As Rhode Island has signed marriage equality into law, some evangelical Christian thought leaders have become to come out publicly in support of same-sex marriage. In an interview with The Huffington Post to promote his newly released book, Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners, offers these sentiments.
“We are losing marriage in this society. I’m worried about that — among low income people, but all people. How do we commit liberals and conservatives to re-covenanting marriage, reestablishing, renewing marriage?
“I think we should include same-sex couples in that renewal of marriage, [but] I want to talk marriage first. Marriage needs some strengthening. Let’s start with marriage, and then I think we have to talk about, now, how to include same-sex couples in that deeper understanding of marriage. I want a deeper commitment to marriage that is more and more inclusive, and that’s where I think the country is going.”
In her analysis of Wallis’ statement, Sarah Posner, senior staff writer for Religion Dispatches assesses his leadership on this issue, noting how two years ago the Wallis-led social justice organization rejected Believe Out Loud’s LGBT welcome ad on the grounds they didn’t want to be seen as taking sides.
Too many Christian leaders wait for public opinion to tell them how to lead. And then they wait for an interviewer to push them to speak plain English—and even then they use behind-covering doublespeak.
LGBT activist John Becker adds, “Wallis isn’t the only public figure to jump onto the marriage equality bandwagon after it’s become, for all intents and purposes, a settled issue. But frankly, most public figures don’t claim to be in the vanguard of progressive Christianity.”
In a similar vein, during a promotional tour for his latest book, evangelical pastor Rob Bell stated “I am for marriage. I am for fidelity,” he said. “I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man.”
With this announcement, Bell moves from adopting an apolitical stance on LGBT rights where he noted in 2007 that only those with gay friends are positioned to judge homosexuality toward acknowledging that LGBT people have the civil right to marry.
While these statements do represent a step forward, Bell and Wallis have yet to demonstrate if they will utilize their clout as one of Time Magazine’s 100 people of the year and CEO and the progressive evangelical organization Sojourners respectively to join with other liberal minded people of faith and secular voices in the battle for equal civil rights for all. For example, they have yet to indicate if would perform same-sex marriages or if they will push for equality in other areas of the church, such as the ordination of LGBT people and advancing the role of women in the church.
In a reflection for Believe Out Loud regarding Albert Mohler’s articulation of the evangelical view of homosexuality as a sin, I questioned why even seemingly progressive evangelicals remained silent following Mohler’s column. As I noted, “Silence speaks volumes. If progressive evangelicals do not agree with Mohler’s position on homosexuality, it is time to articulate an alternative theology that addresses the concerns of the LGBT community.”
Bell and Wallis appear to have begun this quest by professing their own support for civil same-sex marriages. Just as Roger Williams, founder of the state of Rhode Island, went against the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony by crafting a charter that granted the right for all to worship as they please, can they do likewise? In particular, will they join with those religious leaders who have strived for decades to create spaces that welcome the contributions of women, people of color and LGBT people?
Becky Garrison is a religion writer and author, most recently, of “Roger Williams’ Little Book of Virtues?“