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
A New Low: Targeting American Children
Within the next couple of weeks the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB1070, which mandates racial profiling by police officers and deputizes them to act as an extension of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
Since the passage of SB1070, states across the country have introduced copycat measures into their state legislatures. Chief among them was Alabama’s HB658—the most draconian measure of them all. The crafters of HB658 intentionally pushed immigrants to the point where life was so miserable in their state that they chose to “self-deport.”
This week our nation is witnessing a new level of low. Even as we await the Supreme Court’s ruling on states’ rights to pass their own immigration laws, some Senate Republicans are arguing for two sets of federal legislation even worse than the state bills. These new federal bills aim to take money and food from children—American children.
Florida: You Cannot Take Our Vote
Monday marked the 93rd anniversary of the congressional passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution on June 4, 1919.
After 71 years of movement forward and pushes back, the proposed Amendment to guarantee every woman in the United States the right to vote prevailed in the Senate. But it still had 36 more hurdles to jump before ratification; 36 of the then 48 states had to pass the Amendment in their state legislatures. On August 18, 1920 Tennessee became the 36th state to pass the Amendment and on that day women’s suffrage became the law of the land.
Florida missed that boat. The sunshine state had never voted on the 19th Amendment before it was ratified. A year later, the Florida state legislature passed its own law guaranteeing the vote to all citizens, but Florida’s legislature didn’t actually ratify the 19th Amendment until it took a symbolic vote in 1969.
As a woman I am grateful for the fact that in 1969 someone thought it might be a good idea to at least symbolically say, “Yeah, man, we’re cool with the ladies voting. We can groove with that.” But the current news about Florida’s voter purge has me wondering what happened in the 43 years between Florida’s symbolic thumbs up for suffrage and today’s current voter suppression?
The answer: The year 2000 happened.
Alabama’s Indefensible New Immigration Law
Last week, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley made a morally indefensible decision. He signed HB 658, which intensifies the climate of fear that already hangs over Alabama like low dark clouds before a hurricane.
Bentley once claimed that HB 658 would simplify HB 56 — the current anti-immigrant legislation that catapulted Alabama to the national stage. If this is simplification, then I’d like to see Bentley’s version of messed up. HB 658’s additional punitive measures now have created a more problematic situation that exacerbates the current oppression of some of the most vulnerable souls in Alabama.
The new law is reckless. HB 658 calls for the creation of an online public database to expose the names of all undocumented immigrants who have appeared in court. In addition, the law targets innocent children by requiring schools to check the immigration status of students.
Mothers, Violence and the House GOP
When we look deeply into our mothers’ eyes we see the beauty and power of grace; their grace offered to us and our grace offered to them.
And so their abuse is unthinkable …and the thought that their abuse would be deemed unworthy of protection by the state—for any reason—is unconscionable.
Why, then, is the House GOP insisting on a scaled down version of the bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act that the Senate reauthorized with bipartisan support in April? Because they have decided certain women are worth protecting and others are not.
Israel and Palestine: There is Hope
I was asked recently, is there really any hope for Israel? The answer is yes, there is.
First, the state of Israel has lived its entire existence in the foxhole of the war paradigm. It is time to come out of the foxhole. It is time for Israel to exercise profound concern, not only for its own security and its own peace, but also for the security and peace of its neighbors—the Palestinians.
Second, It is time for Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to be secure. Israeli mothers should never have to worry if their daughters and sons will return from a walk to the market. Every Israeli should not have to live in extreme fear and the ever present threat of war.
Rachel is Weeping: Ending Racial Profiling in America
Editor’s note: The following written testimony was submitted by Lisa Sharon Harper, on behalf of Sojourners, to be included in today’s U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights Hearing on “Ending Racial Profiling in America.”
As a Christian organization, Sojourners is compelled to consider the pattern and institution of racial profiling practices abhorrent and a direct threat to the maintenance and cultivation of the inherent dignity of every human being living and working within the boundaries of the United States. We believe every human being is made in the image of God and therefore equally worthy of protection of human and civil rights under the law. Racial profiling not only threatens the psychological and emotional well-being of targeted communities. As demonstrated above, the practice can lead to death.
