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.
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.
There is not much that Rebecca Jane Morgan appreciates about Pat Robertson, the right-wing evangelical pastor and political figure who died in June. But one moment from his life sticks out in her mind. In 2013, Robertson was asked on-air about gender affirmation surgeries (referred to as a “sex-change” surgery). The usually hardline conservative offered a nuanced answer. “I don’t think there’s any sin associated with that,” Robertson said. “I don’t condemn somebody for [pursuing gender affirmation surgeries].”
While I was attending seminary, I came across a book outside of our assigned texts that would help transform my thinking on LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. The name of the book was Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology, and the author of the book was womanist theologian Pamela R. Lightsey.
Up to that point in my life, I had been taught that being a Christian while also proudly identifying as a member of the LGBTQ+ community was impossible. But Lightsey’s Our Lives Matter challenged those preconceived notions as she argued for full LGBTQ+ celebration within the universal church. I began to realize that my discrimination was not only hurting LGBTQ+ people, it was also hindering my ability to imagine a world in which all people could be free. The lesson I took away from that book was this: If we don’t have the capacity to imagine a world in which LGBTQ+ people are free to be fully themselves, then our imagination of liberation is truncated.
I remember the moment I became wholly dissatisfied with Christian conceptions of forgiveness. While walking into church for a Sunday morning class on the Lord’s Prayer, I realized that I did not know how to “forgive others” as God had forgiven me. Defining forgiveness as “moving past and forgetting harm” was vague and hard to fathom. I had repeatedly seen the powerful weaponize the instruction to “forgive” against the oppressed and abused: Black people told to “forgive” the U.S. for chattel slavery; women told to “forgive” husbands who abused them; survivors of sexual violence told to “forgive” the church. Surely, this was not the forgiveness Jesus instructed. But I couldn’t escape the feeling that “forgive” was still a command for Christians to follow.
Growing up as a Christian in the U.S., I was told that Jesus came to die on the cross for our sins and establish the Christian religion. It’s embarrassing to admit, and stands as an example of the way in which casual antisemitism saturates Christianity, but it was not until my college years, after encountering Chagall, that I realized Jesus was distinctly Jewish and that Jews had been offering unique and refreshing ways to see Jesus throughout history.
Writer, art curator, and expert, Aaron Rosen is continuing that tradition, offering new ways to see Jesus from his context as a practicing Jew by inviting people to imagine Jesus as a visual thinker. Aptly titled What Would Jesus See, Rosen’s book encourages people of all backgrounds — Christian, Jewish, or no religion at all — to imagine “how Jesus saw, what he saw, and why this is important today.” The shift from “What would Jesus do?” to “What would Jesus see?” may seem like a way to deemphasize Jesus’ actions. But as Rosen writes: “For Jesus, seeing was doing. At the core of his short ministry was a recurring call to look at the world—and especially its most disadvantaged denizens—with new eyes.”
Over the course of 2023, two professors at Christian colleges and universities — Julie Moore of Taylor University and Sam Joeckel of Palm Beach Atlantic University — alleged that they lost their jobs after teaching on racial justice in the classroom. (Moore settled with Taylor; Joeckel is suing PBAU, citing discrimination and retaliation.)
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is from in Isaiah 61:1: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” Christians will be familiar with this passage as Jesus quotes it when he stands up to read in the synagogue during the early days of his ministry (Luke 4). It’s a passage that gives me some hope for Christianity, since the central character of our religion believed that even the worst-of-the-worst deserve forgiveness.
“We had a prayer meeting [Monday] morning with dozens and dozens of people from all different traditions, from bishops to people sitting in the pews,” Cannon told Sojourners. “We’ll have another prayer gathering on Wednesday morning. We’re grieving, we’re lamenting, and we’re also working really hard.”
Ashon T. Crawley, author, artist, and professor of religious studies and African American and African studies at the University of Virginia, constructed a memorial for Black church choir directors who died during the U.S. HIV/AIDS crisis. The exhibit, “HOMEGOING,” told the story of the musicians who, as he puts it, “died within a kind of epistemological moment,” where to be a musician in the Black church was to be understood as gay, to be gay was to be understood as HIV-positive, and vice versa.
Who is Shannon Harris? This is the question that Harris herself was asking as she began to untangle her life from the fundamentalist, conservative evangelical faith she had married into.
