Interview

Josiah R. Daniels 4-09-2024

Reggie L. Williams. Graphic by Candace Sanders/Sojourners.

If you’re the type of person who discusses politics online, you’re likely to have heard of Godwin’s law. In 1990, Mike Godwin, a First Amendment lawyer, invented this rule to address a common occurrence: The longer online debate drags on, the more likely someone commits the fallacy of reductio ad Hitlerum — i.e., the comparison of someone or something to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis.

Invoking Nazis, as Godwin suggests, is a lazy way of ending a debate. I also think it’s usually motivated by a shallow understanding of history and an insensitivity toward Holocaust victims.

But there’s gotta be times when referencing the Nazis is warranted, right? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as U.S. politics continues down the path of polarization and a segment of Christians unabashedly preach a message of domination. We need a sharper critique of Christian nationalism and the Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump that’s deeper than simply labeling the former group as “Nazis” and the latter individual “Hitler.” But where do we begin?

Mitchell Atencio 4-02-2024

Some of the 18,000 Lohmann Classic laying hens of the Gallipool Frasses farm are seen in the the stalling area ahead of a vote to ban factory farming in Les Montets, Switzerland, September 16, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
 

Reverend Christopher Carter is a virtue ethicist, commissioned elder in the United Methodist Church, and professor of theology. He has spent much of his professional and personal life learning to better the treatment of animals as part of an integrated approach to justice for all. Carter, the author of The Spirit of Soul Food: Race, Faith, and Food Justice, defines his work as a practice of “Black veganism,” which “forces us to examine how the language of animality and ‘animal characteristics’ has been a tool used to justify the oppression of any being who deviates, by species, race, or behavior, from Western Christian anthropological norms.” 

Josiah R. Daniels 3-26-2024

Malcolm Foley. Graphic by Candace Sanders/Sojourners.

I was in high school, visiting my grandparents’ church in Peru, Ind., and the theme for the Sunday school class was “money.” The teacher was quick to bring up a verse that has always sounded like it would be a better fit in Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack than the Bible. “The love of money is the root of all evil,” the teacher said, summarizing and abbreviating 1 Timothy 6:10. “It’s not that money itself is evil. Objects, in and of themselves, cannot be evil,” he explained. “It’s a matter of the heart.” That logic sat weirdly with me and so I raised my hand to respond. “Don’t we believe that idols are objects and that they are evil? Also, doesn’t the Bible teach us to resist temptation? So wouldn’t it make sense to resist the temptation of money to avoid all the evil that comes with it?”

Mitchell Atencio 3-18-2024

From left, Bella Holleman, 10, Travis Holleman, Talon Holleman, Lucas Albanese, 1, Emmett Holleman, 7, Piper Albanese, 6, Heather Robinson, Carter Robinson, 1, Christopher Albanese, 4, (not pictured), and Nash Hartstein, 6, learn farming and animal care as part of the R.O.O.T.S. (Reaching Outside of Traditional Schooling) Youth+ Development Program at the ROOTS family homestead in Georgetown, Wednesday, March 13, 2024. R.O.O.T.S. is dedicated to homeschooling and offers hands-on, integrative life-skill workshops for ages 18 months to adults.  Benjamin Chambers/Delaware News Journal / USA Today Network via Reuters. 

According to a study by The Washington Post, in states where data was available, homeschool students rose by 51 percent between 2017 and 2023. By comparison, enrollment in private schools rose by only 7 percent. As a homeschool alum, these statistics brought me mixed feelings. I had a beautiful, generous, enriching experience being homeschooled from fifth through 12th grade, but I know others who had the complete opposite experience. I fear that many Americans are beginning to homeschool without knowing that Far-Right, fundamentalist Christians lead most of the networks that offer resources to homeschooling families.

