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
The Seeker’s Journey
Seekers are open, curious, earnest explorers. They are on the hunt for truth, meaning, and purpose. They are in touch with the questions of their lives. They are in touch with their need. There is a profound humility in the seeking process. To be a seeker, one must admit she is not God. He must acknowledge that there is something to understand and experience beyond his current reality. In The Story of God, we become seekers on Freeman’s journey. Our eyes are opened to our own questions about God, death, life, love, and purpose.
Preaching While Female
A MILLION YEARS ago, when I was 23 years old, I sat in a lecture hall, flanked by college students who tutored at the youth program where I worked. They had invited me to their campus ministry’s worship service. An Asian-American woman named Susan Cho—young (about my age), tall, straight-backed, clear-voiced, and refreshingly funny—stepped to the podium and began preaching.
I sat transfixed. She dove into the scripture and it came alive! She explained what was going on in the world of the biblical characters in a way that made it feel as if they were living today. I felt like I knew them—I understood them. And then she brought home the meaning of the text for our lives in Los Angeles, months after the 1992 riots. This woman gave one of the most dynamic and biblically accurate sermons I had ever heard.
But then a familiar thought came into my head: “This is heresy,” it whispered.
You see, in college I was part of an evangelical ministry in which women could lead behind the scenes and share their testimony during worship services, but we could not preach or, for that matter, teach the scripture—especially to men. Ideas of male dominance were never taught outright, but they were observed like tenets of the faith.
There Is No Future Without Repentance
It occurred to me: South Africa is no longer under legal apartheid, but apartheid still thrives here — through de facto economic segregation. There are no signs that say “whites only” as they did under apartheid, but there has also been no move by the black government to restore the people to the land that was taken from them.
One question haunted me: How does a white Christian South African live in this apartheid from day to day? 1) One must actively fight injustice, or 2) she must embrace a theology that has nothing to do with it.
Wheaton College and the Future of Evangelicalism
Hawkins' act of solidarity with scapegoated people of Islamic faith — wearing a hijab on campus — and her Facebook statement that Christians and Muslims worship the same God struck a nerve within Wheaton College’s white, politically conservative administration. Ultimately, the public act of solidarity challenged the assumption of white, male, Christian supremacy — the assumption that whites, men, and Christians are more human than anyone else.
Four Things Evangelicals Should Know About Black Lives Matter
But evangelical leaders are stepping forward. They are voicing support for the structural and systemic protection of the image of God in black people. And as in the days of MLK and Mandela, it is essential that allies understand the movement and its operating principles.
The Black Lives Matter movement is the most recent phase of the 500-year global struggle for black freedom. It is not random. It is not disorganized.
Open Letter to the Leadership of #Urbana15 and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
I, along with my colleagues Leroy Barber, Dominique D. Gilliard, Mae Cannon, Micky Jones, Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, and Dr. Brian Bantum, were struck that InterVarsity had made a bold and unique move among modern evangelical non-advocacy-based parachurch organizations. I served on staff with InterVarsity for 10 years from 1995-2005. For five of those years, I served as director of racial reconciliation in Greater Los Angeles. In my last year, I served as racial reconciliation specialist for Southern California. In all those years, most of the organization’s focus was on the reconciliation of cultures within their own communities. In some instances, InterVarsity even dared to address the structural and systemic injustices within its own organization. Occasionally, a campus chapter would respond to a racist incident that occurred on campus. But never before had InterVarsity issued a public statement in support of structural and systemic racial justice in the broader society.
Things Fall Apart
If Facebook feeds are any measure of anxiety levels, then we’re reaching a new high. Friends’ posts share news of overt hatred and violence, the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades:
- A seemingly unending onslaught of police killings of unarmed black people.
- White supremacists shooting people as they pray, setting fire to churches, and shooting into crowds of multiethnic protesters.
- More than 1,000 mass shootings in the U.S. since the 2012 massacre of children at Sandy Hook.
- Millions of Syrian and African refugees flowing into Europe—the greatest movement of people across Europe since the Holocaust.
- The so-called Islamic State ushering in what looks to be a new world war.
- Oh, and the climate is changing at an alarming rate.
It feels like the world is unraveling.
But what if it is? What if we are, in fact, witnessing the end of the world as we know it? Would that be so bad?
