Interview

Mitchell Atencio 10-10-2023

Rev. Mae Elise Cannon. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas. Original photo courtesy Cannon. 

“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.”

Mitchell Atencio 10-02-2023

Ashon T. Crawley. Original photo courtesy Trust for the National Mall. Candace Sanders/Sojourners

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.

Mitchell Atencio 9-29-2023

The Woman They Wanted book cover courtesy Broadleaf.

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.

Zachary Lee 8-29-2023

Microsoft Bing Chat and AI chat applications are seen on a mobile device (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto).

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.

Jenna Barnett 8-09-2023

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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.

Joey Thurmond 7-24-2023

Original photo of Derek Webb courtesy Webb. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners

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.”

Josiah R. Daniels 4-24-2023

Picture of Rainn Wilson taken by Kwaku Alston. Design by Tiarra Lucas.

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.

Mitchell Atencio 4-19-2023

Representative Justin Jones marches with supporters to the Tennessee State Capitol the after being reinstated by the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County with 36-0 votes, after the Republican majority Tennessee House of Representatives voted to expel two Democratic members, representatives Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, for their roles in a gun control demonstration on the statehouse floor, in Nashville, Tenn., April 10, 2023. REUTERS/Cheney Orr

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.”

Mitchell Atencio 2-23-2023

Headshot courtesy Vincent Lloyd. Graphic by Mitchell Atencio/Sojourners

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.

Mitchell Atencio 2-16-2023

A graphic of Shane Claiborne. Original photo courtesy HarperCollins, graphic by Mitchell Atencio/Sojourners

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.”

Mitchell Atencio 9-30-2022

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.

Josiah R. Daniels 9-28-2022

Illustration of Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò. Original photo by Elliott Jerome Brown Jr., courtesy Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas.

“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.

Mitchell Atencio 9-08-2022
“One Nation Under God” American flag painting in Texas.

“One Nation Under God” American flag painting in Texas. Via Alamy. 

Ever since Jan. 6, 2021, the term “Christian nationalism” has proliferated in discourse, but the precise definition is up for debate. Is Christian nationalism only applicable to those who welcome the label, like Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who sells “Proud Christian nationalist” t-shirts, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler, who said he wasn’t going to run from Christian nationalism on a recent podcast episode? Or can it be applied to hanging images of Jesus in congressional offices and the post-rapture book and movie series­ ­ Left Behind?

Josiah R. Daniels 7-21-2022

Image of Julian Davis Reid. Photo credit: René Marban. Illustration by Tiarra Lucas.

Core to Christianity is this notion of hospitality and trying hard to hear your neighbor, hear what they’re trying to say, and even giving voice to what they’re trying to say. And you may not always agree with the melody. But part of what we see Jesus do is pay attention to the fact that every person in front of him has a melody that God’s given them.

Mitchell Atencio 6-21-2022

In his new book, We Need to Build, Patel seeks to inspire others to build with him instead of just criticizing policies and structures they dislike. The book draws on Patel’s work with Interfaith America and considers what we can learn from good (and bad) institutions across the globe.

Betsy Shirley 4-28-2022

On April 29, 2017, a protester holding a sign participates in a march where the LA riots started in 1992. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian

The devastation of the 1992 riots inspired Hyepin Im to advocate for the economic and political empowerment of underserved communities, including Korean Americans — and her own faith led her to look for ways that churches could be more effective partners in this work.

Jenna Barnett 3-07-2022

 Allison Bailey via Reuters Connect

Last year, Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, a social practice artist, created In America: Remember — a vast field of flags on the national mall, one for each American who died from COVID-19. Visitors, both in-person and digitally, had the opportunity to dedicate a flag by writing a message on the while poly film. When the installation began in mid-September of 2021, there were 666,624 deaths. When the installation closed in early October, there were 701,133 deaths. As of this week, nearly 1 million people have died of COVID-19 in the United States, 6 million globally. As we try to grapple with the weight of these fatalities, we’re revisiting an interview from late October 2021 between Firstenberg and Sojourners associate culture editor Jenna Barnett, in which they discuss what it looks like to honor grief and memorialize an ongoing pandemic.

Betsy Shirley 2-14-2022

Katey Zeh. Courtesy photo. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas / Sojourners.

As Baptist minister and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Zeh has participated in plenty of “circular conversations regarding the moral absolutes of abortion.” But as she writes in her new book, A Complicated Choice: Making Space for Grief and Healing in the Pro-Choice Movement, these debates often overlook how abortion always “happens within a person’s real, full, and complex life.”

Josiah R. Daniels 2-11-2022

Obery M. Hendricks Jr. Courtsey photo. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas / Sojourners.

With scholarly precision and an ability to engage beyond the tired critiques of right-wing Christianity, Hendricks imagines a version of Christianity that is politically committed to social justice. Whether it is through his experience growing up in the Black church, his commitment to the revolutionary nature of Jesus’ teachings, or his insistence that leftist politics and Christianity can inform one another, Hendricks demonstrates the beauty of the Christian faith.

Mitchell Atencio 1-25-2022
The cover of "A Field Guide to Christian Nonviolence" features a clenched hand holding an olive branch.

A Field Guide to Christian Nonviolence, by David C. Cramer and Myles Werntz, will be released in February 2022.

For most folks, Christian nonviolence evokes unified images of civil rights marches, Vietnam War resisters, and bumper stickers calling us to “turn the other cheek” or “beat swords into plowshares.” Yet Christian nonviolence isn’t a single school of thought, “but rather a rich conversation wrestling with what it means to live out the biblical call to justice amid the complexities of ever-changing political, social, and moral situations.”