Before we run head first into 2020 and all of the stressors of the coming election season, we wanted first to reflect on last year — to take a look at the top 10 stories that shaped our coverage, the commentary that spurred conversations, and the reflections that stirred the soul — and how the work will continue in the new year.
Let’s start at the end: As we closed out the year, a single editorial from the outgoing editor-in-chief of Christianity Today shook the Christian world — and the world of politics — in ways that could be a harbinger of things to come in this new year. While many in the media had largely written off white evangelicals for their allegiance to President Donald Trump, Mark Galli called for his removal from the presidency — in the publication of record for many evangelicals.
And speaking of faith engagement in public life, Jim Wallis has had the opportunity to interview some of the presidential candidates in his ongoing podcast, The Soul of the Nation. For Julian Castro, Pete Buttigieg, and Cory Booker, Christian faith fuels the thought behind their policies. 2. Listen to this season’s episodes, and stay tuned for more in the new year.
An ongoing conversation playing out in the courts throughout the end of the decade — and one that will persist into the 2020s — concerns religious freedom. From contraception coverage to adoption access for LGBTQ aspiring parents, the debate has often pitted the religious freedom of more conservative churches against individual freedom from discrimination, while some are trying to find some political compromise. But what happens when expressions of faith that call us to love our neighbors and welcome immigrants butt up against the law? In 2019, humanitarian activist Scott Warren faced felony charges twice for harboring two young migrant men in Ajo, Ariz. The first trial resulted in a hung jury, and in November, Warren was acquitted. And while his defense did not rely on religious freedom grounds, expect to see more conversation on the topic in the coming years, particularly in the immigration debates. Watch the story of religious activism in Warren’s case in 3. Kindness Criminalized at the Border and more on how some activists are living out their faith in 4. Water for the Thirsty at the U.S.-Mexico Border.
While some churches engage in on-the-ground activism, others are looking at more internal ways they can be of service to their neighbor and care for each other. As Joshua Grace noted in the July issue of Sojourners magazine, the average U.S. household carries a balance of $6,929 at the end of the month. That has very real implications for the way people live out community, including in churches. For Grace’s church — and increasingly at congregations throughout the country — that meant attacking the problem by introducing credit card debt annihilation. Read about how they did it in 5. My Church Came Together to Pay Off Each Member’s Debt.
At Grace Baptist Church in Richmond, Calif., that care for neighbor looks like offering the church building as living quarters for students who would otherwise be homeless because of the lack of affordable housing in the area, where the average cost of rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,500. Through a partnership with the students and campus ministry, the 50-member church now runs a small dorm that members say serves them as much as those they host. Read more in 6. How This Campus Ministry Is Tackling Student Homelessness.
Over the past decade, the reality of rampant abuse and harassment throughout institutions was laid bare with the rise of #MeToo reporting. The church was no exception, as we saw with the accompanying #ChurchToo movement. While much of the reporting, appropriately, focused on the revelations in the Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Church, independent fundamentalist Baptist churches, and other denominations, Sojourners also looked at how some churches are emerging from those crises to address the culture that created them head-on. Read 7. Let There Be Light to find out how Rev. Heidi Hankel addressed abuse in her church and how her leadership could be a model for other congregations.
The #MeToo reckoning coincided with another, related movement — one that is working on dismantling the theological undergirding within evangelical purity culture that some believe more often leads to abuse and coverup. As those who grew up within a culture that relied heavily on sexual shame wrestle with its effect on their lives, they’re finding new ways to talk about relationships. Read more in 8. Their Generation Was Shamed by Purity Culture. Here’s What They’re Building in Its Place.
Of course, one of the biggest stories of the decade, and one of increasing urgency, is that of the climate crisis. As in other great movements of the past, young people have and will continue to lead us. We saw this with Greta Thunberg internationally and other young people like Isra Hirsi here in the United States through the 9. Youth Climate Strike (video) and the Global Climate Strike (photos). As Sojourners Executive Director Adam Taylor wrote in May 2019, 10. We Must Become Climate Warriors, by transforming the “politics of denial, delay, and incrementalism into a politics of urgent, bold, and transformational action.” Our future depends on it.