On Syria: The Cost of War
One year after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s April 2011 crack down on civilian protests against his regime’s torture of students who had put up anti-government graffiti, the U.S. and the world are still figuring out what to do about it.
On March 21 the United Nations Security Council announced that it backed a six-point peace plan put forward by former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan. By March 27, Annan reported that al-Assad had accepted the cease-fire plan that will take effect April 10. But even as al-Assad met with Annan, reports of escalated crackdowns surfaced. Then on April 3 reports of military escalation in four major urban centers dashed hopes that al-Assad’s April 10 military withdrawal will actually take place.
And so the world waits for Tuesday. Then we will know what legitimate courses of action may come next. If al-Assad abides by the peace plan, then the world can exhale and allow peace to have its process. If not, then multiple questions step to the fore.
Hoodie Sunday, Trayvon Martin, and the Confessions of a Nation
When I left the Sojourners office Monday evening in the formerly blighted, now Disney-fied, Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., I walked a half-block and joined a multiethnic, multigenerational crowd that had gathered in front of the luxury Park Triangle apartments. In the middle of an open square shared by the entire Columbia Heights community, nearly 100 people stood in a circle braving the decidedly un-springlike arctic chill.
We listened intently as an ordinary D.C. resident stood in the middle of the circle with a bullhorn and shared from the heart. “Forgive us," the unnamed gentleman pleaded. "George Zimmerman was Latino. The horrible atrocity that has rocked our nation was committed by a Latino man. I am Latino. I ask for your forgiveness on behalf of my community.”
Then he went on to explain how there have been long-standing tensions between African-Americans and Latinos and that we must begin to deal with them.
“Forgive us,” he pleaded again.
The Ryan Budget and Moral Cowardice
Remember Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2011 budget, The Path to Prosperity? Well, it’s baaa-aaack — and this time the path is smoother and wider and offers a quicker trip to judgment.
Christianity and most of the world’s faith traditions explicitly demand protection for the poor and the preservation of the lives and dignity of all. Well, the Chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan, high-tails it down his Path, budget rolled in-hand, in the exact opposite direction from those moral commitments.
Bob Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), concluded that the Ryan budget “is Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids. It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation's history)."
Any responsible budget plan requires a balanced approach that would both increase revenue and reduce spending. This proposal would cut taxes, merely hope for revenue, increase military spending, and slash most everything else that isn’t protected by large corporate interests.
Lament for Trayvon Martin and Black Boys EVERYwhere
It’s about to rain. A rolling explosion of thunder just shook the ground my home rests on. Flashes light the sky and moments later … thunder rolls. That’s how it feels when I think of the last moments of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s life and the fact that the Sanford Police Department determined after a nearly non-investigation that Trayvon’s killer, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, did no wrong—nothing wrong.
Like the thunder rattling my apartment, the death of Trayvon Miller is rattling my soul. Like millions of Americans, I marveled over the fact that I had heard nothing on the news about the slaying in the three weeks since the incident took place. Then, when the Sanford Police released the 911 tapes over the weekend, and the nation heard Trayvon’s horrified cries for help before the single shot that ended his life, the story exploded—like my own heart.
Something broke in me. I actually sat paralyzed in front of my television—shocked. Then thunder cracked open my soul and I wailed. I mean I keened … and I couldn’t stop.
Trayvon looked like several of my nephews. He could have been any of them. He was just living his life on February 26—walking home from the convenience store before the big game, talking on his cellphonewith his friend. That’s all.
Then in the last moments of his life, he was chased, cornered, beaten and shot by a white man he didn’t know for reasons never explained to him—except the accusation from his assailant that he didn’t belong there.
Revolution or Revival: A Response to the Tea Party- Occupy Film
Christianity Today’s film This is Our City is provocative because of its gritty, grounded honesty. This is not a film about political pundits who banter back and forth exchanging policy talking points. No. This short film reveals the lives and thinking of two very ordinary people, their deep faith in Jesus, and how that faith is leading them to engage two of the most consequential grassroots movements of our time. These two movements share one beautiful thing in common; they are groundswells of ordinary citizens reengaging their democratic civic duty—to let their messages by heard and considered in the public square.
