« Previous | Main | Next »

How "progressive" is Jim Wallis?

Post categories:

William Crawley | 16:11 UK time, Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Jim Wallis has become the face of "progressive" Christianity in the United States. He's the founder of Sojourners magazine and the Sojourners community in Washington DC. He's also the author of bestselling books including God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It; and he has served as a spiritual advisor to President Obama.

Social justice has been a consistent theme of Wallis's life and ministry, particularly justice for the poor and the vulnerable. But his "progressive" credentials are now being challenged by campaigners and commentators in the US after Wallis's online magazine refused to run a video-ad from Believe Out Loud, a group supporting the full inclusion of lesbian and gay Christians within the church.

Wallis has published a "statement" on the Sojourners website. He says his organization is merely recognizing that this is an issue that divides Christians and churches and he doesn't want Sojourners to be distracted from its primary focus on social justice and defeating poverty and inequality. Read a few of the angry comments on the thread below his statement and you get a sense of how some supporters of the Sojourners mission are responding to his decision. Believe Out Loud have published their response to the controversy here. They say this kind of controversy is what Believe Out Loud was founded to address: "to foster among ... those who silently believe in gay rights but have yet to act ... a willingness to have the hard conversation, to voice their inner belief in equality and reverse their congregation's public silence on LGBT inclusion."


Sarah Posner, author of God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, has posted on the theological battle that's now being fought on Twitter.

John Shore posts an Open Letter to Jim Wallis here.

Tim King, communications director at Sojourners, has posted on a related theme, and his post includes the Believe Out Loud video-ad with an editorial explanation that Sojourners is committed "first and foremost in dialogue on difficult issues within our editorial pages and we typically do not sell display advertising relating to issues amongst people of faith that have unfortunately and too often been reduced to political wedge issues."


  • Comment number 1.

    How particularly sad that a bright man such as Obama is shown in photo ops with religious weirdos. They are not the future of the world but rather are a hindrance to social progress and intellectual evolution.

    Not a single religion has ever been predicated on truth, facts or evidence. Our species is taking a giant evolutionary leap and hopefully more people will learn the importance of science and especially that field of Neuroscience, the study of the brain, will help explain why we do things we do.


    It is truly sad that children continue to be initiated into religious cults without ever getting the chance to grow up free to make personal choices.

    Those who do not understand science are the ones that really shame society especially when mumbo-jumbo is invoked to provoke hatred towards those who are different.

    Neuroscience should be front and centre as a tool for making any future public policy on social issues.

  • Comment number 2.

    LucyQ, President Obama is also a committed Christian, so that picture shows two people of faith, not one. I think you will find that many rather bright people are also people of faith. Some of them even distinguished scientists. Your comments here, unfortunately, appear thoughtlessly tribal.

    In any case, shall we return to the theme of the thread.

  • Comment number 3.


    I thought Barack Hussein Obama was muslin? Or is it an islamic? I lose track of the latest wingnut accusation and badly spelt billboard.

    I generally disapprove of -any- religious advisory body to a position of authority; governments should work for the good of the people, not the strictures of a specific belief, but if people insist on some form of pastoral figure best that it's someone 'progressive' (whatever that means with religion) and not a fundamentalist.

  • Comment number 4.

    Back to the thread topic please.

  • Comment number 5.

    'progressive' (whatever that means with religion)

    What does progressive mean, period?

  • Comment number 6.

    @Will - I do not see evidence of Obama being a believer. You do know that posing for photos with bibles is a prerequisite for the job of POTUS. Your job is predicated on supporting belief and too often the radio show has some pretty bizarre speakers. They make me cringe and wonder how much longer it can go on.

    Ah well then, my work isn't done.

  • Comment number 7.

    A committed Christian who hardly ever goes to church and thinks abortion is okay? Yeah right.

  • Comment number 8.

    It was good to read the comments on the response as it shows a side to religion in USA which would seem to resonate with the discussion which is occurring on the other thread about the CAI pamphlet.

