The “Prophetic” Voice of Jim Wallis Jumps on Marriage Equality Bandwagon

Two years ago this Mother’s Day, Sojourners refused to run an ad produced by the group Believe Out Loud, “a trans-denominational effort to promote LGBT equality in mainline Protestant congregations, focused on Mother’s Day to launch its new campaign to invite one million believers to ‘sign up’ for full LGBT equality in our churches and society-at-large.” The reaction from progressive Christians was swift and deafening. “The big tent collapsed this weekend,” wrote Episcopalian and LGBT equality activist Jim Naughton, “and it was Sojourners who yanked out the tent poles. Someone needs to alert official Washington that Jim Wallis and his minions no longer speak for us—if they ever did.”

The following year, Wallis took a sabbatical, and now he’s back—with another book to sell, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good.

In an interview with the Huffington Post’s Jaweed Kaleem last week, Wallis described what motivated him to write yet another book about How Everything Would Be Divine If Everyone Listened To Jim Wallis. (Especially you, ladies!) “The vitriol. The screaming. The polarization. The paralyzation. The hate. The fear. And I thought we’ve lost something really significant, this ancient idea called the common good.”

Oh, man, don’t you wish all those gay and lesbian people who simply wanted to have the same rights as straight people would stop with all their vitriol and screaming? Jeez.

As part of his book roll-out with the Huff Po team, Wallis gave a video interview to Marc Lamont Hill, who opened it with reminding Wallis that “you’re a leader of the religious left.” (Primer on why that’s not so here; see also: the many religious leaders who supported marriage equality—civilly!—long before Wallis.) In true “leader” form, when asked by Hill about same-sex marriage, Wallis replied, “this issue is changing rapidly,” noting that “young believers, 62% of young evangelicals now support marriage equality.” Because that’s what leaders do. They 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.

Wallis doesn’t come right out and say he supports marriage equality, but embarks on a Heritage Foundation-inflected lecture about “recovenanting, reestablishing, renewing marriage.” He then adds, “I think we should include same-sex couples in that renewal of marriage.” What? I really wish Hill had asked him what that might look like in, you know, reality: would gay people have to attend the Ross Douthat School of Marriage Awesomeness before they could get a marriage license? What if they were determined to be insufficiently committed to recovenanting and reestablishing and renewing marriage? 

“I think we’ve got to talk about how to include same sex couples in that deeper understanding of marriage,” Wallis pronounced, adding, as if he’d happened upon an excellent talking point to fit with his book promotion, “That could be the common ground. So yes, I support equal protection under the law.”

But same-sex marriage, Hill pressed?

“I think that’s what equal protection for many, many people, including young evangelicals, is becoming marriage equality.” (“Leading” again.) Wallis went on: “What I’m saying is let’s not just argue that issue back and forth.” No, that never solves anything, does it? “Let’s go to a deeper—to marriage that’s inclusive. I want it to be inclusive. So my answer is yes. But I want a deeper commitment to marriage that is more and more inclusive. And that’s where I think the country is going.”

Is your marriage deeply committed enough for Jim Wallis? Is it deeply committed enough for gay people to get married, too? 

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email