The cover of Yes, Gawd! by R.G. Craves. The 19th spoke with R.G. Cravens about race, religion and how LGBTQ+ people are showing up for the 2024 election. (TEMPLE UNIVERSITY PRESS)

The effects of personal religious belief are everywhere in politics, from the rallying sermons of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Christian nationalists citing biblical justice when Roe v. Wade was overturned. For queer people, R. G. Cravens argues, faith is more than a motivating factor — it can be a way into political engagement. His research shows religious LGBTQ+ people are more politically active than nonreligious LGBTQ+ people. In fact, religion often facilitated political activity, from congregations marching together at Pride events to organizing letter-writing campaigns to government officials.

Josiah R. Daniels 3-05-2024

Photo of David Leong. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners.

I originally met educator and grassroots theologian David Leong in 2016 after I emailed him on a whim, telling him I was coming to visit friends in Seattle and that I’d like to meet him for coffee. I had just read an advanced copy of his book Race and Place, about churches in urban contexts, and was impressed by the conversational tone it took when addressing issues like race, class, and gentrification.

Mitchell Atencio 2-27-2024

Tyler Burns. Graphic by Candace Sanders/Sojourners

I am sick of the way many white Christians talk about “the Black church.” My frustration is nothing novel: Some white Christians are desperate to ask Black Christians to justify their institutions and concerns. Other white Christians romanticize Black institutions, flattening complexities and nuances that are natural to any multifaceted group. And if I’m sick of it, I can only imagine how Black Christians feel. So, when I sat down with Tyler Burns, pastor of Rise City Church in Pensacola, Fla., and president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, I told him explicitly that I would try not to subject him to that sort of conversation. In his role at The Witness, Burns helps lead an organization that hosts writing, conferences, podcasts, and more centered on the Black Christian experience. He co-hosts the flagship podcast, Pass the Mic, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Josiah R. Daniels 2-20-2024

Photo of Jonathan Brooks. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners.

Jonathan Brooks is now the lead pastor of Lawndale Christian Community Church in the Chicago neighborhood of North Lawndale. The major theological conviction of LCCC is to love God and love the neighborhood, which is predominantly Black and has experienced years of government disinvestment. The way the church community puts into practice its theological convictions is by working with neighbors to improve the material circumstances of all who live there.

Mitchell Atencio 2-13-2024

A man holding a Bible and wearing a sign that says "Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.” Photo via Reuters.

Was Robert E. Lee, the infamous confederate general who went to war to defend slaveocracy in the South, a Christian? The answer to this question may seem obvious: Yes. Lee was an Episcopalian who was called a “humble, earnest Christian” by a minister who was his contemporary. But some Christians may recoil at the idea that someone they see as clearly at odds with Jesus’ call to “release the captives,” would be considered a Christian.

Josiah R. Daniels 2-06-2024

Photo of Guesnerth Josué Perea by Sabrina Shannon Santorum. Graphic by Candace Sanders/Sojourners.

I love documentaries. I try to watch a minimum of one per week. I am especially drawn to documentaries like Born in Synanon — a documentary about a rehab community that eventually became a cult — because it wrestles with questions around race and religion. These two subjects are endlessly fascinating to me.

So, when I heard about Faith in Blackness, I knew I would have to see it. In October 2023, one of the executive producers, Josué Perea, invited me to a screening at the University of Washington. The documentary explores the relationship between AfroLatine spirituality and how that spirituality shapes a person’s identity and understanding of the divine.

Mitchell Atencio 1-30-2024

Darren Calhoun. Graphic by Candace Sander/Sojourners

I’ve noticed that a lot of the resources that exist for facilitating relationships across disagreement are geared toward the non-affirming: “How should Christian parents respond if one of their children comes out as gay?” “Can Christian parents point their gay children to Jesus?” “Responding to a ‘Gay Christian’ in the Family.” And while many LGBTQ+ people don’t want close relationship with non-affirming family, those of us who do want those relationships, don’t want to sacrifice our safety. Darren Calhoun has spent two decades working to build bridges that protect the dignity and safety of all parties, including LGBTQ+ people and their non-affirming community.

Josiah R. Daniels 1-23-2024

Michael Wear. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners

Michael Wear’s book makes the argument that for Christians to engage in politics responsibly and approach political conversations openly, they must focus on spiritual formation, discipleship, and centering Christ in all that they do. Politics “shapes us spiritually,” Wear writes in the book. And he hopes Christians will place their political action under the authority of Christian discipleship.

