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New & Noteworthy
Piety’s Dark Side
Love the Sinner is a short documentary narrated by queer filmmaker Jessica Devaney, who grew up in a conservative evangelical church. In the wake of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, she takes a hard look at the connection between Christianity and homophobia. lovethesinnerfilm.com
Crisis and Conscience
Simone Campbell, Kelly Brown Douglas, Jacqueline M. Hildago, George “Tink” Tinker, Kwok Pui-lan, Jim Wallis, and others write about the “confessional crisis” of our political era and possible faithful responses in Faith and Resistance in the Age of Trump. Edited by Miguel A. De La Torre. Orbis
A Lifetime Adventure
Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation throughout Life’s Seasons explores calling as something we wrestle with not just as young adults but “from infancy to old age,” combining social science insights with practical theology. Edited by Kathleen A. Cahalan and Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore. Eerdmans
John M. Perkins, co-founder of the Christian Community Development Association, has spent decades working for a gospel that is inseparable from racial and economic justice. In the memoir Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win, he reminds us, “It all comes down to love.” Baker Books
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.
Having Our Cake?
IN THE TERM that begins this fall, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The nine justices will decide: Is a baker with sincerely held religious objections to same-sex marriage obliged—by anti-discrimination laws—to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple?
But underneath the frosting, the case exemplifies a much broader conversation in which religious liberty is pitted against civil liberties. In this ongoing fight, sides are often split down partisan lines, with conservatives championing religious liberty and liberals defending civil rights.
This religious-freedom-vs.-civil-liberties split is frustrating to many. After all, religious liberty isn’t just for conservatives; the First Amendment offers important protections to all people of faith, from Muslims who seek permits to build mosques to Christians who are conscientious objectors to war. At the same time, we care deeply about civil rights, especially in an era when so many Americans face discrimination because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. In a nutshell, we want to support religious freedom for all while also protecting the civil liberties of LGBTQ folks and other minorities. But is that even possible?
Baptist minister and constitutional lawyer Oliver Thomas is optimistic, but not naive. In “Clash of Liberties,” he explains how religious liberty laws morphed from bipartisan efforts to ensure religious liberty for all into tools used by conservatives and liberals alike to press their own advantage. If we’re serious about protecting both, Thomas writes, we’re going to have to do something that’s easier said than done: lay aside our ideological differences and work for the common good.
New & Noteworthy
Tuxedos on Ice
Need a cold distraction from summer heat? Love penguins? Want to be inspired by rugged scenery and a field biologist’s enthusiasm for his work, despite harsh conditions, endless counting, and climate change? The documentary film The Penguin Counters is now out on iTunes and DVD. First Run Features
Find What’s Missing
In the picture book Who Counts? 100 Sheep, 10 Coins, and 2 Sons, biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine and children’s book author Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso imaginatively retell three of Jesus’ parables. Suitable for kids 4 to 8. Includes afterword for parents and teachers. Illustrated by Margaux Meganck. Westminster John Knox
An American Story
Amir Hussain’s Muslims and the Making of America is a compact overview of how Muslims have been an intrinsic part of American society, politics, and culture since the colonial era. Released last fall, but timelier than ever as anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions grow. Baylor University Press
In Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers, and Hope , Albert Y. Hsu explores the hard emotional and spiritual questions survivors face. First published in 2002, this newly revised and expanded version includes updated resources and a discussion guide for suicide-survivor groups. IVP Books
Letters to the Editor
Pricing Carbon Fuels
Thank you for your fine article on climate change (“Shattering the Silence on Climate Change” by Teresa Myers, Connie Roser-Renouf, and Edward Maibach, May 2017). There is no larger long-term challenge facing humankind. The mention of Citizen’s Climate Lobby deserves expansion. This grassroots, nonpartisan, national group has a very workable, market-friendly proposal to help us move forward: enacting a steadily rising federal fee on all carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). The net revenues from this fee would be returned on an equal per capita basis to all legal U.S. residents. Such a fee would correct a failure of the market to properly price the environmental and social costs associated with use of these resources. It would have a positive impact on economic growth, would favor a transition to nonpolluting energy resources, and would be fair to low-income residents.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
The Pride of Milwaukee
One of the names in Lisa Sharon Harper’s “Find the Cost of Freedom” (May 2017) was instantly familiar to me: James Cameron, the only young man “spared” from lynching, by imprisonment. I only wish Harper could have gone further in highlighting Cameron’s life. Having lived most of my life in the Milwaukee metro area, I have heard so much about Cameron—an extremely studious man and founder of the Black Holocaust Museum, a one-of-a-kind exhibition. Cameron was an exemplary man. He should be much more well-known than he is, and for much more than that he escaped a lynching. He was (and still is, as his heritage lives on) a very important man for Milwaukee residents.
