From Ferguson to New York to Germany, Lisa has been leading trainings and helping mobilize clergy and community leaders around shared values for the common good, with a focus on racial justice. Prior to joining Sojourners, Lisa was the founding executive director of New York Faith & Justice — an organization at the hub of a new ecumenical movement to end poverty in New York City. In that capacity, she helped establish Faith Leaders for Environmental Justice, a citywide collaborative effort of faith leaders committed to leveraging the power of their constituencies and their moral authority in partnership with communities bearing the weight of environmental injustice. She also organized faith leaders to speak out for immigration reform and organized the South Bronx Conversations for Change, a dialogue-to-change project between police and the community.
Harper’s faith-rooted approach to advocacy and organizing has activated people across the U.S. and around the world to address structural and political injustice as an outward demonstration of their personal faith.
Asked why she does what she does, Lisa Sharon Harper’s answer is clear: “So that the church might be worthy of the moniker ‘Bride of Christ’.” Through preaching, writing, training, network development, and public witness Ms. Harper engages the church in the work of justice and peacemaking. For example: Ms. Harper helped build the Evangelical Immigration Table from 2011-2013. She fasted for 21 days as a core faster with the 2013 immigration reform Fast for Families, trained and catalyzed evangelicals in St. Louis to engage the 2014 push for justice in Ferguson and did the same in Baltimore in 2015. Harper was recognized in 2015 as one of “50 Powerful Women Religious Leaders to Celebrate on International Women’s Day” by the Huffington Post.
She earned her master’s in human rights from Columbia University in New York City and is currently in the process of ordination in the Evangelical Covenant Church. She is also author of The Very Good Gospel and is president and founder of Freedom Road, L.L.C., a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap.
Posts By This Author
Find the Cost of Freedom
THEY CAME TO the front and waited to speak with me. They were weeping.
The day before, I sat in the front seat of a packed car. Five beautiful black women, including one of the women now in tears, rolled toward Marion, Ind.—the site of the last public lynching in the North.
On the sweltering summer night of Aug. 7, 1930, three African-American teenagers—Thomas Shipp, Abram Smith, and James Cameron—sat huddled in their jail cells in Marion. Thousands of white men, women, and children gathered outside the jailhouse, screaming and jeering—demanding blood. The three were charged with the ultimate sin against whiteness—killing a white man and raping a white woman. They were dragged from the jailhouse, beaten, and strung up on a low-hanging tree branch a block away on the courthouse square, in the center of town. For some reason, Cameron was spared. The other two were not.
The town photographer captured the moment: The mob congregated like lions around mangled prey. Lips licked, satisfied grins splayed across the faces of young women and old women, young men and old men. Floral dresses, white shirts with buckled pants, and hats atop straight-backed heads covered bursting egos as they reveled in victory. One man pointed to their ritual sacrifice, and that moment became an iconic illustration of American lynching.
The Battle Against Black Freedom Wasn't Nonviolent
IN JUNE 1964, 54 years ago this month, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner were asked by leaders of the Congress of Racial Equality to investigate the burning of a black church that had doubled as a Freedom School in Neshoba County, Miss.
More than 1,000 people, including college students, boarded buses bound for Mississippi that year. Over the preceding four years, these young people had witnessed a Southern sea change, from school desegregation to the integration of lunch counters, buses, bus depots, and movie theaters. They witnessed the Children’s March in Birmingham—hoses, dogs, terror faced down by black children who did not run. They stood their ground and they filled jails and they sang about overcoming. These previously silenced and subjugated people were now using the only thing they had—their bodies—to break through. And they had broken through.
Nashville, Greenville, Mont-gomery, Birmingham ... Now, it was Mississippi’s turn. James Meredith had served as the tip of the spear in 1962 when he registered for courses at Ole Miss. Mississippians lost their minds. The ensuing riot required 31,000 National Guards to quell it and left two dead and hundreds wounded. Meredith did register—and was graduated—but Medgar Evers, field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi, was assassinated the following year, in his driveway.
It Didn't Start with Trump
A WHITE EVANGELICAL leader recently asked me how white supremacy shaped Republicanism. The truth is this: Belief in the supremacy of whiteness has shaped both parties and all facets of life in the United States.
The Grand Old Party wasn’t always synonymous with bold-faced bigotry. In fact, it wasn’t even synonymous with the South. The party of Lincoln was crafted in the North in 1854 to counter the expansion of Southern slavocracy into new territories.
As the only surviving party from the nation’s founding, Democrats—based in the South—were keepers of the status quo, maintaining the health of the nation’s nascent systems and structures. The two parties morphed into the two sides of the Civil War: the Union (Lincoln’s Republicans) and the Confederacy (Southern Democrats).
