Catherine Woodiwiss

Deputy Web Editor

I'm deputy web editor for Sojourners, where I report on culture, tech, and religion, and look for voices to contribute to conversations on faith, spirituality, justice, innovation, and daily life. A collection of my reporting on sexual abuse and Christian communities, "I Believe You: Sexual Violence and the Church," was published in 2014 (avail on Amazon).

Beyond the religion beat, I also write on business, tech, community innovation, nostalgia, loss, collective memory, and war, with work appearing in the Atlantic, Pacific Standard, the Washington Post, Think Progress, and Books & Culture. In 2014, I spoke on collaborative solutions and "Do It Together" design models at SXSW in Austin, Texas.

My favorite postures are ethnographer and producer — reporting on the spread of subcultures, ideas, objects, and beliefs through time and place; and creating the conditions for others'​ voices and talents to thrive. 

My nonofficial, not-so-subtle goal is to keep D.C. weird. Hold me to it.

Posts By This Author

2018 World Watch List: Christian Persecution Rising, Women Particularly Vulnerable

by Catherine Woodiwiss 01-10-2018

Image from the 2018 World Watch List.

Open Doors USA, a ministry that works with persecuted Christians around the world, released its 25th annual World Watch List at the National Press Club Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The list, a compilation of field interviews and aggregated data from other agencies, ranks the 50 most dangerous countries in the world for Christians. Dangers include religious militancy, organized corruption, Islamic extremism, among other factors.

The Day That Had Two Noons

by Catherine Woodiwiss 12-20-2017
"Does a clock have anything to do with religion?"

AS FAR AS WE know, Nov. 18, 1883, was the only day in history to have two noons. In a move to standardize haphazard railroad timetables, the United States was divided into time zones. Major cities wound their clocks to a newly designated “noon,” suddenly separated from their neighbors into zones of “now” and “not yet.”

Some newspapers and bulletins responded with humor. “We were not so far behind as [Maine], and therefore do not need so great an advance,” one Trenton, N.J. paper joked.

But this existentially momentous event was largely observed with pragmatism. “When the reader of THE TIMES consults his paper at 8 o’clock this morning at his breakfast table it will be ... 6 o’clock in Denver, Col. and 5 o’clock in San Francisco. That is the whole story in a nut-shell,” declared The New York Times. The slight change was necessary for standardization—time zones meant progress, efficiency, growth. Who could argue?

And so there was noon, and there was noon again, on that first day.

The Mistake That Toppled the Berlin Wall

by Catherine Woodiwiss 10-24-2017
While much destruction can come from human error, small mistakes can sometimes course-correct for good.
 © Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

 © Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

The wall wasn’t supposed to come down.

Günter Schabowski, a spokesperson for the East German Politburo, was tired. He hadn’t thoroughly read the travel regulation updates, handed to him shortly before his news conference. He didn’t know the document’s shifts in rhetoric, developed by leaders in the East German government, were simply an attempt to appease the swelling ranks of East Germans demanding reform. On Nov. 9, 1989, facing journalists’ cameras and notepads, Schabowski took questions for a forgettable almost-hour. Then someone asked about rumors the border may open.

Schabowski mumbled over his answer, confused. But a few of his words were clear: “Immediately ... right away.”

Reporters pounced. Breathless reports in West German media soon filtered over the wall through East Germans’ pirated signals. The Politburo had assured checkpoint guards that no changes had been made, but it was too late—a trickle of curious East Berliners quickly grew to massive crowds, yelling “Open the gate!” At a loss, and unable to get through to leadership for clarification or backup, the guards eventually gave in. Within hours, nearly 40 years of iron-fisted East-West divide was undone.

What Should You Do When Your Church Does Not Condemn Hatred?

by Catherine Woodiwiss 09-12-2017

"Maybe what surprises me most is how widely the hashtag resonates. I couldn't have anticipated it going this viral. And it's been interesting to see ex-Mormons and ex-Catholics chiming in as well, and in a few cases former ultra Orthodox Jews. As far as I'm concerned, #EmptyThePews is for anyone who finds value in it."

When the Resistance Isn’t Sexy

by Catherine Woodiwiss 07-25-2017
We dream of a sensational fight, but have little appreciation for the mundanities of evil.
Greger Ravik /

Greger Ravik /

THE BROKEN MEN of Prague lurch down Petřín hill toward Malá Strana, their hunger as clear as the hollow iron torsos where their bellies used to be. The man leading the march looks whole, more or less, but visitors can see his followers slowly dissolve behind him ... a gash here, a missing arm there, until, at the top of the stairs, only a foot where a whole man used to be.

To capture a human in the process of breaking apart requires attention. It’s immediately clear that the sculptor of these Broken Men, Olbram Zoubek, was intimately familiar with the process. Prague’s Soviet occupiers also knew something about decay, which the monument commemorates with grim precision—at the feet of the statues is a thin bronze line marking the numbers of Czechs affected by Soviet-era communism: 170,938 forced into exile ... 327 shot trying to escape ... 4,500 dead in prison. But the numbers are but a footnote to the decaying bodies on the hill. The long, grinding erosion of civil society is a personal trauma all its own.

How Do We Avoid Becoming Numb in the Face of Online Tragedy and Violence?

by Catherine Woodiwiss 05-30-2017
The world hurts everywhere, including in our social media feeds.

IF THERE IS ONE CONFESSION a journalist never wants to make, it’s that she can’t handle the truth. Many of us got into the business for the express purpose of truth-telling, and for journalists growing up in the post-9/11 dawn of the 24-hour news cycle and the war in Iraq, the challenge to tell it boldly and well is our guiding star.

The nights are awfully cloudy these days.