Heartless Housing Policy
I was very happy to read the recent article “Raise Your Hand if You Live in Subsidized Housing,” by Neeraj Mehta (June 2017). It helps to uncover how we “allocate resources to people we value” and shows the inequality of how we subsidize housing in America. From my work with Hearts for Homes in Macomb County, Mich., it is clear to me that negative biases and stereotypes of low-income renters justify inaction on the part of policy makers and middle-class Americans. With the numbers of homeless children on the rise, at a time when employment is the highest since 2001, we still easily blame the poor as “not being responsible” or “having bad spending habits.” However, we seem unable to acknowledge or take responsibility for a housing system that requires many families to pay more than half of their income in housing expenses, putting many at risk of homelessness.
Mt. Clemens, Michigan
Reading Danny Duncan Collum’s piece on Reinhold Niebuhr (“The Niebuhr We Need,” April 2017) and viewing the new documentary by Martin Doblmeier sent me back to my own review of America’s cold war theologian (“Apologist of Power,” March 1987). I write to commend James Cone’s chapter on Niebuhr in The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Orbis, 2011). Cone argues that Niebuhr’s theology of the cross was so abstract that it never occurred to him to recognize the most obvious representation of the former in the latter. Though still faculty at Union Seminary, Cone was not interviewed for the film.
Your response here. Write to email@example.com or Letters, Sojourners, 408 C Street NE, Washington, DC 20002. In-clude your name, city, and state. Letters may be edited.
About Loving Thine Enemies...
LOVING THY NEIGHBOR may be one of the greatest commandments, but loving thy enemies is surely the hardest. In the past few months, we’ve seen an outpouring of the former: crowds rallying at airports to welcome refugees; churches, cities, and campuses establishing sanctuary for undocumented immigrants; courageous bystanders intervening to protect strangers from harassment and violence.
But when it comes to loving the very people who have caused real harm to us and our neighbors—for example, peddlers of fake news, white nationalists, and members of certain presidential administrations—the crowd grows thin. And understandably so: Why should we extend love to those who perpetuate a politics of hate? What would loving those people even look like?
Former white nationalist Tony McAleer has an answer. As co-founder of Life After Hate, a nonprofit that helps people leave extremist groups, McAleer has seen how small gestures of compassion can transform those consumed by hate. So when McAleer met a young veteran inching toward anti-Islam extremism, he took him to meet a local imam. “It’s incredibly powerful to receive compassion from someone you’ve dehumanized,” McAleer tells Jason Byassee in our cover story.
Of course, loving your enemies does not mean condoning their actions. Neither does it mean a disregard for the safety or well-being of those who an enemy may harm, including ourselves. Yet even with these caveats, it’s impossible to domesticate Jesus’ commandment: Seeking restoration rather than retribution for those who do evil is truly radical. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, nonviolent enemy-love forces us to recognize “that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people.” Try thinking about that the next time you see a sound bite of your least favorite politician.
Read Jason Byassee's profile of Tony McAleer, "Confessions of a Former White Supremacist," in the August 2017 issue.
New & Noteworthy
Memphis-born Don Bryant, who is 74 but sounds decades younger, has made a throwback-yet-fresh soul album, Don’t Give Up On Love. Along with the standout, gospel-fired “How Do I Get There?” are exuberant grooves and smooth ballads on more earthly themes. Fat Possum Records
Evangelical-rooted professors Marion H. Larson and Sara L.H. Shady believe interfaith dialogue is vital—and doesn’t demand watered-down faith. In From Bubble to Bridge: Educating Christians for a Multifaith World , they offer Christians the perspective and tools to build bridges. IVP Academic
Every Day Holy
Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home , by Traci Smith, offers 50 do-it-yourself ideas to incorporate spiritual practice into the bustle and hum of families with children. Includes activities suitable for different age levels (including the child at heart). Chalice Press
Write Me a Letter
Shortly after the 2016 U.S. election, novelist Carolina De Robertis invited writers and activists to explore themes of hope in epistolary essays. The result is Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times, with Junot Diaz, Alicia Garza, Jane Smiley, Jeff Chang, Celeste Ng, Hari Kunzru, and others. Vintage
Humility and Justice in the City
“SEEK THE WELFARE of the city.” In recent years, Jeremiah 29:7 has been the mantra of urban church planters. Yet, as D.L. Mayfield points out in our cover story, these mostly white, missional-minded Christians “talk a lot about moving in and contributing to the flourishing of a city, but say little on the negative disruption that these moves can make in the existing community.” Ask a church planter to share their theology of gentrification, says Mayfield, and you’ll likely get blank stares.