For Christians, AI poses its own set of questions: Is it bad to use AI to write a prayer or outline a sermon? Is AI able to provide counseling and spiritual direction for congregants seeking discernment and spiritual care? Can AI achieve personhood, and if so, what should our commitments to caring for them be? I found some guiding answers in Noreen L. Herzfeld’s book The Artifice of Intelligence: Divine and Human Relationship in a Robotic Age.
As director of teaching and care at The Allender Center, which offers care and training to help people heal from trauma, Rachael Clinton Chen knows that abuse has many forms. And when sexual violence is committed by a faith leader, it’s often accompanied by another form of violence that’s harder to define: spiritual abuse.
Musician Derek Webb, who started out with the band Caedmon’s Call in the 1990s, has “spent a career gnawing on the hand that feeds me in the evangelical Christian world,” he told Sojourners. From his time in Caedmon’s Call to his work as a solo artist for the past 20 years, Webb has outlined a winding and vulnerable journey of doubt, love, grief, and freedom. Most recently, Webb has been reckoning with his evangelical past, writing what he calls his “first Christian and Gospel album in a decade.”
I don’t know what shocked me more: The fact that actor Rainn Wilson — best known for his role as Dwight Schrute on the hit TV show The Office — had written a book about religion and spirituality or that I was able to interview him.
I am a millennial and for many of us, “spirituality” means being “spiritual but not religious.” I’ve heard my peers say things like, “I’m looking for spiritual healing,” or “I’m trying to find God for myself,” or “I’m wanting to get in touch with my own divinity,” or “I contain multitudes.” Perhaps there’s a kernel of truth in some of those statements but the thing that stands out to me is this: It kinda just comes off as individualism baptized in “holy” hyperbole.
What I appreciated about Wilson’s Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution (out April 25) is that it offered a gentle critique of this version of individualized spirituality. For Wilson, who is a member of the Baha’i faith, spirituality has a larger purpose beyond the self. Spirituality gives us eyes to imagine a society based on “justice, equity, love, and a reduction in unnecessary pain for the inhabitants of our beautiful planet. To build the kingdom of God on Earth,” as he writes in the book. So, from this perspective, seeking inner peace should not only lead to spiritual tranquility but also public tranquility. If this is what pure and undefiled spirituality might look like, then color me intrigued.
Wilson and I talked about topics ranging from cultural appropriation and Christian representation in the media, to communism and how religion is portrayed in The Office. Considering all the topics touched on in Soul Boom, it only seemed right to cast a wide net during our conversation.
Despite Republican colleagues expelling him from the Tennessee state legislature, Nashville’s Democratic Rep. Justin Jones still believes working for justice in the South means working on “sacred ground.”
Lloyd, a theologian and director of Africana studies at Villanova University (and Sojourners contributor), writes about his experiences teaching a seminar on “Race and the Limits of Law in America” through the Telluride Association. In the blistering essay, Lloyd writes that he experienced a “mutiny” — expelled from his role by his high school students led by a “charismatic” college-aged student who created a “cult” of anti-racism and eventually accused him of harm, micro-aggressions, and perpetuating “anti-black violence” through the seminar.
When I opened Shane Claiborne’s new book, I rolled my eyes and sighed. Claiborne’s book, Rethinking Life: Embracing the Sacredness of Every Person, was dedicated to “all the women of faith over the centuries, the midwives of a better world, and to the two most significant women in my life—my mom, Patricia, and my wife, Katie Jo.”
The crises that Puerto Ricans are facing are not simply the results of “natural” disasters, according to Carlos A. Rodríguez. As founder and CEO of The Happy Givers, a Puerto Rico-based nonprofit that provides meals, rebuilds homes, and operates a community farm on the island, Rodríguez sees firsthand the harms of U.S. colonialism and climate change. On the island, residents are very clear that they are oppressed by their status as a colony, and when natural disasters hit, the pain is exacerbated.
“Centering the marginalized” is common parlance among both Christian and secular social justice advocates. This especially makes sense for Christians, as it was Jesus who said, “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). So when it comes to seeking justice, it makes sense that we’d try to prioritize the experiences and perspectives of those our society discriminates against because of religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, or other identities. But two examples from this past year have made me doubt the viability of an identity-based approach for pursuing social justice.