" of sorts, which I sent to many Catholic friends and family who might be ready to vote for him-- except for the abortion issue and the conservative blasts they were receiving. The main features were a bit on the Illinois "born alive" bill controversy, from Doug Kimiec's book, Why a Catholic can vote for Obama, and an excellent Jim Wallis blog on what Christians should base their vote on - overall, it added up to Obama, without naming a side, but it did still discuss (from memory, something like) the "culture of life" and "traditional marriage and family." I succeeded in turning a number of votes, with these tools.
Abortion is different from gay rights, of course, in that while it is so closely tied to women's rights, it is not disparaging to women to reject the pro-choice position. Nonetheless, it seems to me that those of us who want to promote (economic) social justice need the help of those religious persons, including leaders, who still hew to some of the more traditional views on social issues. And even if we didn't need the help as a matter of power/strategy, to the extent that such views are expressed with respect and humility, there should be room on the relgious left (or maybe an affiliated center) for diverging views on deep-seated gender-related issues - otherwise, we're adding to the polarization, not to the solution.
(That's the best response I can manage quickly, and in this little box!)
Mary Jean

Steve Shiffrin

Mary Jean, I did not know but am glad that you are a appreciative reader of our blog. I hope that Wallis's position is in fact based on conscience (flawed though the judgment seems to me)and I agree that he would lose power if he took a different position and that the loss of power would generally be bad for the left (though it is far less clear to me that it would be bad for gay Christians though it might be). I have more trouble accepting that it would be an acceptable moral strategy for him to take a position he believed to be mortally wrong in order to maintain power to do good things. I think that political leaders may rightly make such compromises, but I think that it would be the rare case for a religious leader to do so. I would like to hear more about your thoughts on this.

Mary Jean Dolan

I love this blog, and have really appreciated Clark West's recent posts -including the wonderful theological reflections on gender throughout church history.
I'm writing now, however, as a huge fan of Jim Wallis. I understand the position in the blog, and have very deep concerns and empathy for the suffering of gays in the Christian church (one of my best Catholic friends moved, reluctantly based on his own beliefs, from the Catholic priesthood to become Episcopal), and also actively seek change on that front.
But Jim Wallis's project, and his unique value, lies in his outreach to the Evangelical/conservative Christian groups - in no way would it serve gay Christians for him to declare himself, and Sojourners, on their side. Instead, that public crossing over would serve only to lose the middle ground - to lose those conservative who might be willing to take on the Republicans on issues of economic social justice, so long as the "messenger" was one who still appeared to ascribe to core "Christian" social values.
I don't think this is an arena where each individual must conform to the same political/rights agenda - Jim Wallis, to me, is a true hero, a unique centrist resource who tries to bridge the harsh gap and move forward on some, if not all, human rights issues.
"Religious left" is such an important, small gathering spot. I think it's important to be open to allies whom some may consider imperfect, and to bear in mind that such differences sometimes are based on inviolable conscience, and other times are defensible moral strategies, employed in order to stay useful and relevant to the groups who still hold power over the government's ability to take care of the least of our bretheren.

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