Lincoln’s GOP won and spent the first several post-war years reordering the landscape of power in the U.S.: They outlawed the 246-year-old American economic engine known as slavery, removed race as a determining factor of citizenship, and expanded the right to vote to all male citizens, regardless of race. Formerly enslaved Africans in the U.S. flourished. An estimated 2,000 were elected to public offices across the country—as high as lieutenant governor—and several won seats in the U.S. Senate. But their streak ended when federal troops were pulled out of the South.
Over the next couple of decades, Southern Democrats mounted a legal, social, and political civil war to re-establish white male supremacy in the South. Peonage laws filled former plantations with convict-leased workers by lowering bars of criminality and focusing enforcement on communities of color. Between 1877 and 1950, more than 4,000 black bodies swung from trees across the South while white mobs rioted, massacring black men, women, and children with impunity in states across the Midwest and Upper Midwest.
Then there was a shift.
Gentrification Isn't the Problem
TO LOOK AT HIM, you know he’s lived a hard life. With ridges creasing his 27-year-old face, my cousin Shack looked me in the eye during a family gathering and helped me understand how hopeless he feels. The people in his Newark, N.J. neighborhood are being pushed out of their community. The Whole Foods and condos that are moving in are raising the costs of rent and food. The neighborhood’s old guard can’t keep up. This is the case in almost every city across the country. In my own neighborhood—Petworth in Washington, D.C.—I have watched condos rise around me and Starbucks and small bistros move in over the last six years. When I moved here in 2011, taxi drivers and community veterans told me that, until recently, they considered Petworth one of the most dangerous and impoverished neighborhoods in D.C. Gutted by the violent uprising in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, the adjacent neighborhood Columbia Heights lay abandoned by city services and industry, and given over to poverty and violence, for more than three decades. When the city decided to develop Columbia Heights, it was only a matter of time before they would do the same to Petworth. “But gentrification is not the problem,” Shack said. “Poverty is the problem.” I heard those words and I wanted to push back. The anti-poverty advocate in me wanted to say, “Get with the program, cuz. Gentrification is the devil.” But Shack had a point, a good one. Obviously, repair and development of the neighborhood isn’t the problem—it’s the displacement of often-poorer people by more affluent people that usually goes with it. These neighborhoods should have been repaired and developed decades ago according to the desires of their homeowners and residents.
How Christians Helped Build the Confederacy
“THIS TIFFANY stained glass window was donated by parishioners in honor of Jefferson Davis,” said our guide, Barbara Holley. Holley is a member of the “history and reconciliation initiative” at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Va. St. Paul’s, located across the street from the Virginia general assembly and around the corner from the Confederate White House, was called “the Cathedral of the Confederacy” for a reason. Fragments of stained glass honor Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee. Both men gleaned inspiration, comfort, and resources for their cause here. Their pews are marked with commemorative plaques.
Forget 'Once Upon a Time'
“ONCE UPON A TIME ...” We like that. Four words signal to our colonized brains: “It’s story time!” We’re gonna go on an adventure! We’re gonna meet mice and pumpkins and fairy godmothers and wicked stepmothers and oppressed blonde women wearing baby-blue peasant wear and neat white aprons. And we’re gonna fall in loooooove. Ahhhh ...
July 2003. Rolling across the northern South, I follow a story, from tourist trap to tourist trap along the Cherokee Trail of Tears. “Watch the metanarrative,” says Randy Woodley, our guide on the journey. What do the museums, the plays, the tourist shops want Americans to believe about themselves? “God guided us West.” “It was destiny.” “Those featherheaded people became our friends.” Or: “They were dead before we got here.” Or: “They just left. Sure, they were ‘removed,’ but we had a hoedown for the ones who hid in the hills and stayed.”
3 Things Forgiveness Demands of Us
I had a dream last night that I was reunited with estranged family. Watching them live their lives and being separated from them became unbearable. I sat in my family member’s living room weeping, saying: “I can’t do this anymore.” My not-so-little-anymore niece took me by the hand, in my dream. She walked me to a corner in her room where she laid a prayer cloth on the ground, knelt on her knees facing east, and asked me to offer prayers of forgiveness with her. It stunned me. I woke up.
Racism Broke Us. What Stories We Tell Will Decide If We Heal.
In an age when both explicit and implicit biases are becoming legitimate justifications to curse the image of God, it is time for the church in the U.S. to face itself. It is time to repair the broken fabric of our nation. It is time to interrogate the stories we tell our selves about ourselves by immersing ourselves in the stories of the other.
Lies Lead to Violence. Where Can United Go from Here?
Someone lied. It’s more acceptable to say, “You’ve been bumped because the flight is overbooked,” than to say, “You’ve been bumped because we want your seat to fly our staff. That lie led to violence. Violence led to trauma for passengers, for millions of viewers, and for United, which sustained a $1.4 billion dive in stock value by Tuesday morning and now seems rested at a $255 million loss.
The Stories of Us
Here’s how: We have been living according to different stories of America’s past. As a result, we interpret the present differently. In turn, we dream a different future.