Managing Editor

Julie has been a member of the Sojourners magazine editorial staff since 1990. For the last several years she has edited the award-winning Culture Watch section of the magazine. In her time at Sojourners she has written about a wide variety of political and cultural topics, from the abortion debate to the working class blues. She has coordinated in-depth coverage of Flannery O’Connor, campaign finance reform, Howard Thurman, the labor movement, and much more.

She studied English literature at Ohio State University and has an M.T.S. (focused on language and narrative theology) from Boston University and an M.F.A. in creative nonfiction from George Mason University.

Julie grew up on a farm in the northwest corner of Ohio. She has been fascinated by the power of religious expression in and through culture since she can remember. Obsessively listening to her older sister’s copy of the Jesus Christ Superstar cast recording when she was 10 was an especially crystallizing experience. In addition, Julie’s mother often argued about doctrine and the Bible and took her at least weekly to the public library, both of which were useful background for Julie’s current work.

She lives in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. and is a member of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church (where she had an unlikely four-year reign as rummage sale czarina). Her personal interests overlap nicely with her professional ones: Music, books, reading entertainment, culture, and religion writing, art, architecture, TV, films, and knowing more celebrity gossip than is probably wise or healthy. To make up for all that screen time, she tries to grow things, hike occasionally, and wonder often at the night sky.

Some Sojourners articles by Julie Polter:

Replacing Songs with Silence
Censorship, banning, blacklists: What’s lost when governments stifle musical expression?

It’s the Sprawl, Y’all
Why suburbs-on-steroids are wearing out their welcome. 

Extreme Community
A glimpse of grace and abundance from - of all things - reality TV.

The Politics of Fear

The Cold Reaches of Heaven
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Bill Phillips talks about his faith.

Just Stop It
Daring to believe in a life without logos. An interview with journalist Naomi Klein.

Called to Stand with Workers

Women and Children First
Developing a common agenda to make abortion rare.

Obliged to See God (on Flannery O’Connor)

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Posts By This Author

New and Noteworthy

by Julie Polter 11-02-2012
Four December 2012 culture recommendations from our editors
Outrunning Despair

In the novel Running the Rift, by Naomi Benaron, a young Tutsi runner in Rwanda dreams of competing in the Olympics even as political tensions erupt into unfathomable violence. A story that gives both horror and hope their due. Winner of the 2011 Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Algonquin

Finally, a "Christian Unicorn"

Perpetually quirky indie artist Sufjan Stevens’ new 58-track, 5-EP Christmas collection Silver and Gold promises to offer “holly-jolly songs of hope and redemption.” Not your typical Christmas music, but who needs more of that anyway? Liner notes include essays by Stevens and Vito Aiuto of The Welcome Wagon. Asthmatic Kitty

Keeping it Real

by Julie Polter 10-03-2012
Looking for a powerful read? Check these out.

EVEN IN AN age of ever-faster news cycles and shorter word counts, some journalists still find ways to dig deep into research and reporting to bring history to life and lift up voices that might otherwise be unheard. Here is an eclectic mix of nonfiction works on issues and people that matter.

Can those who commit violent crimes ever truly be rehabilitated? What happens to them once they’re out of prison? In Life After Murder: Five Men in Search of Redemption (PublicAffairs, 2012), Nancy Mullane follows her subjects from prison to welcome-home parties and beyond. While never minimizing the crimes her subjects have committed, she portrays their full, complicated humanity. Moving insights about the ongoing spiritual, emotional, and practical work of accepting responsibility for great wrongs and rebuilding a life after prison are framed by reporting on the convoluted, expensive prison and parole policies of California.

You might not expect gripping drama from a writer specializing in U.S. Supreme Court history, but that’s what Gilbert King’s Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (Harper, 2012) delivers. Long before he became a Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall was an NAACP lawyer who risked his life travelling to the Jim Crow South to defend African Americans accused of capital crimes. Devil in the Grove describes his efforts to save a black citrus picker from the electric chair in a Florida county where the Klan and law enforcement were brutally intertwined—and brings alive an era of domestic terrorism against people of color in the not-distant-enough past.

A Tempest in Arizona

by Julie Polter 10-03-2012
Books are removed from classrooms to avoid discussion of race, ethnicity, or Mexican American history.