Think about it. The world order, as we know it, rests on deep foundations built by worldwide colonization, imperialism, slavery, patriarchy, exploitation, and ecological consumption. Most of the violence listed above traces back to economic and social systems of dominance—one group over another or humanity’s domination of the rest of creation. White supremacists feel threatened because people of color are finally rising up and saying “No more!”
While 16 mass shootings occurred between 1995 and 2005, there were 38 from 2005 to 2015, according to a recent report by Mother Jones. In recent years, people have pushed against the gun lobby with all their might, but the NRA seemed invincible.
Finding Light in the Darkest of Days
Not since the World War II have United States politicians exercised such an extreme level of xenophobia, nationalism, and unapologetic bent toward fascism. Trump is calling Americans to break faith with our own constitution, which guarantees the protection of all faith traditions within our borders. This is not only un-American: It is ungodly. All humanity, regardless of religious affiliation, is made in the image of God. As such every human being is worthy of respect, dignity, and equal protection of the law. To scapegoat Muslim people is to scapegoat the image of God on earth.
There is a real threat, but it does not come from Islam. It comes from a relatively small band of misguided extremists who are leveraging our fear in order to destroy us — from within.
Thanksgiving, Lament, and the Story We Tell
Thanksgiving. That word holds profound meaning for Americans, most of it nostalgic. I remember in grade school when our classes would present Thanksgiving pageants that retold the story of Thanksgiving. We all know it by rote:
The pilgrims were persecuted in England (probably because the men wore buckles on their hats, culottes, and white stockings — who does that?). Anyway, in 1620, they got in a boat and sailed to America, where they met brown people in paper cutout, feathered headdresses and hand-me-down 1970s fringe vests and wrangler jeans. The pilgrims said “Hi!” and the headdress people (called “Indians,” for no good reason) said “How!” When the pilgrims realized they didn’t know how to cook the food in this “new world,” the Indians showed them how to cook cornbread, cranberry sauce, and collard greens (or at least that’s how the story went in my school). Turkeys were plentiful in the new world, so when the hat buckle people and the headdress people held a feast in November of 1621 to celebrate their new friendship, a turkey sat at the center of the table.
This is the way modern adults struggle to teach children the foundations of our nation’s history. What will it take for us to face our history head on — to face the sinful foundations upon which we stand?
Death Does Not Reign
POPE FRANCIS called our country to honor the sacredness of all human life. He called on Congress to embrace a consistent ethic of life—to abolish the death penalty. The state killed no one while Francis walked among us. But three days after his departure, blood flowed.
Six people in five states were scheduled to be executed in the U.S. within one week of each other in the beginning of October:
Wednesday, Sept. 30. Kelly Gissendaner, convicted for the orchestration of the 1997 murder of her husband, converted to Christianity while on death row in Georgia. Gissendaner, a respected student of theology, was put to death after three failed Supreme Court appeals.
Wednesday, Sept. 30. Richard Glossip, who is widely believed to be innocent of the 1997 murder-for-hire for which he was convicted, was scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma, but Gov. Mary Fallin issued a stay of execution. Fallin offered the stay not because she believed that Glossip was innocent, but rather because of questions over whether the state possessed the legal drug protocol to put him to death.
Thursday, Oct. 1. Alfredo Prieto was executed in Virginia for the rape and murder of a woman and her boyfriend in 1988. Prieto was believed to be a serial murderer with an IQ below 70, according to Amnesty International. Prieto had an appeal pending when the state killed him.
Friday, Oct. 2. Kimber Edwards was convicted of the murder-for-hire of his ex-wife in 2000, but another man recently confessed to having acted alone. Edwards, who has autism, originally confessed to the crime, but at his trial and ever since he has said he was innocent. His death sentence was commuted to life in prison by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.
U.S. Military Action Has Never Brought Peace to the Middle East and It Won't Now
“U.S. military intervention is the problem, not the solution. Since the U.S. started bombing Iraq and Syria last year, ISIS has grown stronger.”