It’s a personal story for Mayfield. Despite her missionary training and experience living among the urban poor, Mayfield felt helpless when gentrification hit her low-income neighborhood. “I can love my neighbors with my entire heart and soul, but what does that mean when every month more are driven away by increasing rents?” she writes. “How is our gospel good news for anyone but the gentrifiers themselves?”
And it’s a personal story for us, too. In 1975, the Sojourners community moved from Chicago to Columbia Heights, then one of the poorer neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. For the next three decades, we loved the neighborhood as best we could: We opened a daycare center, engaged in tenant organizing, and ran “freedom schools” with our low-income neighbors. And we tried to learn from those who’d been there long before we showed up.
But when developers began eyeing the neighborhood in the early 2000s, we realized our good intentions couldn’t protect our most vulnerable neighbors. Our mere presence—a couple dozen mainly white, middle-class people—gave the appearance of a neighborhood already “safe” for those with higher incomes. Property values rose, Starbucks moved in, and long-term residents were pushed out.
Mayfield’s article is a challenge to Christians making new church homes in urban areas. As we know well, trying to walk humbly and do justice in the city is a long, often-difficult journey.
Letters to the Editor
A Red Flag?
Regarding the Episcopal church called “The Cathedral of the Confederacy” (“Robert E. Lee Worshipped Here,” by Betsy Shirley, April 2017): Token efforts of repentance such as the removal of the Confederate flag will not suffice; full biblical repentance requires massive restitution in order to repair the enormous oppression and damage done to African-American people over the centuries.
It’s always great to read about an entrepreneur who shows that justice can be good business (“Grocery Store Inequity,” by Courtney Hall Lee, April 2017). I was interested to read of Jeff Brown’s effort to introduce quality, convenient shopping to low-income areas of Philadelphia because I lived in the southwest Germantown part of that city for two years back in the mid-1980s. I quickly noticed, when visiting the suburbs, that perishable food was much more plentiful and varied and lasted longer than food I bought at the “supermarket” a mile away from my apartment. One can only suppose that low-income folk did not find expensive, quickly spoiled food appealing and, since they didn’t buy it, healthy, fresh food was harder and harder to get. People are too often blamed for their own poor health habits. Please keep informing about the barriers faced in the name of “just business.”
Spivey’s Still Got It
Regarding “The Trump Presidency, One Year Later,” by Ed Spivey (April 2017): I laughed so many times that my wife wanted to read it! I think humor may be one of the best antidotes for the toxicity of our times. Spivey’s humor is also self-deprecating, which is more effective than the self-righteousness I feel and express so often. Thank you, Ed, for making us laugh while reminding us that we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Charles R. Crawley
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Don’t Discount Adam Smith
Several points from your interview with Chuck Collins (“Wealth and the Common Good,” March 2017) illustrate the compatibility of his ideas with the economic system of capitalism proposed by Adam Smith. Smith sharply criticized stark economic inequalities. He advocated good wages for workers, writing that efficiencies in the division of labor made it possible to spread wealth even to the lowest ranks of the people. He advocated progressive taxation. And he argued that people were the same—no “myths of deservedness” for Smith. Finally, while Smith did not say anything about campaign finance reform, his excoriating comments on the political power of the wealthy are potent. The clear inference is that the wealthy should not have disproportionate electoral power.
For too long, American political discourse has featured a false dichotomy between capitalism and socialism. This dichotomy has been based on a gross distortion of Smith’s system. It is time to change the conversation to what kind of capitalism would be best for the country and the world: the savage capitalism of recent decades, or the capitalism with justice and equal opportunity that Smith advocated.
John E. Hill
“But what about ...?” Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or Letters, Sojourners, 408 C Street NE, Washington, DC 20002. Include your name, city, and state. Letters may be edited.
From the Editors
“My hope for the future is that the church will be an authentic witness to the gospel despite the cost,” Filipino Bishop Francisco F. Claver, SJ, told Sojourners in 1979, “even if it means being crushed.” In the decades that followed, Sojourners reported the involvement of Filipino Christians in the People Power movements against repressive regimes that were often aligned with U.S. military power. Christians who spoke out were branded as communists. Many were tortured and killed by the military or vigilante groups.
But the Filipino church, though pressed, was never crushed. “I’ve been very encouraged by what I have seen in our people,” Karl Gaspar said in a 1988 issue of Sojourners. Gaspar—a Filipino poet, Redemptorist brother, and longtime friend of Sojourners—spent two years in prison in the early ’80s under the regime of Ferdinand Marcos. Yet he remained hopeful, “convinced that God is present despite all that which would negate God’s presence in this village.”
In this issue, Eric Stoner reports on faith-based opposition to Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ president who positioned himself as a “tough on crime” political outsider and declared himself “happy to slaughter” the nation’s 3 million drug users—and seems to be making good on his promise.
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