Senior Associate Culture Editor

Jenna Barnett is senior associate culture editor at Sojourners

Jenna was born in San Antonio, Texas, and has found home in California, Georgia, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C. She has a B.A. in sociology and religion from Furman University and an M.F.A in Literary Reportage from New York University.

Before joining the Sojourners team, Jenna managed the International Rescue Committee’s large urban gardens in San Diego, and worked as a Peace Writer for the Women PeaceMakers Program at the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, where she used creative nonfiction, interviews, and conflict analysis to tell the life story of Pauline Dempers, a human rights activist and torture survivor from Namibia. It's a life goal of Jenna's to continue uplifting the stories of women who are cooler than she is.

Jenna has written for McSweeney's, the Belladonna, and New York Magazine's Grubstreet. You can follow her on Twitter @jennacbarnett and see what she’s creating at jennabarnett.com.

Posts By This Author

ICE Detains Pastor, Leaving a Wisconsin Community Reeling

by Jenna Barnett 05-17-2019

“In a representative democracy, if our legislators are not legislating in accordance with the moral law that we’re given by God, then it’s really on us to select representatives who will legislate in accordance with that law,” she said.

Advocate for Maternal Health this Mother's Day

by Jenna Barnett 05-09-2019

Photo by Jeremy Paige on Unsplash

In response to rising maternal mortality rates in the U.S., congress has introduced several pieces of legislation in the past several months aimed at saving the lives of women during and immediately after pregnancy.

The Equal Rights Amendment Inches Forward: A 100-Year Fight for Gender Equality

by Jenna Barnett 04-30-2019

Jimmy Carter Signing Extension of Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) Ratification, Nov. 20, 1978. Wikimedia Commons

The House Judiciary Committee today held the first hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment in 36 years. The ERA affirms that, “Women shall have equal rights in the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” If the ERA passes, the word “women” would appear in the Constitution for the first time in history.

11 Women Shaping the Church

by Jenna Barnett 03-08-2019

Every International Women’s Day, Sojourners has the honor and challenge of selecting the women who are most inspiring us in the ways they are leading the church, and through it, the world. This year’s group of women includes pastors and artists, professors and activists, lawyers and painters. Collectively, they are shaping the church into a more inclusive, daring, honest, and action-oriented community of believers. We thank them for it. Below, learn why their work is so important, and pray along with these leaders as you receive their blessings for 2019.

New Study: Largest U.S. Churches Are Unclear on Women's Leadership

by Jenna Barnett 01-30-2019

Rev. Dr. Stacey Cole Wilson at a prayer event to end the government shutdown. 

I spent the first 18 years of my life blissfully assuming all Protestant churches allowed women to preach. At my home church, a tiny Presbyterian (USA) congregation in San Antonio, women spoke from the pulpit as often as they brought lukewarm casseroles to Sunday potluck. But when I left home for college, another first-year ambushed me in the dorm kitchen with his mouth full of 1 Timothy, bursting my egalitarian bubble. While I have since memorized the scriptural justifications for my equal existence and participation in the church, a new study by Church Clarity reveals that I am still far from living in a world where all Protestant churches allow women to lead.

Women and Children Feel the Most Impact of the Shutdown. Here's Why

by Jenna Barnett 01-09-2019

Capitol Hill is seen as a partial U.S. government shutdown continues in Washington. Dec. 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Young

In Donald Trump’s address to the nation last night, meant to emphasize his desire for a physical barrier to close off the southern border, he stated, “Women and children are the biggest victims, by far, of our broken system.” He referenced high rates of sexual assault on the journeys up the southern border and the brutal rape and murder of a California resident by an undocumented immigrant and a U.S. citizen (though he failed to highlight the ladder assailant). I agree with Trump that women and children are the biggest victims of the broken system, though not in all the ways that he had in mind.

Can ‘Locker Room Talk’ Be Redeemed?

by Jenna Barnett 12-19-2018
Four top athletes break down what it means to be a man.

WHEN I WAS a high school soccer and basketball player, locker rooms were a sanctuary for me. I remember elaborate pregame handshakes and earnest debates over whether it was okay to pray for a win. I chatted with teammates about defensive strategy, physics homework, and crushes. But I do not remember anyone ever bragging about sexual assault.

Donald Trump excused as “locker room talk” his vulgar boasting about kissing, groping, and trying to have sex with women during the infamous 2005 conversation caught live by Access Hollywood and released during the 2016 campaign. Trump’s lewd remarks still loom large for me, because I refuse to normalize having an admitted sexual assaulter in the Oval Office and also because UltraViolet, a creative women’s advocacy organization, periodically plays that videotape on a continuous loop in front of the U.S. Capitol. Tourists, members of Congress, and everyone else get a regular reminder of who is in the White House.

However, as UltraViolet’s action and the flood of #MeToo testimonials demonstrate, it is not enough to shine a light on the prevalence of sexual violence. Revelation alone does not beget liberation. We can’t simply hold up a mirror to our cultural misogyny and expect the image to change. For real transformation, we must project a true image—an imago dei —rather than our current distortion.

'I Believe You': Church Leaders Respond to Survivors

by Jenna Barnett, by Jim Wallis 09-27-2018

Photo by Jachan DeVol on Unsplash

On Thursday Dr. Christine Blasey Ford recounted her experience of sexual assault before a committee comprising mostly older white men. Women and other victims of abuse held their collective breath. The details were familiar. The resulting trauma — anxiety, fear of flying, claustrophobia — resonated. Survivors listened — and they recalled their worst experiences.

