In a world where so much needs to change, Sojourners’ Mitchell Atencio and Josiah R. Daniels interview people who have faith in a new future and are working toward repair.
This series features interviews with artists, activists, authors, scholars, contemplatives, and others who are willing to name the ways our world and churches are broken — and how we can all work to build a better future.
If you want to be the first to know when new interviews are published, subscribe to our weekly newsletter. You’ll get a link to each interview, plus bonus material that we won’t publish online, including additional interview questions, reading recommendations, and behind-the-scenes content.
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.”
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.”
In launching The Reconstruct, Sojourners’ newest newsletter, we hope to continue what we have been doing, but with more regularity: Offering thoughtful, constructive conversations with folks who are changing the world and reforming our faith.
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.