January 22, 2005

Terry Gross Interviews Jim Wallis

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 5:12 pm

As I’ve mentioned, Jim Wallis has been getting more visible lately. This is part of his promotional tour for his new book, God’s Politics — for more on his book, see my previous post as well as this post from Chuck Currie.

But it seems that the man, the message, and the moment have all come together, so that he is saying what many of us are feeling, and what many others need to hear. So it was that Terry Gross’ interview of Jim Wallis directly followed her interview of Richard Land, and provided the context for it.

As the conversation progressed, Wallis spoke directly to a topic I have blogged on about at length:

Well, This debate about homosexuality is really destroying the churches..and there are many on both sides now who are saying this, finally, is not the biggest issue of our time.

[The ethics of the administration’s war on terror] is a much more serious problem than debates in all of our denominations over gay ordination and gay marriage, and so some have called for kind of a cease fire in the churches, on both sides, to say this should not be a faith breaker. There are always going to be those on the extremes, on the left or the right for whom there is no common ground, but I do think that you find common ground by moving to higher ground, I mean Martin Luther King Jr. taught us that. There will be religious disagreements about homosexuality, those will go on, there are Biblical discussions, theological, pastoral matters. Those will go on for a long time. How we have that conversation, whether we listen to each other, how we treat each other in the discussion is very critical and not to let that conversation rip our churches apart or divide the society in ways that really don’t make any sense and won’t really help strengthen families, that’s I think the bottom line here.

A while back, I said that:

I have been feeling that there is too great a focus on gay rights to the exclusion of other areas of concern to Christians, say, homelessness, hunger, war and disease. But it’s statements like [that from Beverly LaHaye of the Christian Women of America] that show that gay rights is the current front in the fight against prejudice and hatred.

In a more recent post regarding the potential for schism in the ELCA over the Sexuality Task Force’s report, I struggled again with the desire for Christian unity vs. the call to object to injustice in a church body by leaving it. I still don’t have a good answer.

Clearly Wallis is of the same mind as the Sexuality Task Force, seeing our Christian unity as more important than taking a stand on the gay rights issue. They may be right. But I can’t believe that Jim Wallis felt the same way about the fight for Civil Rights in the 1960s.


  1. Wallis sees a difference between the arguments taking place over this issue in our churches and the one taking place in civil society. That means, for example, he supports civil rights for gays and lesbian (domestic partner benefits, hate crime legislation, etc). What he hopes is that our churches can all agree on the need for basic civil rights but less time on the religious questions concerning homeosexuality.

    Comment by Chuck Currie — January 24, 2005 @ 11:44 am

  2. Chuck –

    Thanks for the clarification. I agree that the civil protections are more fundamental, but for Beth Stroud and her congregation, the religious side is very important as well. Whether the rights are given in the church or by civil authorities, they are still important to gays.

    Having thought about it some more, what I hear Wallis saying is that we should first do those things that we all agree on, in this case provide the civil protections, and not let the issues that divide us prevent moving forward where we agree. I heartily agree with him there. I suppose I just balk at trying to create a hierarchy of moral issues, which is what it sounds like he is saying at times.

    Comment by Bob — January 25, 2005 @ 8:08 am

  3. I suppose I just balk at trying to create a hierarchy of moral issues, which is what it sounds like he is saying at times.

    By creating a hierarchy, we aren’t making one more important than another. It’s a concept called abstraction, and computer programmers use it all the time to manage complexity, and difficult problems, and break them down into smaller chunks so that they can be dealt with. There’s no “moral equivalence” going on here. Just pragmatism.

    While I’d like to see churches be more open and embrace gay rights, I don’t believe that any church should be compelled to do so on any timetable. On the other hand, from a civil point of view, it’s a crucial issue of basic human rights, and should be addressed as quickly as possible. The facts that a certain group of political opportunists want to eliminate the difference between civil matters and individual church policy, and are pushing this nation in the opposite direction right now, (yesterday, Delay announced another attempt at passing FMA) – makes it a tough issue that needs to be tackled immediately.

    Churches have the luxury of putting off the issue for expediency’s sake. But we need to make a stand as citizens – or we risk betraying the ideals of equality under the law and freedom, which we stand for.

    Comment by Osama_Been_Forgotten — January 25, 2005 @ 9:50 am

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