This Is How #MeToo Will End

by Jenna Barnett 09-20-2018

Photo by Jared Arango on Unsplash

I, too, have felt the thickness of the past 341 days. Because time doesn’t fly in the midst of a long awaited cultural change — it crawls. Time pauses to ask God, “Why?” It stops to lament each child abused by a priest and each survivor silenced to preserve the legacy of a charismatic pastor. 

Cardinal McCarrick Removed from Ministry After Sex Abuse Allegations

by Jenna Barnett 06-21-2018

FILE PHOTO: Archbishop of Washington Theodore E. McCarrick during a Mass in Washington. Jan. 22, 2001. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/Files

The Vatican has decided to remove Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick from ministry after finding allegations that he sexually abused a minor to be “credible and substantiated.” Cardinal McCarrick is one of the most prominent Catholic leaders to ever face such accusations. He is the former Archbishop of Washington, but the abuse in question occurred during his time as a priest in New York 47 years ago.

Thousands of Women Could Die Because of Sessions' Latest Immigration Decision

by Jenna Barnett 06-12-2018

FILE PHOTO: Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Washington, May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Yesterday Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a legal decision that has fatal implications for our neighbors fleeing abuse around the world. Sessions has decided to deny asylum to everyone coming to the U.S. to escape domestic violence, overturning a precedent set by the Obama administration in 2009.

This Mother's Day, Give the Gift of Civic Engagement

by Jenna Barnett 05-11-2018

Even though Congress has not voted on the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, states have begun using it as a model for state-level legislation. We must keep the momentum rolling. This Mother’s Day, give the gift of civic engagement.

10 Pieces You Need to Read About Sexual Assault and the Church

by Jenna Barnett, by Helen Salita 04-30-2018

Just as one month of awareness every April isn’t enough, neither is one 10-article roundup. Our prayer is this: May our reading and writing lead to preaching and legislating, may our preaching and legislating heal trauma and end sexual violence.

How Churches Can Stand for Survivors, Not the Accused

by Jenna Barnett 04-27-2018

Churches must not be scared of what an independent investigation will uncover. Instead, they should fear what an investigation that prioritizes the accused won’t uncover. We cannot truly preach the Good News until we are ready to reveal the bad news of the harassment and violence at work in many of our churches and homes.

2018’s 10 Christian Women to Watch

by Jenna Barnett 03-08-2018

Every International Women’s Day, we compile a roundup of Christian women who are making and shaping history right now. From advocating for immigration reform, to battling racism and abuse in the church and through the church, women are leading the way. Below, the women we are honoring this year share with us their hopes, heroes, and blessings for 2018.

The Golden Globes Held a Funeral. Now Let's Hold One in Church

by Jenna Barnett 01-08-2018

Image via Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

I hope we stop spreading the dangerous myth that abuse and harassment doesn’t happen among Christians.

Have You Ever Heard a Sermon on Domestic Violence?

An Open Letter to Faith Leaders to Speak Out for Survivors

Faith communities can play a powerful role in preventing violence and supporting survivors, but collectively we’re falling short. Two-thirds (65 percent) of pastors say they speak once a year or less about sexual and domestic violence, with 1 in 10 never addressing it at all. This failure has a deep and lasting impact.

'Get "Them" Off the Streets'

by Jenna Barnett 09-18-2017
Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, and the future of juvenile justice

In recent years, the Department of Justice had begun to veer away from the harsh sentencing guidelines that were implemented in the 1980s and ’90s, especially those used to lock up low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. But Trump-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions is on course to stop those changes.

In a new set of guidelines issued in May 2017, Sessions instructed prosecutors to pursue charges for the most serious offense possible, including charges that carried harsh sentences and mandatory minimums. Sessions described these guidelines as “moral and just” and praised them for producing “consistency.”

But humans are not uniform and consistent, and neither are their crimes. U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour believes mandatory minimums and sentencing guidelines make sentencing far too easy. “I considered sentencing to be an art and not a science,” Coughenour told The Atlantic in 2016. “And it’s not a science. It’s a human being dealing with other human beings.”

Neither Angels Nor Demons

by Jenna Barnett 09-18-2017
We preach compassion for girls who endure abuse and trauma, but what about when those same girls commit crimes?

I CAN THINK OF MANY MISTAKES I made before turning 18, including a couple that could have landed me in juvenile detention: fireworks in the suburbs, running from the cops, lying to the cops about running from the cops, and one or two others I’ll keep to myself because everyone I interviewed for this story insists on this: Nobody is the worst thing they have ever done.

If those words are true, Sara Kruzan will not always be the 16-year-old who shot her sex trafficker in the head right after he took her to another hotel room.

And that means Krys Shelley is not just the 17-year-old who used an unloaded gun to rob someone.

But back when Shelley stood trial as a teen, the judge only saw a criminal. Shelley still remembers what the judge said before delivering the 12-year sentence: “Good luck.” He studied Shelley closely. “You’ll do just fine in there.”

Shelley believes that the judge felt like Shelley fit the bill of a juvenile delinquent—black, tall, and masculine. At the time, Shelley identified as a tomboy (today, Shelley is gender nonconforming). From an early age, Shelley could grow a full facial beard because of an inborn hormone imbalance—a common symptom of polycystic ovarian syndrome.

But it’s less about what the courts saw in Shelley, and more about what they didn’t see: an honor-roll student with a steady job whose pastor came to the courtroom to offer support.

Why Is the U.S. Handcuffing Incarcerated Women In Childbirth?

by Jenna Barnett 07-20-2017

Image via Seth Drum/Flickr

The vast majority of incarcerated women have a history of trauma. According to the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, 75 percent of incarcerated women have suffered severe physical abuse by an intimate partner during adulthood, and 82 percent have endured serious physical or sexual abuse as children.