TECHNICALLY, the Tucson Unified School District did not ban any books after the Dec. 27, 2011, state court ruling that upheld the Arizona Education Department’s order finding the Mexican American Studies program illegal. But in January, the school district removed from classrooms seven books it said were referenced in the ruling and put them into remote storage. The district, according to Roque Planas of Fox News Latino, also “implemented a series of restrictions ranging from outright prohibition of some books from classrooms, to new approval requirements for supplemental texts, and vague instructions regarding how texts may be taught.”

Former Mexican American Studies teachers have been instructed to not use their former curricula or instruct students to apply perspectives dealing with race, ethnicity, or Mexican American history. So, for example, Shakespeare’s The Tempest can still be taught—but former Mexican American Studies instructors have been advised to avoid discussion of oppression or race (which have long been taught as themes of the play, even in predominantly white classrooms many miles removed from Tucson).

New & Noteworthy

by Julie Polter 09-01-2012
Four September-October 2012 culture recommendations
Across Sacred Fences

More than 50 contributors offer moving, insightful personal essays about interfaith experiences in My Neighbor’s Faith: Stories of Interreligious Encounter, Growth, and Transformation. Edited by Jennifer Howe Peace, Or N. Rose, and Gregory Mobley. Orbis Books

Women Rising

On Oct. 1 and 2, PBS will air the two-part special Half the Sky. Inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s best-selling book of the same name, the film follows the authors through 10 countries to meet people challenging extreme gender inequality and the poverty, trafficking, and violence it perpetuates. pbs.org/independentlens

Education and the Wealth Gap

by Jan Resseger, by Julie Polter 09-01-2012
An advocate for public education argues that trying to make schools "race to the top" while ignoring the role of poverty and school inequality can't bring the systematic change children need.

Ask a random group of people, “How do we improve our public schools?” and you’re apt to get divergent, passionate answers. Christians, like other citizens, have different opinions on how to heal what’s hurting in our education system. What we can share is a belief that all children are truly precious in God’s sight and an understanding that public education is a key component of the common good—that a healthy school system has the potential to bring opportunity and uplift to children regardless of their economic status.

Jan Resseger is the minister for public education and witness with the national Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ. She spoke with Sojourners associate editor Julie Polter in June.

Sojourners: Why is public education a commitment for the United Church of Christ?
Jan Resseger: The commitment to education is a long tradition for us. Our pilgrim forebears brought community schooling and higher education to the New England colonies—New England congregationalism is one of our denominational roots. Another root is the American Missionary Association (AMA), an abolitionist society that grew out of the defense committee for the Africans on the slave ship Amistad. The AMA founded schools for freed slaves as a path to citizenship across the South during and after the Civil War.

Several denominations came together as the UCC in 1957, and our general synods since then have taken stands on issues such as the protection of the First Amendment in public schools and supporting school desegregation through the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. From 1958 to the present, we have spoken to institutional and structural racism and classism in schools. We also have addressed privatization, because we’ve been strong supporters for many, many years of public schools as key to the strength of our society and democracy.

New & Noteworthy

by Julie Polter 08-01-2012
Four August 2012 culture recommendations from our editors

Documentary: "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey"

Aiming to Shine

The debut album by Korean-American hip hop artist Gowe (pronounced “go,” it stands for Gifted On West East), We are HyperGiants, feature lyrics that touch on race, culture, and materialism, while unabashedly praising Jesus. www.facebook.com/TeamGowe

Can I Get a Vision?

If you’re blessed with vacation time this summer, don’t forget to let yourself dream. In Dreaming, Memphis Theological Seminary professor Barbara A. Holmes explores the power of dreams as a place for refueling our personal and social imaginations and meeting the mysterious, living God. Fortress Press

New & Noteworthy

by Julie Polter 07-01-2012
Four July 2012 culture recommendations from our editors
God and the Godforsaken

Rafael Luévano, a Catholic priest and professor, writes a moving narrative theology of suffering—based on extensive field research—in Woman-Killing in Juárez: Theodicy at the Border. A powerful blend of reporting, analysis, and poetic theological meditation. Orbis

Searching Harmonies

Veteran songwriter, producer, and musician Phil Madeira pulls together an all-star lineup including The Civil Wars, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Mat Kearney, and Emmylou Harris for the alt-roots album Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us—nondoctrinal music that yearns for a God who is love. Mercyland Records

Michigan Legislator Silenced

by Julie Polter 06-15-2012

NPR reports that Michigan state representative Lisa Brown was not allowed speak on other legislation yesterday after she made a speech against a bill restricting abortion in which she used the word "vagina." A Republican spokesperson said Brown had violated the "decorum of the House."

