Betsy Shirley is senior associate editor at Sojourners magazine. She rejoined the editorial staff of Sojourners in 2015 after previously serving as an editorial assistant from 2010-2011. She holds an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School and a B.A. in English from Butler University.
Betsy began writing narrative nonfiction at the age of 6, though she now writes less stories about cats than she did back then. These days she prefers to focus on stories that delve into the complexity of contemporary religion—faith, doubt, scandal, schism—and the ongoing tension of believing in an unseen reality while living in this one. She’s especially interested in stories about gender, sexuality, evangelical history, and interfaith collaboration.
Betsy’s articles and essays have appeared in Religion Dispatches, Religion & Politics, OnFaith, Reflections, UTNE Reader, and of course, Sojourners. She is a member of the Religion Newswriters Association and a 2015-2016 recipient of the Handa Fellowship in Interreligious Communication. She can be found on Twitter @betsyshirley.
When she’s not cooking up story ideas for an award-winning magazine of faith and social justice, Betsy enjoys historical walking tours, board games, and sitting around campfires.
Posts By This Author
10 Things We've Learned about Nukes Since Hiroshima
Like many of my millennial peers, I was barely in diapers when the Cold War ended, never practiced fallout drills in school, and only recently learned what those yellow-and-black signs on old buildings meant. As a kid, if I thought about nukes at all, it was in a passive tense, World War II-history sort of way. In other words: not my problem.
But as we mark the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — when U.S. aircrafts dropped bombs on two Japanese cities, killing 135,000 people, by conservative estimates — I spent some time in the Sojourners archives trying to fill the gaps in my nuclear education. Here’s what I found.
Christian Leaders in U.S. Voice Support for #SCOTUSmarriage
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling today that “same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States,” many wondered how Christian leaders in the U.S. would react.
But despite lingering stereotypes, many religious folk in the U.S. are now supportive of same-sex marriage. In fact, a recent survey found that “among religiously affiliated Americans, supporters today actually outnumber opponents.”
Below, read some of the responses from Christian leaders — including evangelicals, Catholics, and Protestants — who have expressed their joy and support for today’s Supreme Court ruling, as well as the work left to be done towards full LGBTQ inclusion in our nation and churches.
How One Conservative Evangelical Pastor Changed His Mind About Gun Rights
A lifelong anti-abortion activist, Schenck has impeccable evangelical credentials. Consequently, after the 2013 D.C. Navy Yard shooting left 13 people dead in his own neighborhood, Schenck risked losing those credentials — and possibly his career — as he publicly began to question the unholy alliance between God and guns that exists among many conservative evangelicals.
Though Schenck has already made a few public statements about his support for stricter gun control as part of his pro-life stance, he expects that The Armor of Light, released earlier this year, will cause him to lose "significant" financial support.
Not that he minds.
A New Wave
FOR ANYONE who’s sick of explaining that not all evangelicals are flag-waving, Quran-burning, gay-hating, science-skeptic, anti-abortion ralliers, The Evangelicals You Don’t Know: Introducing the Next Generation of Christians provides a boost of encouragement. Written by frequent USA Todaycontributor Tom Krattenmaker, this who’s who of “new-paradigm evangelicals” explains how a growing movement of Jesus-followers are “pulling American evangelicalism out of its late 20th-century rut and turning it into the jaw-dropping, life-changing, world-altering force they believe it ought to be.”
Unlike their predecessors, these new evangelicals are characterized by a willingness to collaborate with members of other religions and no religion for the common good, warm acceptance of LGBTQ folks, a rejection of the dualistic pro-life vs. pro-choice debate, and a desire to participate in mainstream culture rather than wage war against it. All this “while lessening their devotion to Jesus by not a single jot or tittle.”
Admittedly, the book’s cover photo doesn’t quite do justice to Krattenmaker’s observations. Featuring young worshipers in a dark sanctuary with hands uplifted and eyes closed, each apparently lost in a private moment of four-chord progression praise, the cover looks more like a Hillsong worship concert circa 1998 than cutting-edge 2013 evangelicals. (If you’re unfamiliar with the four-chord progression, Google “how to write a worship song in five minutes or less.” You’re welcome.)
Vehicles for Grace
BORN IN MEXICO, Francisco X. Stork moved to Texas with his parents when he was 9. After college he studied Latin American literature at Harvard. Stork then decided to get a law degree, planning to make a living as a lawyer while writing fiction on the side. Many years later, he published the first of his five novels, The Way of the Jaguar. He continues to balance his vocation as a novelist for young adults with a "day job" as a lawyer for a Massachusetts state agency that helps develop affordable housing. Former Sojourners editorial assistant Betsy Shirley, now a student at Yale Divinity School, interviewed Stork last spring at Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing.
Betsy Shirley: On your blog you say that every author has a bone to which they return again and again to gnaw. What do you gnaw on?