Mitchell Atencio 1-16-2024

Photo of Elizabeth Bruenig by Graham Winslow Marley. Design by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners.

While a number of anti-death penalty advocates rightly highlight the exonerations, Elizabeth Bruenig prefers writing about the “confessed and admittedly guilty … since we all already agree the innocent shouldn’t be put to death.”

Josiah R. Daniels 1-09-2024

Jonathan Tran. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners

Tran won’t settle for simply critiquing racial capitalism or popular anti-racist enterprises that steer clear of economics. Tran believes that Christian theology offers an alternative story to the economy of racial capitalism, an alternative that finds its locus in what he describes as the “divine economy.”

Mitchell Atencio 12-29-2023

Ryan Cagle poses with Jubilee House’s garden. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners

The Cagles are co-organizers of Jubilee House, a nonprofit ministry based in Parrish with multiple initiatives, including operating a free store and free pantry, passing out free naloxone to combat the opioid crisis, and reclaiming an old football field as a farm. Together, they work to sow a type of Christianity that would revitalize the literal and metaphorical soil of the Bible Belt.

Josiah R. Daniels 12-18-2023

Olga M. Segura. Photo credit: Enoch. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners.

“Something I often heard was that ‘there’s not enough Black Catholics.’ [That] the numbers of Black Catholics are not big enough to justify doing a survey into this community. But that was in complete contradiction with what I was seeing when I was at these rallies and with people who were engaging with the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Mitchell Atencio 12-11-2023

Dov Baum. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners

“I have friends and family who lost people in the attack by Hamas on Oct. 7. I have colleagues and friends in Gaza who were bombed by the Israeli attack. I go to demonstrations against the genocide in Gaza because I want to be with others that shout and call for the immediate stop of this unforgivable crime. And I cannot chant all the chants in those demonstrations. I chant some of them.”

Josiah R. Daniels 12-04-2023

Photo of Michael McBride. Photo credit: Squint. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners.

When I was living on the West Side of Chicago, friends and family would often say that they couldn’t comprehend why I would want to live in such a “dangerous” area. The exchange would usually go something like the following: “I can’t imagine why you’d want to live in Chicago, considering all the gun violence.” “Are you worried about me being shot by the police?” “Well, no. The criminals are the ones who are shooting people.” “The police shoot people too. And there’s a reason the ‘criminals’ are resorting to violence.”

I would then go on to explain the antecedents to Chicago’s gun violence: racial segregation and systemic disinvestment. Beginning in the 1950s and into the ’70s, white Chicagoans fled the South and West Sides because they couldn’t imagine being neighbors with Black people. Because of this, these areas became predominantly Black, and the city has refused to invest resources into these neighborhoods to reverse their poor conditions. The South and West Sides are still suffering from disinvestment today, and this disinvestment is a major contributor to gun violence.

Josiah R. Daniels 11-28-2023

Picture of Azmera Hammouri-Davis. Graphic by Candace Sanders/Sojourners.

Honestly, I never thought much about Israel before college. Then, during my sophomore year, a prominent New Testament studies scholar had been invited to speak on campus; after it came to light that they were openly critical of the state of Israel, they were summarily disinvited. A few other students and I were still able to meet with the scholar, and we were shocked by the language they were using to describe the conditions in Israel for the Palestinians: “Second-class citizens,” “genocide,” and “apartheid” were the terms that struck me most.

“It can’t be as bad as what Black people have faced in the United States or what they faced in South Africa,” I remember saying to the scholar. “Go and see,” they admonished. And so, one year later, that’s exactly what I did.

Mitchell Atencio 11-21-2023

Tahil Sharma. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners

As we officially enter the season of primaries, advertising campaigns, and debates, faith communities are as central to the election process as they ever have been. Even with the nationwide decline in religiosity and trust in institutions, religious leaders and congregations are central community builders for millions of people in the U.S.