Jim Wallis No Longer Endorses Welcoming Everyone

Jim Burroway

May 12th, 2011

A lovely ad, isn’t it? A very simple message. The only spoken words in it are from the pastor: “Welcome, everyone.”

It’s a message that many mainline churches have offered for quite some time. Including Presbyterians, Reformed Jews, Episcopalians, United Church of Christers (?)… this is hardly radical stuff. Just about every progressive religious organization believes in welcoming gay members and families.

To be clear, not all welcoming churches have gay marriage. Not all welcoming churches allow ordination of openly gay people who are not celibate. But all welcoming churches are, by definition, welcoming.

“Welcome, everyone.” If there is a minimum entry criteria for what constitutes “welcoming of diversity,” then it should at least start with that, don’t you think?

At the very minimum?

No so, with so-called Jim Wallis. His organization, Sojourners — ostensibly the leading “progressive” Christian organization — has rejected this ad. An ad that says nothing more than “welcome, everyone.”

Why? Because Wallis said that Sojourners doesn’t want to take any “sides.” Rev. Robert Chase, whose organization Intersections International sponsored the Believe Out Loud project, reacts:

Taking sides? What are the sides here? That young children who have same-gender parents are not welcome in our churches? That “welcome, everyone” (the only two words spoken in the ad) is a controversial greeting from our pulpits? That the stares the young boy and his moms get while walking down the aisle are justified? 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?

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.

Sojourners claims that “We believe that unity in diversity is not only desirable, but essential to fulfilling God’s ultimate desire for God’s people.” (emphasis in the original.) What’s more, in Wallis’s book, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It he emphasized that whatever controversies a church may tackle, one thing is fundamental:

“”The church is going to have to learn to stay together and talk about these things until we find some resolutions together. Many feel that legal protections can and should be extended to same-sex couples, without necessarily changing our whole definition of marriage. But one could argue that gay civil marriage is necessary under “equal protection.” One could also argue for church blessings of gay unions. I think all those are strong points, even if the churches are unlikely to change their whole theology and sacrament of marriage itself. But this is the good and necessary dialogue. And in the meantime, the church must stand up for gay and lesbian people under attack and must welcome them into the community of faith.[page 334, emphasis added.]

It seems that Wallis has forgotten the words that he wrote in the very book that established his reputation as “welcoming.” What he said in his book is the same thing portrayed in the ad.

I think it’s time for Wallis to go ahead and surrender the title of “welcoming” to someone who can actually live up to the minimum requirements for entry into the club.

Donny D.

May 12th, 2011

Here’s Jim Wallis’s justificaiton (with a nice comments section following). Somehow it seems insulting:



May 12th, 2011

Seems like he only wants to welcome singles = lame.


May 12th, 2011

I just removed his book from my Amazon wish list.


May 12th, 2011

What the hell could possibly be contraversial about “Welcome, Everyone?” How is that “Taking a side?”

I used to be a progressive Christian (Now I’m no longer a Christian) and honestly something has always seemed kind of “off” about Jim Wallis. He’s never really seemed all that progressive to me.


May 12th, 2011

Correction: It’s “Reform” Jews/Judaism, not “Reformed”.

Donny D.

May 12th, 2011

Looks like Jim Wallis and Sojourners now get to reap the whirlwind:


There was no way not to take a stand on this one. Jim Wallis and his “minions” [smirk] didn’t take the neutral course, they took what they thought was the most safe one, probably.

They want to be able to claim they are supportive of LGBT people without putting any real effort behind their words. That shows how “important” they think we are.

Richard Rush

May 12th, 2011

Maybe the explanation is as simple as Sojourners being welcoming to gay people much less than they are welcoming to donations from people who prefer not welcoming gays.


May 12th, 2011

What do you mean “…no longer…”? Jim Wallis has NEVER supported the inclusion of gay people and he has certainly never supported their having full and equal spiritual and civil rights. Do you ever read his posts on Huffington post (which used to be liberal but has basically become a moderate and religious site)? He always makes it clear where he draws the line with gay people. I challenge him every time but find myself in the minority, even on Huffington Post. He’s another one of those people who acts all goody-goody, “progressive and inclusive” and then goes on to list qualifiers to limit the scope of his progressiveness and inclusiveness. He’s the worst kind of charlatan. I’d MUCH rather have a religious leader be up front with me about their heterosexism and homophobia than to put on an inclusive mask while hiding his “exclusions” behind it.

Ben In Oakland

May 12th, 2011

Though i appreciate all that religious progressives have done, and the movement of mainline denominations towards inclusivity, I am still waiting for the lawsuit from our progressive religious friends wherein they demand that government stop favoring the religious beliefs of the conservatives.

Jonathan Oz

May 12th, 2011

I believe you may have over simplified this issue a bit. I suspect Sojourner feels that in airing this advertisement, they would be closing the door to discussion with conservative churches over the issue of homosexuality. They feel, I suspect, that conservative churches might not feel that it is worth discussing the issue with someone whose positions are irrevocably opposed to their own.

The problem of polarization and closing of dialog is real. Alas, Sojourner’s fence-sitting seems to me a poor excuse for bridging the gap.
Before you can worry about closing the dialog, you must have a dialog to close. Avoiding argument to avoid offense at all costs is simply moral cowardice. Jesus would not be impressed.