Francisco X. Stork: The question that characters in my books keep asking themselves is, "Why am I here?" I keep coming back to trying to find some kind of meaning to life and to suffering that keeps people going. All my books center on young people who are questioning themselves in that vein. My first book had a person on death row, the second had a young man with someone out to kill him, and the third one had a boy, Marcelo, who was questioning how he could possibly live in a world of suffering. Those questions of mortality make you a little bit more aware of the preciousness of life.
Being Like Deborah
Since the establishment of The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1987 and J.I. Packer’s 1991 article “Let’s Stop Making Women Presbyters” in Christianity Today, there’s been a resurgence of traditionalist theology among some American churches. Instead of advocating “male headship,” they now promote “complementarianism.” Instead of portraying women as intrinsically “serving, subordinate, and supportive,” they now advocate “biblical womanhood.” But it’s the same patriarchal heresy, just with new language.
Rachel Held Evans, a Tennessee-based evangelical Christian raised in conservative Christian churches, decided to turn the tables. She vowed to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year. A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master is the often-hilarious, engaging, well-researched, deadly serious result. (You can read all about her adventures at rachelheldevans.com). Former Sojourners editorial assistant Betsy Shirley, a student at Yale Divinity School, interviewed Evans in August 2012.
Betsy Shirley: So how does a nice, liberated woman like you find herself covering her head and calling her husband “master”?
Rachel Held Evans: I loved A.J. Jacob’s book The Year of Living Biblically, and always thought, “Boy, this would be a totally different book if a woman had done this.” I never dreamed of doing it myself until I started encountering Christian teachings that were advocating “biblical womanhood”—teachings about submission, submitting to your husband, and not teaching in church. I started thinking, “Well, nobody is actually practicing ‘biblical womanhood’ 100 percent.” That’s when I got the idea to have some fun and try to do all the teachings that relate to women in the Bible as literally as possible for a year.
Doing it the Hard Way
“Question people who have authority, because they tend not to use it well unless you stay on top of them.”
That’s what Ana Garcia-Ashley learned from her grandmother, a seamstress and a teacher in the campo of the Dominican Republic. She was a woman who taught by example, challenging anybody in her small village who misused power. “She would not tolerate anything,” remembers Ana. “She took on whomever—even priests.”
And you can say the same about Ana.
Throughout more than 30 years of community organizing, Ana has put her Catholic faith into action by holding people in power accountable: standing in protest at state capitols, stopping predatory lenders, and blocking deportation trucks by laying her body in the road. “To me there is only one way to be a Catholic,” she says, “and that is out in the public arena, doing something.”
In 2011, Ana became the executive director of Gamaliel, a national network for faith-based community organizing. As “congregational” or faith-based organizers, Gamaliel emphasizes systemic change: engaging congregations in the work of feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and sheltering the homeless, but also in the work of transforming the oppressive systems that leave so many people without food, health insurance, or homes in the first place.
Ana also is the first woman of color to lead a national community organizing network, faith-based or otherwise.
“I am emboldened and encouraged that leadership in the field has become more representative of our grassroots leaders and organizers,” wrote Ana during her first year as executive director.
Six Questions for Jose Penate Aceves
1. What led you to start an intentional community ministering to gang members? Gangs have a really strong sense of community: They fight and die for their homies and they support each other. Other programs offer job skills or anger management, but don’t offer community. We offer a community like the community they have. After many years working with them, we realized that was attractive to them—they feel at home.
Practice, Practice, Practice
How to deepen our spirituality, one step at a time.
Interview With John Francis
Interview with John Francis by Betsy Shirley
The Harry Potter Prayer
photo © 2007 Laura Askelin | more info (via: Wylio)Though I like a rousing round of ave maria's as much as the next person, the past few centuries of church prayer trends have eschewed Latin in favor of the vernacular -- that is, the language of the people. And to the tune of 450 million copies in more than 70 translations (and counting), it's clear that people the world around speak the language of Harry Potter. Or rather, the story of Harry Potter speaks to them.
So as I watched the final Hogwarts Express depart from Platform 9¾ in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II this past weekend (slightly teary-eyed, I confess), I started to wonder: What might it sound like to pray in the language of Harry Potter -- language that clearly resonates with folks around the world? Would it be cheesy? Probably. Profane? Perhaps. But I figured the God who relied on earthly parables about wineskins and fig trees to explain the Kingdom would understand.
Six Questions for Inez Killingsworth
Bio: Founded Empowering and Strengthing Ohio's People (ESOP) to stop predatory lending and home foreclosures. Website: www.esop-cleveland.org.
Facebook, Freedom Riders, and Other Lessons in Nonviolent Activism
Osama, Obama, and Twitter
Benedictine women in Wisconsin are practicing new (and ancient) ways to save the earth, starting with the home front.
Extended Interview with Enuma Okoro
Enuma Okoro grew up in four countries, including Nigeria and the Ivory Coast, and describes her religious education as "doses of Roman Catholicism washed down with long gulps of multiflav
Worship's Joys and Dangers
Author Enuma Okoro talks about life and liturgy.