Jim Wallis’ less-than-prophetic voice on gay marriage

In case you haven’t heard, progressive “evangelical” leader Jim Wallis has recently come out in favor of gay marriage—sort of. In two separate interviews—one with The Huffington Post and another with Jonathan Merritt—he was asked about gay marriage. In both interviews, he gave a meandering response that sounded like support for gay marriage. Also in both interviews, the interviewers had to follow-up with a clarifying question, “Just to be clear, do you now support gay marriage.” He answered in the affirmative both times.

What’s going on here? Why is Wallis being so cagey about his newfound support for gay marriage? I don’t know the man’s motives, but I can think of some reasons that I would be reticent if I were in his position.

1. It’s uncomfortable to have to admit that you’ve been on the “wrong side of history” until now. As recently as 2008, Wallis was saying that he was opposed to gay marriage. Now he’s saying that he supports it. He even suggests that he supported it all along in principle by supporting equal protection under the law. He told Jonathan Merritt, “So I’ve always believed in equal protection.” But he hasn’t always supported gay marriage, and that’s a distinction that liberals notice. That is why liberal writer Sarah Posner excoriated Wallis’ less-than-prophetic stance on the issue. For those who have been supporting gay marriage all along like Posner, Wallis appears to be flipping conveniently with the winds of public opinion.

2. It’s difficult to make a cogent case for supporting gay marriage while offering no serious biblical or moral reflection on sexuality and marriage. In no interview that I have seen has Wallis given any serious theological or biblical foundation for his change in opinion. In 2008, Wallis told Christianity Today that “I don’t think the sacrament of marriage should be changed… Marriage is all through the Bible, and it’s not gender-neutral.” While he supported civil unions in 2008, he specifically rejected gay marriage for biblical reasons. So why the change now? As far as I can tell he offers two reasons for his conversion. First, polls show young people are demanding gay marriage, and he has decided to follow what the young people want. Second, the sociological data showing marriage in decline mean that marriage needs to be strengthened. And that includes figuring out how to include homosexuals in the institution. This reasoning isn’t exactly prophetic. It isn’t even Christian.

3. Declaring support for gay marriage shrinks your platform with evangelicals. Folks like Jim Wallis thrive on being the progressive voice of reform from within the evangelical movement. But now he has revealed himself not to be speaking any longer from within but from without. Embracing gay marriage by necessity means abandoning biblical authority. Abandoning biblical authority by necessity means abandoning evangelicalism. Wallis will no longer be able to credibly call himself an evangelical (for my definition of evangelical see here and here). That means that a very large constituency of people who buy books and attend conferences will be increasingly off-limits to him. Once an “evangelical” declares support for gay marriage, he forfeits his ability to speak to bona fide evangelicals.

Wallis’ meandering responses in these recent interviews sound like a man who is still trying to split the difference between evangelicalism and protestant liberalism. He wants to have a place at both the progressive and evangelical tables. But it has become increasingly clear over the last year that the issue of gay marriage is making that impossible. Any public figure who calls himself a Christian is going to get smoked-out on this issue and will have to choose a side. Unfortunately, Wallis has chosen the side that rejects what the Bible says about marriage.

8 Responses to Jim Wallis’ less-than-prophetic voice on gay marriage

  1. Don Johnson April 9, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

    I think you MIGHT be reading too much in what Wallis said. He said he is for equal rights for all (hetero and homo) in the civil jurisdiction, which is one way to argue for civil unions. And he is also concerned about the breakdown of marriage among heterosexuals.

    Both from a justice and a public health stance I can understand why a civil government MIGHT want to consider providing recognition for committed homosexual pair bonding as contrasted with considering it the same as homosexual promiscuity.

    I do think a religious group should be able to decide what it will recognize as a marriage, as a religious freedom issue.

  2. Nathan Cesal April 9, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    It’s possible to be against gay marriage from a religious standpoint and not against it (I guess, for it) from a legal standpoint — like the freedom of expression. You may have ideas that are contrary to my religious beliefs, but I still think you should have the freedom to express those ideas regardless how unbiblical or untraditional.

    • James Stanton April 9, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

      That’s basically how I see it to some extent. Gays can get “married” all they like but the institution of marriage as God intended it will never change in his eyes and by extension ours. No court edict or piece of legislation can ever change that.

  3. buddyglass April 10, 2013 at 12:14 am #

    +1

  4. Michael Lynch April 10, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    Who’s Jim Wallis?

    Just came across this video from last year. Some good points simply made, especially as to why Christians appear to be “attacking” this issue right now.

  5. Brett Cody April 10, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    I wonder how much pressure Wallis has received from the Obama administration.

  6. Brett Cody April 10, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    It is also interesting to me how amazingly fast the “evolution” of their ideals is occurring! If morality can truly “evolve” this fast, how do we account for the centuries that this morality didn’t change?

    • Lauren Bertrand April 10, 2013 at 10:17 am #

      Is a slow evolution of morality necessarily a positive thing? It took thousands of years for the world to reach a (general) moral consensus on slavery, and in the US it took a bit longer: a war, a proclamation, reconstruction, civil rights–well over a hundred years and we’re (almost) there. I’m sure many African Americans living in the South in the early 20th century would have loved a situation where morality changed more quickly.

      Furthermore, I deliberately allude to Reconstruction, because it happened amazingly quickly after the Civil War, yet it proved a complete red herring. It’s hard to speculate what would transpire here if SSM is made the law of the land over the next decade. However, 48 out of 50 states have elected openly gay candidates to prominent political offices at some point in time, so I’d be surprised if we experience a similar “relapse” in legal recognition. But collective moral reasoning often defies conventional logic.

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