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New & Noteworthy: August 2018
Time to Test
The documentary film I Am Evidence sheds light on the growing number of untested rape kits in the U.S. Featuring testimonies of survivors, prosecutors, and advocates, the documentary investigates why this backlog exists and calls attention to those fighting for justice. HBO
Fifteen years ago, Bryan Bliss witnessed an execution that propelled him to seminary, a stint teaching classes at correctional facilities, and, ultimately, into writing We’ll Fly Away. This young adult novel tells the story of two friends, Luke and Toby, through Luke’s letters from death row. Greenwillow Books
EARLIER THIS YEAR, we lost theologian James H. Cone. “Yes, he was a world historical figure in contemporary theology, no doubt about that,” said professor Cornel West at Cone’s funeral, “a towering prophetic figure engaging in his mighty critiques and indictments of contemporary Christendom from the vantage point of the least of these ... But oh,” West added. “I think he would want us to view him through the lens of the cross—the blood at the foot of that cross.”
More than any other theologian, Cone taught us that we cannot divorce the gospel—Jesus’ suffering and redemption—from the history of violence against black people in the U.S. “Until we can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with a ‘recrucified’ black body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America,” wrote Cone in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, “and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy.”
The same week Cone died, the Equal Justice Initiative opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the more than 4,400 victims of racial violence, including lynching, between 1877 and 1950.
New & Noteworthy: July 2018
Dignity in Displacement
Struck by the tragic stories of immigrants trying to enter eastern and southern Europe, Patrick Chamoiseau, a French author from Martinique, explores what it means to be a global community in a time of mass displacement in Migrant Brothers: A Poet’s Declaration of Human Dignity. Yale University Press
Based on real events, September (originally released as Septiembre, Un Llanto En Silencio) depicts the coming-of-age of Theresa, a young girl who loses her hearing during a guerrilla terrorist bombing in Guatemala. Guatemalan director Kenneth Müller captures Theresa’s struggle as she navigates a grieving nation. Netflix
Letters: July 2018
Conversations Worth Having
EVERY SUMMER, we pause our magazine work to spend a few days at The Summit for Change, a gathering of faith and justice leaders hosted by Sojourners. Held at historic Gallaudet University, The Summit is Sojourners’ homecoming for old friends and new and also a time to practice two overlooked justice activities: honoring and blessing.
The first group of people we honor at The Summit are elders, leaders who’ve paved the way for us to follow. The elders we’ve honored over the years—including Rep. John Lewis, Marie Dennis, Walter Brueggemann, Ruby Sales, John Perkins—are heroes. We thank them for their pioneering leadership, learn from their wisdom, and ask for their blessing on our own work.
But we also honor new leaders—folks whose names may not be widely known but whose commitment to social justice is unmistakable. We recognize them for their efforts to create a more equitable and peaceful world before we offer our blessing on their work that lies ahead.
Is It Okay to Punch a Neo-Nazi?
NEO-NAZIS AND WHITE SUPREMACISTS are marching again. Counterprotesters are opposing and disrupting. Where do Christians stand? In April, Sojourners senior associate editor Rose Marie Berger launched this question on social media: Is it okay for a Christian to punch a Nazi? A lively conversation followed, eventually generating nearly 100 replies—and about as many different understandings (and misunderstandings) of Christian nonviolence. Excerpts from the conversation below are edited and used with permission. —The Editors
Rose: Is it okay for a Christian to punch a Nazi? Discuss.
Maureen: Last time I checked it is not okay to punch anyone, no matter who you are. Right?
Nate: Yes. Pacifism doesn’t work against genocide. You have to have an opponent who can feel shame. Nazis call for the extinction of my people and have proven they are willing to try and carry that out.
Rose: Is pacifism the same as organized unarmed resistance?
Nate: In my head it has the same results against Nazis. Nazis are my only punching exception.
Larry: Ask Dietrich Bonhoeffer ...
Nate: Show me where Bonhoeffer succeeded in stopping the Nazis. I’ll wait.
Larry: He didn’t, but he didn’t resist passively.
Korla: Choosing to accept death for yourself is substantially different from choosing to accept it for other people, particularly from a position where you’re incredibly low on the list of targets. That’s cowardly and colonial.
New & Noteworthy: June 2018
Four culture recommendations from the editors.
Letters to the Editor
Spirit of Compassion
I read with great interest the article on Northmead Assembly of God’s Circle of Hope AIDS clinic in Zambia (“When the Spirit Comes Down,” by Wonsuk Ma, January 2017), because I spent six months in 2011 conducting research there with support groups for people living with HIV. Clinic clients I interviewed reaffirmed my observations about staff members’ dedication, often reporting that they were grateful that the clinic was in their low-income neighborhood. Most crucially, I noted how staff members showed acceptance and compassion toward all clients. While the clinic faces challenges—long lines, clients who sometimes do not adhere to their medications, excellent staff members who may be “poached” by other donors—it does important work in Zambia’s AIDS response.
It is encouraging to hear about the good work being done in Pentecostal churches around the globe (“When the Spirit Comes Down”). However, there was not one word in the article about the plight of homosexuals living in these societies. These churches are often at the forefront of oppressing gay people in the name of religion. Until we all confront the horrific situation of gay people (ostracism, forced marriage, beatings, prison, and execution) in so many places, especially Africa and the Caribbean, I can’t take these churches or their brand of religion seriously.
