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
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.
The Lie at the Root of Injustice
On the Friday morning before Martin Luther King Day this year I met nine twentysomething Sojourners interns at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall. We collected into a circle, and I told them: “This is sacred ground.” I explained that we would enter the grounds in silence. I instructed the mostly white group to spend 15 minutes examining the memorial — observe — see what they see. Then we would come back together and share what we saw.
One Breath at a Time: 16 Hours in a D.C. Jail
One week ago, I emerged from 31 hours in police custody — 16 hours underground in D.C.’s central jail. It was horrific and holy ground.
I was taken underground by officers and placed in a small steel cage — literally, a cage – where roaches flowed into our walls and floor throughout the night. Curled in a fetal position, I tried to sleep on a 6’ x 2’ steel tray.
“Just one breath at a time,” I thought. “You’ll make it,” I told myself. “One breath at a time.”
I sat on the first wooden pew of the Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, D.C., on New Year’s Eve, with 500 faithful from across the country and thousands who watched online, to worship, testify, and encourage each other.
We came together in the tradition of the 1862 “watch night” service, when enslaved and free African-Americans, abolitionists, and others awaited news that the Emancipation Proclamation would become law and would free black people living in the South. We came together also in the tradition of Jesus, who told his disciples to “keep awake” while he prayed on the night before his crucifixion.
Revelation of Light
On election night, I hunkered down in my living room, eyes glued to the television, waiting for the announcement. When talking heads announced that Hillary Clinton conceded the election to Donald Trump, my body shook — literally. I could not control it. I had never experienced anything like it. A cry rose from the pit of my stomach and quickly turned into a primal scream.
The Roots of InterVarsity's Line in the Sand on LGBTQ Inclusion
Cultural uncertainty was the context in 2011, when Michael was first reported to his staff worker. Uncertainty of campus access and campus culture was the context when managers gathered to forge strategy for the next three years. And uncertainty of InterVarsity staff members’ own convictions and ability to answer students’ questions regarding their sexuality was the context when the Cabinet undertook the task of clarifying InterVarsity’s theological position on human sexuality.
How to Heal Our Ill Nation...and the World
Our nation and the post-colonial world is facing a critical moment. We must face the diagnosis rising from the colonized. We must accept the reality that we are ill. We have been living according to false narratives and led by spiritual lies. And those lies have shaped and ordered life among us since our founding days.
What I Learned About Love at the GOP Convention
What shall we prophesy?
That restoration and repair are possible because God is — because God is love — because love intervenes.
Through Stories, We Can Keep Moving Onward
Seven years ago, on a cold day in December 2009, I entered Elizabeth Detention Center in Elizabeth, N.J. — a minimum-security prison on a pilgrimage organized by the Interfaith Center of New York and Human Rights First. This one-day journey ushered me into the story of immigrants in the New York and New Jersey area, and changed my life.
Why I Still Have Hope
It had been a while since the hashtag of a black man, woman, or child killed by a cop had burned across social media like wildfire. Rather, it seemed the nation had transitioned into a new phase of the struggle — the trial phase.
5 Inspiring Moments From #summitforchange
Jim turned to me and said: “We’re greedy — seeking a second blessing.”
I smiled wryly: “This is my third.”
Roots of Freedom
THE NATION'S FIRST blockbuster television miniseries, Roots, shocked the nation when it started airing on Jan. 23, 1977. Based on Alex Haley’s research on his own family’s story and adapted for television from Haley’s novel, Roots offered the world its first cinematic depiction of Africa and Africans unfiltered through the conduit of Hollywood’s racialized imagination. White Tarzan and Jane were nowhere to be found in Juffure, Gambia. Kunta Kinte was the leading man. Fanta was his ingénue—black ... and beautiful.
For eight nights the Kinte family unfolded from generation to generation, focused on individual family members’ struggles against generations of evil white slave masters.
But the 2016 “reimagined” version of Roots places the snatched descendants of Omoro and Binta Kinte squarely within the unyielding machine of the international slave trade—an economic system that, fundamentally, sought the well-being of European nations at the expense of the rest of the world.
In 380 B.C.E., Plato articulated a grand idea in his treatise The Republic. There is this thing called “race,” he posited. Race is determined by the kind of metal a person is made of, he said: silver, gold, iron, or copper. A person’s race determines how that person serves society.
The transatlantic slave trade took Plato’s notion and expanded the “republic” to encompass the world. Guided by Western philosophers’ notions of human hierarchy, Western popes and monarchs declared the right of Europeans to enslave “uncivilized” peoples for the benefit of the crown. It didn’t take long for Plato’s copper and gold to morph into Virginia judicial law that delineated between slaves and servants based on skin color. Colonial “races” became white, black, and red.
What Will It Take to Repair What Race Broke?
What if these were not our foundations? What if these foundations did not lay the groundwork for philosophical and legal frameworks that created separate and unequal schooling for the next 150 years? What if they did not lay the foundations for racialized de-facto exclusions from the Homestead Act and the G.I. Bill. And what if they did not lay the foundations for environmental and climate injustice that causes heightened hardship in communities with less healthcare and fewer resources. And what if they did not lay the foundations for 1.5 million black men to go missing from black communities, families, churches, and civic structures — prized booty of America’s racialized Drug War and a new source of near free labor for American corporations within state and federal prisons.
When the Good News of the Gospel Doesn't Feel Good Enough
If I were to share my understanding of the gospel to my ancestors who walked the Cherokee Trail of Tears (according to family oral tradition) and slaved in South Carolina and Virginia (according to Census Slave Schedules), would they receive my simple understanding of Jesus’ “good news” as good news? Would they jump for joy to find out “God has a wonderful plan for their lives, but they are sinful and therefore separated from God, but Jesus died for their sin, so if they pray a simple prayer they get to go to heaven?”
If this news would not lead my oppressed ancestors to shout with joy, then maybe it’s not good news at all — or at least it’s not good enough.
The Samaritan Woman And Me
JESUS REMINDS the Samaritan woman at the well that she was created for living water—she, the rejected one, was created for water that brings God’s healing, God’s acceptance, God’s wholeness. She was created for God’s peace between ethnic groups. She was created for God’s peace between genders. She was not created for the wilderness. She was created for places where living water springs from the earth and waters everything and everyone in its path. This hardened woman was created to be loved, and to love.
Humanity’s broken relationship with God is the ultimate cause of all other brokenness. It all stands as evidence of the initial break. In another sense, there is no way humanity could violate relationship with any other created being and not violate its relationship with God. All of creation is bound together by one thing: relationship with our Creator. It is Creator God’s love that binds us all together: To break one tie is to break them all.
And it all unraveled, from verse to verse and chapter to chapter. But that was not the end of the story; it was only the beginning. The first humans were tempted to grasp for their own way to peace in the garden, but their futile reach left them emptier than when they began. They reached for peace and received what Jesus called “well water.”
Like the ultimate Harriet Tubman committed to calling humanity to come home—to find the love it was created for—Jesus sits at the well and says to the nameless enemy, “Give me a drink.” And he doesn’t only speak to her heart. He also speaks to her mind. She has real concerns about the rightful place of worship, concerns hewn out of centuries of ethnic strife. Jesus engages her questions.