In the months since Cortright’s charge the world has witnessed millions of Syrian citizens fleeing the conflict. Having saturated the capacity of neighboring nations to accept refugees, displaced Syrians have continued north through Turkey and Eastern Europe, en route to Germany and neighboring countries. In September, Russia inserted itself into the Syrian military calculus, offering military support for, it claimed, the Assad regime’s fight against ISIS. Instead Russian bombs showered insurgent Syrian rebel forces. Recent reports confirm that Russia is actually helping Assad retake Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, from insurgent forces, with an Iranian assist.
In moments like these it is tempting to stand in solidarity with the disciple Peter, who tried to defend the helpless with military might. When Jesus was seized by temple police, Peter took out his blade and sliced off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Malchus. (Matt. 26:51-56, Luke 22:50, John 18:10-11). Jesus stopped him.
#PopeinDC: This Evangelical’s Zacchaeus Moment
Evangelicals don’t have a pope, or even a single spokesperson. We’re not a single denomination like the Catholic Church, so we lack a comparable hierarchical structure. Particular denominations have presidents or general secretaries, but no one human being serves as the representative figure of God on earth within the evangelical faith. Rather, following the teaching of Genesis 1:26-27, evangelicals believe all humanity bears the image of God. In fact, one of the functions of the early evangelical movement was to democratize the faith — to proclaim all humanity’s equal access to God through Jesus.
So, why did my heart shake with anticipation at the thought of being in this pope’s presence? Here’s why: More than any other person, since St. Francis of Assisi (his namesake), this pope has embodied the values and priorities of Jesus. He has shown us what it might have been like to walk the earth with Jesus himself — what it might have been like to watch him embrace the leper, to watch him defend the adulterous woman calling the Pharisees not to judge, to watch Jesus challenge the values and priorities of the religious establishment of his day. He has been a vision to watch.
Say Her Name: Ain't We Women?!
In 1851, attendees of a feminist convention gathered in a packed hall in Akron, Ohio. It was a time when — even in the midst of a fight for women’s rights — mostly men spoke. They talked of dainty women — delicate and deserving of special protection.
Sojourner Truth sat in their midst. Miss Truth sat quiet, listening to men fill space with empty arguments about why women should or should not have the vote. Finally, she rose to speak and a visceral wall of hostility rose from the masses to greet her. The voice of this "n___ger woman" could muddy the message, they hissed. It could conflate the movement for women’s equality with the abolitionist movement — and that would be the death of suffrage, they feared.
But, as Dr. King liked to quote, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.”
One Year Later: The Evolution of a Movement
The latest killing happened two days before the 1-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death when Christian Taylor, 19, crashed his SUV through the window of a car dealership in Arlington, Texas. Officers shot him in the course of a struggle. In fact, as I write this, there have been 601 lethal police shootings in 2015, 24 of them unarmed black men, according to an ongoing independent analysis by Washington Post: That’s an average of two unarmed black men shot dead by cops per month since January. This number does not include police shootings of black women, police killings that did not involve gunfire, or deaths while in police custody. Freddie Gray’s and Sandra Bland’s deaths are not included in the Washington Post tally.
Over the course of the year since Michael Brown died, we have learned critical lessons that have fueled the movement, bringing together young activists, clergy, and evangelicals in unlikely, yet cohesive alliance.
Ferguson One Year Later: Give Us Wisdom
When called to lead, Solomon didn’t seek his own glory, his own comfort, his own peace. Solomon sought the shalom of all his people. So, too, did the leaders above — and God said yes.
The movement to protect black lives gestated in the womb of our nation for years before Ferguson, but God birthed a movement in that place — in part because of wise and discerning leaders of faith.
May God help us all to enter the one year commemoration of Michael Brown’s death and the uprising in Ferguson, Mo., by reflecting on how we responded to God’s question a year ago: “What should I give you in the face of black death?”
Four Easy Ways to Be a White Supremacist
EVEN AS SOUTHERN states—and GOP candidates—jumped through hoops to distance themselves from the Confederate flag, a backlash erupted among those claiming the flag was merely a symbol of “heritage.” Battle-flag waving Southerners (and Confederacy sympathizers) seemed to leap at the opportunity to wave their banner high.
But what about the rest of us? One of the most profound statements I’ve heard recently came from Rev. Jin Kim, founding pastor of Church of All Nations in Minnesota. This Korean-born pastor stood at the podium of the Sojourners Summit and said with conviction: “I am a white supremacist.”