When Syrian refugee children washed ashore in Libya in 2015, the images were indelible in their lonely, awful stillness—our decade’s “vulture and the little girl,” our “Falling Man.” Editorial rooms around the country debated whether splashing images of drowned babies across our platforms was truly in the public interest. Can pressing on exposed nerves yield anything but a howl?

Many outlets—including Sojourners—decided against publishing the photos. Everyone saw them on social media anyway.

White Women and Racial Complicity

by Catherine Woodiwiss 05-30-2017
How do we face being precariously power-adjacent?

WHEN WATCHING a creative imagining of what feels like your own demise, the last thing you want is for an audience to cheer. But for white women watching Get Out, the record-breaking horror flick from comedy writer Jordan Peele, that’s more or less what happened. It was a revealing moment, to say the least.

Get Out follows black photojournalist Chris, whose white girlfriend Rose invites him home for a weekend. To his terror, Chris slowly realizes that her nice, white, liberal family is masking a deep, violent racism. (“I would have voted for Obama for a third term” is a catchphrase played first as proof of the family’s “colorblindness” and later revealed to be a cover for their fetishization of black bodies.) Rose—a seemingly “woke” white woman, who yells at cops for unfairly profiling her black boyfriend—is, without giving too much away, a less-than-ideal ally.

The film was released one month after Trump’s inauguration, and it was easy to cheer for Chris as he took ownership of his fate and sought vengeance on his captors. In the last year, we’d seen unabashed patriarchal white supremacy pulling the levers in our politics and our churches. But then 52 percent of white women—many of them white Christian women—voted for Trump, and the role of white women in building and perpetuating damaging policies, narratives, and theologies was made more clear. Frankly, for me, and other white women who raced to see the film, Get Out felt like a chance to atone. White women have often skated by in the larger battles over identity and justice, inside and outside the church: Let us now give our money to the telling of truth.

To be a white woman in America is to be precariously power-adjacent: Because of our skin, we carry unquestioned privilege in power systems. Because of our gender, that security has a shelf life—we are included only as long as we are able or willing to perform according to those who control the levers.

The World Begins Anew

by Catherine Woodiwiss 03-23-2017
To see blooms adorning a church on Ash Wednesday—instead of at Easter—scrambles the spiritual metaphor.

REMEMBER THAT  you are dust, and to dust you shall return. The prayer said around the world on Ash Wednesday wielded a rather pointed moral to the tail end of the hottest February on record where I live. Penitents in my neighborhood church shuffled in a sun-kissed line to receive ashes on tanned foreheads, summer sandals slapping the floor. Outside, overeager daffodils bloomed their Easter welcome. A strange one, this backward Lent: balmy with a side of dread.

This existential reversal felt nothing if not timely—all through the winter, a collective litany of weary newsfeeds asked whether we really needed quite so much of it. The first months of this year have witnessed a steady erosion of trust in whatever institutions we had left: the federal government, the electoral process, our checks and balances, our freedoms, our faith, each other. Some trace our hard skid sideways to the election, or the Super Bowl, or the Oscars. (I peg it to the Cubs’ win in November. I grew up in Chicagoland—I know reversing a curse has consequences.)

But there’s something particularly dizzying about the separation of church and earth. The globe is getting hotter every year now, but the effects of this ecological trauma, like any grief, are far from linear. If warming simply meant the usual weather, shifted a month early or late, we could figure out how to recalibrate—but our snowfall is breaking records and our ice caps are melting. A winter afternoon can begin as warm as an early summer day and suddenly drop 25 degrees to freezing rain.

60 Congregations in DC Metro Area Pledge to Provide Sanctuary

by Catherine Woodiwiss 03-21-2017

Image via David Beltran/Sojourners

"People have asked, 'Why do you stand with these people?' Because black bodies have been assaulted since we first came to this state. And they are continuously assaulted. What we know is, if we are silent when brown bodies are assualted, when gay bodies are assaulted, when trans bodies are assualted, when female bodies are assualted, then all of us remain in prison and in bondage."

The Heartbeat of Deep Space

by Catherine Woodiwiss 01-31-2017
In our science narratives, there’s a long tradition of featuring beautiful, rich white people and ignoring people of color and women.
Mirrors on the James Webb Space Telescope / NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham/Emmett Given

Mirrors on the James Webb Space Telescope / Credit: NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham/Emmett Given

THE FIRST THING NASA cinematographer Nasreen Alkhateeb does when approaching new stories is to look for the heartbeat. A transmedia artist, Alkhateeb spent much of the last year at NASA recording Goddard engineers as they constructed the massive James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2018. The largest-ever space-based telescope is designed to capture images at an astonishing distance, collecting data on the formation of some of the first galaxies in the universe.

Alkhateeb’s job, she says, was to translate the complexities of this tool to a non-science audience. For that, she primarily focused on the workers on the ground.

“It’s really about all the different fingerprints that have touched this project,” she tells me. “The story of the telescope goes hand in hand with telling the story of the individuals and the agencies who are collaborating to build it.”

Outer space has twinkled in the American imagination at least since since NASA’s founding in 1958. One secular hope for salvation lies in inhabiting the heavens—whether on Mars, a source of fascination for National Geographic and for SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, or elsewhere.

Yet the role NASA will play in future space exploration is up for debate. Public faith in NASA is strong—the agency is the second most-trusted government institution in America, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new Trump administration “clearly values space as an inspirational tool,” Pacific Standard opines. But there’s quite a bit to suggest a reshuffling of funding priorities from the president, whose advisers have challenged NASA’s focus on earth science—including recording the evidence and effects of climate change, which will disproportionately affect poor and marginalized communities.