Editor, Sojourners magazine

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?

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

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)

Posts By This Author

It's a Wrap

by Julie Polter 01-01-2001

You think ads are everywhere? You ain't seen nothing yet.

Catalog Jesus

by Julie Polter 11-01-2000

I confess: I was a catalog girl who grew up to be a catalog woman.

Living a Good Death

by Julie Polter 09-01-2000

Bill Moyers on dying in America.

Clowns and Poets and Artists -- Oh, My!

by Julie Polter 07-01-2000
Saying no to the Disneyfication of America.

A Revelation in Black and White

by Julie Polter 07-01-2000

Artist Barry Moser's new illustrated Bible shows that the people of scripture---and books themselves---are very much alive.

We all have to die. But does it have to cost so much!?

by Julie Polter 05-01-2000
What can churches do about funeral industry rip-offs?

Cheryl Grossman and her husband used to laugh together about all the "rigmarole" that most funeral services involved. So when he died suddenly in October 1997, Cheryl knew that he would want the arrangements to be simple. Grossman, with a friend to support her, went to a funeral home to arrange a direct cremation. The funeral director kept "upselling"—pressing her to consider more expensive alternatives.

"Had I not had a friend who went with me, and had I not had a firm resolve, I probably would have signed anything," she says. "To be manipulated in that way at that time was one of the most obscene things I’d ever experienced."

Cheryl Grossman’s funeral home encounter is a common one. Not so common is how she took her experience to church—and how her church embraced it. Cheryl’s Catholic parish, St. Catherine of Siena in Austin, Texas, has offered a diverse array of practical and pastoral supports to the grieving for some time. Last year Grossman and two other parishioners helped create a death and funeral resource booklet that gathers information on all applicable parish ministries and other area resources in a convenient portable form. It includes specific information on affordable funeral options, planning sheets, and step-by-step advice for those dealing with a death in the family (see "Reclaiming Our Rites," p. 33).

Such a booklet is a simple, straightforward thing, but not every church would know how to welcome it. Most American Christians, including clergy, are almost as comfortable talking about the practical, concrete details of funerals as they are talking about the practical, concrete details of sex. In other words, the topic doesn’t come up much. And unlike sex, funeral planning isn’t a hot topic outside of church either.

Shop Before You Drop

by Julie Polter 05-01-2000
Steps to getting the funeral you want and can afford

Know your rights and options. Can you bring a casket purchased elsewhere to a funeral home? Is embalming required? The Federal Trade Commission provides information on the laws regulating funeral goods and services at www.ftc.gov/bcp/rulemaking/funeral/index.htm or call toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP. Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love, by Lisa Carlson (Upper Access, 1998) covers a wide range of approaches to making funeral arrangements and has state-by-state listings of legal requirements, state-specific consumer concerns, institutions for body donation, and other resources.

Comparison shop. In a 1999 survey of Fort Worth, Texas funeral homes, the price for an immediate burial (no viewing) ranged from $825 to $3,600. So avoid a rip-off by phoning or visiting funeral homes to compare prices. Some local memorial societies can provide a region-specific baseline of fair prices for goods and services. The AARP also provides consumer advice for funerals and related expenses at www.aarp.org/confacts/money/funeral.html. You can also price caskets online—www.directcasket.com is one such retailer. If you are making arrangements due to an unexpected death, have someone who isn’t grieving accompany you to help you ask questions and resist any sales pressure. A specific caveat: Don’t buy "protective seal" caskets. These are sold under the pretense of protecting the body, but because of the action of anaerobic bacteria, reality is quite gruesomely otherwise.

Reclaiming Our Rites

by Julie Polter 05-01-2000
The power of ministering to the bereaved

As someone who’s had several deaths in my family, I can testify that prayers and casseroles are both helpful to the grieving process. But they’re not the only things that church people have to offer.

Members and pastors of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Austin, Texas, provide the bereaved with babysitting, transportation help, meals, liturgy planning, accompaniment to the funeral home, a post-funeral reception, bereavement groups, and counseling. Last year parishioners Carole Hawkins, Bob Leidlein, and Cheryl Grossman put together a resource booklet (incorporating materials from the Austin Memorial and Burial Information Society) after having shared their "funeral stories" with one another. They credit Father Oliver Johnson for actively encouraging parishioners to draw from their experiences and create ministries for the whole community.

Grossman is involved in plans for a diocesan-wide conference on the pastoral response to end-of-life issues. "This opens the forum to a large geographic area and a diverse community," she explains. "Folks without many financial or education resources will have access to a wide variety of experience and information."

You Call That Art!?

by Julie Polter 01-01-2000
Artists and believers have something to talk about.

Elvis, Stalin, or Francis of Assisi?

by Julie Polter 01-01-2000

Who would you choose as Person of the Millennium?

You're Going to Eat That?

by Julie Polter 11-01-1999

When the price paid to farmers for hogs crashed to Depression-era lows a year ago, it was nothing less than cataclysmic for independent hog growers.

Do Something Pretty

by Julie Polter 09-01-1999

Quirky, intelligent music from Belle and Sebastian.


by Julie Polter, by Rachel Thomas 09-01-1999

Bringing people together.

Bringing people together.

by Julie Polter 07-01-1999

Volunteer Opportunities

A Civil Discourse

by Julie Polter 05-01-1999

Seeking common ground on abortion clinic activism.

Radio Rules

by Julie Polter 01-01-1999
Taking back the airwaves for free speech and local issues.

Wrestling With the 'Scary' Words

by Julie Polter 01-01-1999
Kathleen Norris' Amazing Grace

Waiting and Hope

by Julie Polter 11-01-1998
Advent, incarnation, and the daily news.

Called to Stand with Workers

by Julie Polter 09-01-1998

This morning's Washington Post said it is a "workers' market." A booming U.S.

Praying for Power

by Julie Polter 07-01-1998
Unholy alliance pushes more than religious freedom.

Some Christians have tried for a "school prayer" amendment to the Constitution ever since the early 1960s, when the Supreme Court banned state-sponsored religious activity in public schools. On June 4, the latest attempt—called the "Religious Freedom Amendment" by its sponsor, U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.)—was the first such measure to reach a House floor vote in 27 years. Although it failed to get the two-thirds majority required for passage, the measure and the largely partisan vote (a majority of Republicans favored the measure, a majority of Democrats opposed) holds continuing significance for the U.S. political scene.

The Istook amendment is a case study in the muddy water that gets stirred up when true believers begin playing partisan politics. According to a New York Times report, House Speaker Newt Gingrich met with Christian Coalition Chair Pat Robertson soon after the amendment passed the Judiciary Committee. Gingrich renewed a 1994 pledge to religious conservatives to bring a school prayer amendment to a House vote. Besides the Istook amendment, Gingrich also agreed to push legislation eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and approving voucher-style tax deferrals for private religious school tuition, all before the November elections.

The Christian Coalition spent more than half a million dollars on behalf of the amendment, including radio ads in the districts of targeted members of Congress. It seems likely that votes against the Istook amendment by members of Congress up for re-election will be used against them by both secular conservatives and the Religious Right during the campaign season. Which means that a matter of faith and conscience will have been reduced to just another wedge issue in the struggle for political dominance.