It is commonplace in a number of Christian traditions, including among Moravians, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, and Pentecostals, to host a watchnight service on New Year’s Eve. In my African-American tradition, this night takes on an added significance as it originated and coincides with a celebration of the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation. These services are often filled with heartfelt testimony about what God has brought people through in the previous year — and with praise in hopeful anticipation for all that God will do in the year to come. As 2020 winds down, there is not nearly enough space to do justice to all of the testimonies about the extreme loss, hardship, grief, and trauma that we have individually and collectively endured this year. A few years ago, I stopped making New Year’s resolutions and replaced them with what I call New Year’s affirmations. Resolutions can often feel like weights that cause you to sink under pressure and expectation rather than a flotation device to lift you up to attain your hopes and aspirations. Building on what has worked for me personally, I want to share some affirmations for our nation and world, as well as for Sojourners' work and mission in 2021.
The ongoing pandemic
As two highly effective COVID-19 vaccines are now being distributed across the country, 2021 will already start out on a much more hopeful note. Even as we continue to walk through shadow of the valley of death during this dark winter of alarming death and economic hardship, we can finally see the beginning of the end of the pandemic. And our actions and sacrifices over the first few months of this New Year will determine how many lives are saved and how quickly and equitably our nation recovers. In the midst of this hope, we must redouble our determination to address the pre-existing conditions of race and poverty that have fueled this crisis and created disproportionate impacts. We must ensure that vaccine distribution prioritizes not only front-line and essential workers, but also those communities of color that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
I affirm that the church will offer even greater leadership in preaching, teaching, and persuading congregants and communities to wear masks and social distance for as long as is needed, which has become a core expression of how we love and protect ourselves and our neighbors. I also affirm that when it is our turn, clergy of all stripes will step up to take the vaccine, ideally sharing the event publicly to encourage others and help overcome distrust and skepticism.
This year we saw a stark contrast between two records: The Dow Jones Industrial Average surpassed 30,000 for the first time — and for the first time in recent memory, a record number of Americans are facing hunger, evictions, and unemployment. 2021 must be a year in which we finally reverse extreme, and so often racialized, inequality and together build a radically more just and humane economy. There will be no quick fixes, but it must start with building upon the COVID relief bill that was passed at the end of 2020. I affirm that through the Circle of Protection and other advocacy efforts, we will do everything possible to extend and expand a lifeline of economic and social support to help ameliorate people’s suffering and enable our nation, particularly the most vulnerable, to get back on their feet.
An interdependent world
2021 also provides a hopeful moment to rehabilitate America’s role in the world. I affirm the need to work with and, when needed, push the incoming Biden administration to fulfill the many promises that were made during the campaign: to rejoin the Paris Agreement, provide greater leadership in the global COVAX vaccine initiative, reinstate the Iran nuclear agreement, rejoin the World Health Organization, end the Muslim travel ban, increase the U.S. refugee resettlement quota, and end the public charge rule — to name just a few concrete but important changes.
Health of our democracy
Unprecedented attempts by President Donald Trump and his Republican enablers to discredit and overturn the 2020 election have done significant damage to public confidence and our democracy, throwing fuel on the flames of polarization and partisanship. I affirm the urgent need to pass the recently renamed John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Galvanizing bipartisan support for this bill would honor one of our nation’s civil rights heroes by helping to prevent future voter suppression efforts and restore confidence in our electoral system.
Affirmation for all sojourners
2020 contained a silver lining for us at Sojourners with the culmination of a significant leadership transition in which I had the honor and privilege of assuming the baton of leadership from Jim Wallis. I’m grateful that Jim will continue to support and advance our work and mission in 2021, serving as an ambassador and founder as he prepares for his next opportunity to lead a new center at Georgetown University in the fall.
I’m incredibly grateful for all of the ways our extremely talented and dedicated Sojourners staff demonstrated such resilience, resourcefulness, and strength in 2020. I’m also humbled by the sacrifice and generosity of so many supporters and donors in what was such a challenging year economically. Just as I’ve argued that the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism should lead to what my friend Shawn Barney describes as a “hard reset” for our nation, I have been reflecting on what that means for Sojourners. I look forward to building on the incredible work and priorities that are already in place, even as we lean into some new initiatives and efforts, including our ongoing work to transform our organizational culture and strengthen our competencies and commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism.
In 2021 I’m excited to work with our editorial team to expand the reach of our magazine and digital publication, placing a particular emphasis on connecting with and listening to a more intergenerational and racially diverse readership. I’m anxious to work with our SojoAction team to strengthen and expand our online and offline advocacy and mobilizing, including through the Faith-Rooted Advocates Network (FRAN). I’m excited that we will be launching two interactive curricula designed to help churches better live out a commitment to justice: The first provides a theology of justice and practical tools to help Christians put their faith into action, and the second is designed for divided congregations and provides theological and practical tools to heal, unite, and mobilize congregations around a shared commitment to justice in ways that can transcend partisan and ideological differences. I’m excited to expand our international engagement both through further amplifying the voices of inspiring Christian leaders and organizations and by finding concrete ways to better support and partner with faith-inspired justice movements across the globe. I’m hopeful about building on our impactful Lawyers and Collars/Turnout Sunday partnership with the Skinner Leadership Institute and the National African-American Clergy Network, working to equip and support Black clergy alongside other allies to combat voter suppression efforts and ultimately achieve the structural and electoral changes needed to make this work no longer necessary. I look forward to expanding our efforts to further equip and mobilize clergy to transform policing and our criminal justice system and fight for immigrant rights through our Thriving in Ministry racialized policing program and the Matteo 25/Matthew 25 initiative.
This is only a partial list and preview into the coming attractions of Sojourners work and plans in 2021. And none of this work is possible without you as our readers, supporters, and fellow Christians who are putting their faith into action for social justice.
Over the course of 2020, as I’ve toiled trying to finish revisions on my forthcoming book A More Perfect Union: A New Vision for Building Beloved Community, I have been reflecting a great deal on the moral vision of the beloved community. It is a vision that animated the civil rights struggle and one that I believe has the power to inspire and unite Americans to form a rising anti-racist majority that is committed to co-creating a radically more inclusive and just nation and world. While this certainly isn’t inevitable, as we move into 2021, I affirm with fierce hope and resolve that it is increasingly possible.