How can this man, a person of color who’s dedicated his life to ethnic and cultural reconciliation, be a white supremacist? The same way any of us can. After all, at its heart white supremacy is not about white hoods, battle flags, and burning crosses. Those symbols are what we call explicit bias. People know when they are practicing it.
But most often white supremacy is about implicit bias that favors whiteness. It’s about the unconscious associations we make in our minds before we even know we’ve done it. White? Rich. Black? Poor. White? Good. Black? Bad. White? Trustworthy. Black? Scary. You get the idea.
These are the unconscious biases that shape the way we order our lives; the communities we live in, the places we shop, the churches we attend, the leadership from others we accept (or reject), and the policies we support (or don’t).
It’s not hard to fume at the thought of the killer of Mother Emanuel’s Nine. And it feels good to click “like” and share posts calling for the removal of Confederate flags.
But if we stop there, bias beats us. It is the unconscious biases of the masses that keep us from moving forward, not the explicit biases of the few. So, check out this tongue-in-cheek list of four easy ways to be a white supremacist (regardless of your own race).
1. Plan a conference on church planting with a speaker lineup so white it would make Honey Boo Boo blush. And if you want to increase your “diversity,” have one speaker of color (even if he is from India), an Asian emcee, and maybe a black worship leader.
Rejecting White Dominion
I didn’t see the film Malcolm X in theaters. I waited to see it on video. Big mistake.
I watched it in my home, just off campus from University of Southern California, late at night when everyone else was sleeping. Another big mistake.
At the time I was living in a house with one other black person and a bunch of white and Asian friends. I was attending a mostly white school and a mostly white church and had attended a mostly white institute for urban transformation that was borne out of my church. Ironically, it was there that I was required to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. But I never read the whole thing, only sections.
So, I sat in the dark living room, lit only by the television screen, and watched Denzel Washington bring Malcolm X to life … by myself. And there, in the dark, Malcolm’s words about Jesus hit me to the core.
The Oppression Implied in the Confederate Flag
As the governor of the first state to secede from the Union, Haley treaded softly on Monday, explaining: Some “South Carolinians view the flag as a symbol of respect, integrity, and duty. They also see it as a memorial. A way to honor ancestors who came to the service of their state during time of conflict.” But, “for many others in South Carolina,” she continued, “the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”
Haley explained that it is fine for individuals to fly the Confederate flag on their own private property.
“But, the state house is different,” she declared.
Why is it different and what is the connection to the deaths of Walter Scott and The Emanuel Nine?
Washing Clean: Germany, Ireland, and Our America
It was a devastating weekend for black people in America.
On Friday, a white police officer pulled his gun at a pool party and assaulted a 15-year old black girl who cried for her mom in McKinney, Texas. On Saturday, a young black man committed suicide in his parents’ home in the Bronx after being held without trial at Rikers Island for three years (nearly two in solitary confinement), accused of stealing a backpack — a charge that prosecutors ultimately dropped. On Sunday evening, hotel security officers profiled four young black organizers from Baltimore in the lobby of the Congress Plaza Hotel at the conclusion of The Justice Conference.
A Miracle of Resilience
MY GREAT-GRANDMOTHER, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Johnson, was born in 1890 in Camden, S.C., with a different last name from all the other people in her household. Three generations later, we have no idea where the name Johnson came from.
Lizzie grew up working plantation land owned by her grandmother, Lea Ballard. Lea received the land in the wake of the Civil War: We don’t know how or why, though one theory speculates that Lea, who was listed as a 42-year-old mulatto widow on the 1880 U.S. Census, may have been the daughter of her slave owner. He may have given the land to her after the Civil War. We don’t know. We only know that Lea owned it, that she had 17 children who worked that land, according to family lore, and that the city of Camden eventually stole the land from her by the power of eminent domain. This we know from records I hold in my possession.
Lizzie married a railroad man named Charles Jenkins. Lizzie and Charles had three children; Charles later died in a railroad accident. Lizzie had a choice: endure the brutality of the Jim Crow South alone with three kids, or move with the stream of black bodies migrating north. Lizzie migrated to Washington, D.C., and, eventually, to Philadelphia and took her lightest-skinned child with her.