    It sounds like Jim miscalculated the maturity of his followers and the survey quoted in the link was enlightening. It would seem that the non inclusive wing of the mainstream church is in the minority, its just a very vocal minority. Mcc's post has not been moderated yet so I will wait and see what pleasantness and love he has to enrich us with.

  • Comment number 9.

    On the faith of Obama. attendance can't be the mark of Christian faith, and some Christians are pro-choice.


    Now back to the topic, which is not abortion, belief in God or Obama. It's the Jim Wallis controversy. I'd be in interested in your views on that.

  • Comment number 10.

    I read some of the responses to the Wallis statement on the website.It was heartening. The majority were disappointed by his course of action regarding the ad & communicated that with eloquence. Perhaps Sojourners will reverse the decision & run the ad, or will - as one commenter put it- "politicking" get in the way of standing up for social juctice on this matter.

  • Comment number 11.

    2. Will_Crawley:

    Obama's Christianity is not up for debate, only his 'style' of Christianity, and how his personal faith may differ from that of the US mainstream. He has already shown (very bravely) that he is not a bible literalist in any sense: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbLzhwvVR_M (ignore the lunatic back narrative).

    American Christianity is in a state of transition, hopefully positive transition, and love them or hate them, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and the rest of 'New Atheists' have played a fundamental (a-hem) role in that process.

    Maybe a bit of anti-theist 'tribalism' is just what was required. If Wallis too following with this progressive theme, albeit slowly, then all to the good.

  • Comment number 12.

    What I am arguing, disjointedly, is that New Atheism has been a positive boon for the Christian left.

  • Comment number 13.

    Post in two parts...

    I'm glad, William, that you put the word 'progressive' in inverted commas, because it's not at all clear what it's supposed to mean.

    It has all the feel of 'chronological advancement', with the implication that society is moving inexorably in the direction of casting off the so-called 'superstitions' of the past, which were part of a package of bigotry, prejudice and neglect of the poor, the stranger and the vulnerable.

    Well, if that's the case, then I can only assume that the book of Deuteronomy was written within the last few years, as it seems surprisingly 'progressive':

    “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the LORD against you, and it become sin among you. You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’ Deuteronomy 15:7-11


  • Comment number 14.



    "For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Deuteronomy 10:17-19

    A legal requirement to help the poor?

    A legal requirement to lend even when the year of release is near? (Funny how 'modern' progressive society doesn't have a year of release, isn't it?)

    A legal requirement to support - even 'love' - immigrants?

    Well I never!

    There was even a law of gleaning where the poor could help themselves to farmers' crops. Trespassing on private property to take other people's stuff!

    It seems that our modern secular society has a bit of catching up to do!

  • Comment number 15.

    Getting a controlling there Will? But anyway, to deal with your topic, reading his material I think he's very progressive. But it's a classic reaction of liberals - you can never do enough for them. So supporting civil rights for homosexuals, wanting no unjustified discrimination against them is never enough - liberals always want you to embrace their views, their ideology - there's never any room for disagreement with them. Wallis's views are mainstream Christianity - loving sinners without embracing their sin.

  • Comment number 16.

    When you say 'unjustified discrimination', can you tell me what justified discrimination is? People are either treated equally or they are not, the fact that you seem to think that homosexuals want more than their human or civil rights and the use of the 'unjustified' qualifier would lead me to think that you do not actually understand the concept of equality or that you believe that some people (ie your team) are more equal than others.

    In our system families of whatever make-up are deemed to be equal and have to be treated by everyone as equal. That does not mean you have to agree that they are equal, just treat them equally.

  • Comment number 17.

    I'm with Dave, mccamelyc seems to equate equal rights with actually having to go out there and be gay. Minority groups aren't asking for special treatment, merely to be treated exactly the same way as everyone else. Jim Wallis, unlike a lot of his contempories, seems to have grasped that concept.