Robin Van Liew
Thank you for providing a magazine that I am able to count on for intelligence and sensitivity in both your writing and reporting. However, I must take exception to the claim that Elizabeth I “founded” the Anglican Church (“Entering my ‘Power Decade,’” by Catherine Woodiwiss, January 2017). While it is true she is credited for the eponymous settlement, those acts of Parliament did not “found” anything that did not already exist. They smoothed the waters so that the English church could proclaim the gospel in relative peace.
Traverse City, Michigan
I want to thank you for publishing the article by Susan K. Smith on John Rush in your December 2016 issue (“Can Business Be Beautiful?”). It presents a different (and more accurate) example of Appalachia than does J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy. As a born-and-bred hillbilly, I take great umbrage at Vance’s book. It is a very courageous memoir of one family, but that’s what it is—the story of one very dysfunctional family and the salutary effects of the Marines on one very mixed-up young man. Most poor and working-class Appalachians have not become as disoriented and dysfunctional as Vance’s family. Many of them, like Rush, have started enterprises of their own or are otherwise engaged at jobs they find rewarding. While not all these businesses are social enterprises as is Rush’s, they all nevertheless indicate successful adjustments to situations in which people find themselves.
Assets in Heaven
Please do more articles on businesses that have doing good in the world as their bottom line (“Can Business Be Beautiful?”). Business owner John Rush makes a point about the profit-making business model that it is the love of money that is a problem, not having money itself. A current line of research, however, is showing that it isn’t as simple as that; money and decision-making power over others quickly reduce compassionate awareness and behavior. Jesus was right about wealth: Good motivations and intentions are not enough. Any condition that reduces our sense of shared vulnerability with others works against our ability to live lives of universal love.
Letters to the Editor
D.L. Mayfield’s article (“Church Planting and The Gospel of Gentrification,” July 2017) hit home and is an important conversation. Out of economic necessity after a bout of homelessness, I moved into a neighborhood jokingly referred to as “meth alley” by the uptown people. Our neighborhood health statistics were dismal because of poor access to anything resembling fresh food. When we became the object of “saving” by some churches from the other side of town that wanted to be missional, they didn’t ask us what we needed. We became the project of outreach by young, white, educated, privileged religionists intoxicated by their specialness. The exuberant youths were quite clueless that we had some wisdom about what our neighborhood could use. Most were from two local Bible colleges and had grand ideas about urban outreach.
They planned a hipster coffee shop that the evangelical whites with privilege would use as a base of operation, providing tutoring to our youth. They believed they would open their doors to the unfortunate of my dismal neighborhood and we would come flooding in to be saved by their great goodness from our great need.
I just wanted to recover and get a job. What my saviors failed to see without exception were my strengths—my resilience, the gifts I wanted to bring to my community, and my long experience with making do in the most hostile of circumstances. They could have asked, and I would have told them patiently, but they weren’t listening because they knew all there was to know about poverty and how to fix it.
I didn’t have the gas money to get to church; they were going to Hawaii for a break from us.
My suggestion: If any church or Bible college wants to be missional, ask the community what they most need. Ask who the community leaders already are and help them! Jobs and microloans to small neighborhood businesses are a place to start. Transportation opportunities to those jobs and access to good food are tangible helps. Without giving neighbors the dignity of being understood as people that have much to contribute to our own communities, being “missional” alienates and harms.
Thanks to Danny Duncan Collum for introducing me to Jessi Colter’s album The Psalms (“Strange and Beautiful Psalms,” July 2017). It is a balm to me during this summer’s heat. Once you hear it, there’s no turning back.
New Language Needed
Regarding Leslie Copeland-Tune’s article “What Are Block Grants” in the June 2017 issue: I am frustrated when Medicare and Social Security are called “entitlement” programs. Of course, all who have contributed into each fund during their working lives are entitled to the benefits we receive, but Medicare is a federal health insurance program and Social Security is a federal retirement program. Unfortunately, both funds have been raided by Congress for other purposes and are now in some jeopardy. Perhaps if we used language other than “entitlements,” which gives the impression of being undeserved, these programs would be held in higher regard and protected.
New & Noteworthy
For the critically acclaimed film I Am Not Your Negro, filmmaker Raoul Peck drew upon an unfinished manuscript by writer James Baldwin and archival footage to fashion a searing narration about race in America. Opens in theaters in February. Magnolia Pictures
People of the Book
In Islam: What Non-Muslims Should Know, John Kaltner, a Rhodes College professor of Muslim-Christian relations, explains the basics of Islam, including frequently misunderstood practices. Originally released in 2003, this is a newly revised and expanded edition. Fortress Press
A Chicago church divided a financial windfall among its members, $500 each, telling them to use it to do good in God’s world. Laura Sumner Truax and Amalya Campbell tell the practical and inspiring lessons learned in Love Let Go: Radical Generosity for the Real World. Wm. B. Eerdmans
Mishwar Music , by The Homsies, is a three-song EP recorded in a refugee camp in Akkar, Lebanon, with a team of youth from Homs, Syria. It is available for download on Bandcamp. mishwar.org