May 12th, 2011

By not taking a stance, it seems to me that Sojourner’s is taking a stance. On this issue there really is no neutral ground. You can’t have a dialogue with another if that other has no desire to have a dialogue with you.

J. Peron

May 12th, 2011

Wallis is just as much a theocrat as Robertson. The difference his that the god he imagines has a different political agenda than Robertson. And just like Robertson, the god of Wallis just coincidentally has the same agenda as Wallis. “God” in politics is just a way for some people to try and trump all counter-arguments to their personal agenda. Invoking a god is supposed to end debate because no one can argue with a deity, at least not a Christian one.


May 12th, 2011

I’m so thankful that I’m NOT a Christian.

David C.

May 12th, 2011

This is all the byproduct of the politicization of religion and Christianity in particular. This is not the statement of a spiritual leader but that of a politician, one that is trying to thread a twisted path through a minefield of human biases and ignorance without offending sensibilities that flow not from the Spirit but from the darkness in the hearts of men. In a sense I can understand the motivation to take this tac but that doesn’t make it Christ-like. Maybe that’s because somehow I never conceived of Christ as a political pragmatist.

Here is something to think about.

Timothy Kincaid

May 12th, 2011


There are some really really good comments on this thread.


May 12th, 2011

When the United Church of Christ created an ad that said EXACTLY the same thing it was rejected by EVERY SINGLE national broadcast station; ABC, CBS AND NBC as well as all VIACOM stations including MTV AND LOGO (you know, the “gay” station)! They too said it was too political to say that our church accepts everyone and that wherever they are on life’s journey they are welcome at the UCC. By the way, these same stations play Mormon ads and Methodist ads that claim that they have Open hearts, open minds and open doors, even while they were throwing gay people out of churches and rescinding their memberships, not allowing non-celibate clergy and being completely against marriage equality.

The UCC has yet to get a reasonable explanation as to why only their ads are being refused.

Timothy Kincaid

May 12th, 2011


I recall that and I think we covered it… but I don’t recall it being turned down by MTV or Logo….

But you are right. It’s ok to run ANYTHING religious… as long as it isn’t pro-gay. That’s seen as attacking other churches. Just saying “we welcome gay people” is an implied criticism of the ones that don’t.

And, ya know, in a way they have a point.

Every time a church says “you are welcome here” it only highlights the lack or decency or Christian charity of the church down the street. It makes they feel like a bunch of hypocrits.

And even worse, it has little kids and old ladies asking the pastor, “why don’t we welcome gay people.. i don’t understand.”

(p.s. I think that was when I completely fell in love with the UCC)

Richard Rush

May 12th, 2011

Timothy said,

. . . It’s ok to run ANYTHING religious… as long as it isn’t pro-gay. That’s seen as attacking other churches. Just saying “we welcome gay people” is an implied criticism of the ones that don’t.

But isn’t that exactly what ads generally do? Isn’t a company’s product ad typically implying criticism of their competition’s products? And then there are the ultimate in that regard – political ads which totally dispense with the nicety of IMPLIED criticism.

So isn’t this another case of religion receiving some very special treatment – or should I say denial of equal treatment, in this case? Why shouldn’t a religious denomination be allowed to place paid ads to state how theirs is superior to others?

Donny D.

May 13th, 2011

I don’t see criticism of the unwelcoming church down the street as the mostly likely problem Sojourners and other Evangelicals have with the ad (which I loved, though it hurt to watch).

The problem is that straight Christian laypeople are shown as judgmental and even bigoted, and gay people being mistreated by them. It shows the truth, that we are their victims rather than the opposite. It shows gay people in a sympathetic light. And that is why Sojourners wasn’t willing to show the video.


May 13th, 2011

Timothy, at the time I was on the national God is Still Speaking board of the UCC that produced and marketed the ad. It was most definitely rejected by Viacom, which owns MTV and LOGO. We were expecting the national networks to reject it, since we they had rejected two prior ads that we had produced but were were shocked and astonished that the owner of MTV and LOGO rejected it. It was never aired on either cable network.

Timothy Kincaid

May 13th, 2011


Yes, it is an example of religion being treated differently.


I don’t think I knew that.


May 13th, 2011

The political discussion is very interesting, but what got my attention was the reactions of the congregation as the boy and his mothers walked to the front of the church: from pleased, to confused, to outright hostile – that woman who put HER BIBLE on the seat to make it clear there was “no room” for them to sit broke my heart. I loved the message that regardless of what other people think or do, that pastor and that church, and by extension, that God, will welcome and accept that family regardless of who is in it.

It wasn’t so long ago that a mixed race couple could have been in this ad, and gotten the same reaction from politically motivated fear/hate mongers. Some people just suck.

Which makes encouraging acceptance and love a continuing challenge and priority for all of us.


May 16th, 2011

this ad absolutely asks people to take sides. and in congregations that have inflexible rules about that, it’s a tough sell. if you’re not gay, but regard the church as your primary social community, i’m sorry, i just don’t expect you to leave over that one issue (as much as i’d be moved if one did so).

as we’ve seen (nerdy apple bottom) taking a *visible* stance is often perceived as open hostility to authority, which is the sin of pride (aka the sin of challenging straight white men) God and that is often intolerable, resulting in excommunication. so, what is your community worth?

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