    If this is the future of the American evangelical movement then that can only be a good thing. I think too often the media is quick to portray the USA as being full of either fundamentalists like Fred Phelps or rich hedonists like some of Hollywood. The likes of Wallis help alter that perception and whilst I don't agree with nearly everything he stands for, I'd rather see him and his type propagate their brand of religion than the alternative.

    Also, perhaps most shocklingly, I agree with LSV. If all aspects of the bible were adhered to equally, then social justice would be paramount; over and above almost anything save evangelising.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    To the best of my knowledge; BBC does not care about the quality of the postings only that the posts adhere to the House Rules. And if you cannot differentiate between what is drivel and what is illegal, you got to work on your communications skill, man.

  • Comment number 28.

    AboutFace -

    You don't realise that you have it easy on this blog. I often contribute to another blog (one listed in Will's favourite sites above - clue: it's the one with a maritime word in it) and the so-called 'moderators' on there (who call themselves 'administrators') are an absolute joke at times.

    For all its faults and failings, the BBC does actually seem to approach the job of moderation professionally.

    Why don't you try to learn to get your point across in less inflammatory language. It's a useful skill to have.

  • Comment number 29.

    Here's another thorny issue related to religion and parenting.

    Sadly a 10 year old kid in the USA is charged with murdering his Neo-Nazi pa.

    "Jeff Hall, a white supremacist leader in the Los Angeles area, was shot to death by his 10-year-old son on May 1. In an account of the neo-Nazi's life, the New York Times notes that Hall managed to win custody of the children from his ex-wife. Can a judge take extreme political views into account when deciding a custody battle?"

    "Religion is the thorniest issue, because it's tied up not only with free speech, but also the First Amendment right to practice religion without state interference. In 2003, a Pennsylvania judge prohibited a fundamentalist Mormon father from advocating polygamy to his daughter. Three years later, the state supreme court reversed the order, deciding that parents have a right to teach their faith to their children—even if the behavior in question is illegal—as long as the religious lessons don't present an immediate danger. Parents have also been prohibited from trashing an ex-spouse's religious views in front of the kids."


    Once societies get over the hurdle about what is appropriate to teach children then religion will be obviously marginalized and deemed for adults only.

    As for the societal problems inspired by religious sectarianism I think the people of N.I. only have to look around the neighbourhood.

  • Comment number 30.


    " I often contribute to another blog (one listed in Will's favourite sites above - clue: it's the one with a maritime word in it)"

    It's not the Holy See Press Office, is it?

  • Comment number 31.

    LucyQ -

    You're on a roll at the moment, aren't you?

    Do keep it up.

    I'm tempted to respond, but sometimes it's good to let people get things out of their system.

  • Comment number 32.

    peterm2 -

    It's not the Holy See Press Office, is it?

    No. I haven't been making waves there, I'm afraid.

    (Sorry about that! Couldn't resist.)

  • Comment number 33.

    LSV, is it bering in mind, or beliefnet? lol

  • Comment number 34.


    Good one lol !!!

  • Comment number 35.

    Very witty, LSV and Ryan.

    Maybe we should rewrite all of William's 'Favourite Sites' list to ensure a maritime theme - we could begin with, Aquademic Earth. Then there'd be Anglican Mainsail... at least it would inject a bit of good humour into this place again.

  • Comment number 36.

    Or we could have "Swell and Testament" tough Will may not like having to go to the trouble of a name change.

  • Comment number 37.

    hi william
    maybe its a bit like yourself at the start of the comments here when different people want to make points about this or that which aren't in keeping with the theme of your blog post?
    You don't have time or want to come embroiled in debates about abortion, Obama or belief in God because you think there are bigger issues to worry about. And rightly so.

    I think it's the same with Jim Wallis and Sojourners. Maybe they just want to stay on their chosen topic?But somehow they shot themselves in the foot and have now become embroiled in the thing they wanted to avoid in the first place with (surprise surprise) the internet hit mob coming for them.

    If I was Jim Wallis I'd just switch the computer off for a week, take myself away somewhere nice and have a few beers...


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.