"Brown called a press conference, today," the Detroit Free Press reports. "She defended her use of the word "vagina," saying it is the "anatomically medically correct term."

"If they are going to legislate my anatomy, I see no reason why I cannot mention it," she said according to the Free Press.

"Regardless of their reasoning, this is a violation of my First Amendment rights and directly impedes my ability to serve the people who elected me into office," Brown added in a statement released by her office.

Read more here

New and Noteworthy

by Julie Polter 06-01-2012
Four June 2012 culture recommendations from our editors
Street Stories

UCLA professor Jorja Leap has immersed herself in the study of Los Angeles gangs since 2002. Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me about Violence, Drugs, Love, and Redemption displays her deep passion and anthropological insight. Beacon Press

Up with (Real) People

Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It, by Jeffrey D. Clements, looks at the roots and consequences of the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case and presents a strategy to fight back. Berrett-Koehler

The Vagina Dialogues

by Julie Polter 06-01-2012
We've come a long way, baby. Or have we?

It’s profoundly disheartening to see people in political leadership and positions of cultural influence whose understanding of women’s anatomy—and that it is possessed by human beings, not mythical prototype “whores,” “virgins,” or “martyr mothers”—hasn’t progressed much past pre-adolescent hooting at drawings on the boys’ room walls.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not actually looking for excuses to chat about vaginas or hormones with strangers or friends. I’m fairly comfortable with prudish reserve in daily life, especially when the alternative is coarse humor that’s usually not very funny. Then again, if you watch TV sitcoms or contemporary comedy films, hearing the word “vagina” outside of a gynecologist’s office isn’t the surprise it once was. As Ann Hornaday noted in her March 13 essay in The Washington Post, the word is now so prevalent, “it’s hard to believe that, just six years ago, Grey’s Anatomy producer Shonda Rhimes made ABC standards and practices executives so nervous about the word that she substituted the far more playful ‘va-jay-jay.’”

By contrast, when Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” debuted in 1996 it was controversial theater for a number of reasons, the most obvious being the first word in the title. The play was groundbreaking in its forthright exploration of women’s experiences—the brutal, the ecstatic, the ambivalent—in relation to women’s distinctive anatomy. It helped many women reclaim the language for their own bodies in the public sphere, rather than being limited to euphemisms and crudities deployed by others. The play opened up more space to talk about sexual abuse and violence against women, a step in weakening the shame that is part of any abuser’s arsenal.

Mother's Day: Supporting All Women

by Julie Polter 05-09-2012
Stop Violence Against Women word cloud, mypokcik / Shutterstock.com

Stop Violence Against Women word cloud, mypokcik / Shutterstock.com

Whenever there’s talk about honoring mothers and motherhood, I’m always looking for how we as individuals and a society will support the women—of any race, creed, or orientation--who have to scoop up their children and run for their lives or who feel forced to decide between enduring emotional and physical abuse and feeding their children.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been one way that our country has acknowledged and worked to stop the abuse that occurs every day. As Lisa Sharon Harper wrote on this blog last week, the House of Representative’s version of VAWA would exclude certain groups from its protections.

Fictional Truths

by Julie Polter 05-01-2012
Four novels with nothing in common except storytelling done well.

Four novels with nothing in common except storytelling done well.

Nourishing Words

by Julie Polter 05-01-2012
Sidebar to "Work of Many Hands"

Sidebar to "Work of Many Hands"

New & Noteworthy

by Julie Polter 04-01-2012

Worship Across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation, by Gerardo Marti; The Forgotten Bomb; Let It Burn; Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis.

New & Noteworthy

by Julie Polter 03-01-2012

Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America; The Amish; Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit; The Ethical Vision of Clint Eastwood. 

New and Noteworthy

by Julie Polter 02-01-2012

Widow, Queen, Lover, Warrior; Faith in the Struggle; The Message; ‘Do Not Cast Me Away.’

Passages and Pilgrimages

by Julie Polter 02-01-2012

Why sometimes life can seem like one big road trip.

New and Noteworthy

by Julie Polter 01-01-2012

Free South Africa, To Love More Deeply, When Disaster Strikes, Wrestling with Tradition.

'Say, Say the Light'

by Julie Polter 12-01-2011

Advent loops past the second coming to the first -- and to us, stuck waiting in the mud of existence.

New and Noteworthy

by Julie Polter 12-01-2011

Joking for Jesus, The Courage to Love, Body Meets Soul, Rethinking War.