D.C. Innes rightly points out in his reflections that the film’s title, “Liberty or Justice for All,” and its structure seem to pit the virtues of liberty and justice against one another. Within the first minute of this nearly seven-minute film, liberty is clearly the motivation for Emmett Bailey’s Virginia Tea Party involvement, while the motivation for Pam Hogeweide’s Occupy Portland involvement is clearly “justice.” And both subjects say their involvement is an outworking of their faith.
Book Review: Fixing the Moral Deficit
Rep. Paul Ryan’s (Chairman of House Budget Committee) FY2012 plan, A Roadmap for America’s Future, garnered princely praise in early April 2011, but it was quickly trailed by intense scrutiny when Ryan’s botched math and skewed priorities became apparent upon his budget’s review. Hailed as visionary and courageous upon submission, Ryan’s budget plan ultimately revealed his ideologically entrenched disregard for the poor.
A few weeks ago President Barack Obama announced his FY2013 Budget. Within a few weeks, Ryan will submit his FY2013 budget plan for review. Dr. Ronald J. Sider’s new book, Fixing the Moral Deficit (February 2012), comes just in time!
Sider has offered practical, balanced, and highly informed guidance for Christian engagement in the public sphere since publication of his first and seminal book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (1977). Sider draws from his Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America (Sider, 1999) to lay the philosophical foundation for this latest analysis in Fixing the Moral Deficit.
Sider starts with a simple premise: We have a deficit crisis. We also have a poverty crisis. Together these crises are producing a moral crisis in America.
G92, Immigration Reform, and a Letter from a Birmingham Jail
February was Black History Month. I ended it by pressing for immigration reform in the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement.
When I landed in Birmingham, Alabama two weeks ago, it struck me that I was on my way to Samford University — the flagship University of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It struck me that the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest evangelical denomination in the country and among the most conservative. It struck me that Alabama used to boast that it had the harshest Jim Crow laws and law enforcement during the Civil Rights era. Now it boasts the harshest anti-immigrant law in the nation.
Passed into law on June 9, 2011, HB56 criminalizes Alabamans’ daily associations with immigrants who cannot prove their legal status. Giving an undocumented immigrant a ride can result in criminal arrest. The legislation also prohibits all businesses (including schools, the water company, and the telephone company among others) from conducting business transactions on any level with anyone who cannot prove their legal status. Tens of thousands of Latino families fled Alabama within weeks of the law’s passage. Businesses closed, schools lost huge percentages of their students, and vegetables were left to rot in the fields.
I was in Birmingham to speak at the G92 South Conference, a one-day conference for students and pastors hosted on Samford’s sprawling campus. G92 is a reference to the 92 times the Hebrew word Ger is used in the Bible. Ger means stranger or sojourner. The conference began last autumn at Cedarville University in Ohio. It is now being replicated on Christian college campuses across the country. Samford University was the second campus to agree to host the conference.
Black Evangelicals, White Evangelicals and Franklin Graham's Repentance
When Franklin Graham expressed doubts about President Obama’s Christian faith during and interview on Morning Joe last week, it reminded me of an uncomfortable dinner I had in the late ‘90s.
I sat down for a pleasant meal in the home of two great friends — one of them a white evangelical faith leader deeply committed to social justice. Well into the evening’s conversation —when we’d dropped all our pretenses and our exchanges moved well past mealtime niceties — one friend asked me something that caught me entirely off guard.
“Do you think Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Christian?” he said.
I was dumbstruck. I had never heard anyone actually ask that question before.
“Yes,” I replied. “What would make you doubt that?”
As he explained, it became clear: My friend wasn’t sure whether Dr. King was a Christian because King’s Christianity didn’t look like my friend’s Christianity.
H.R. 1956…Shameless (Period)
“You don’t know what you have here in America, you know?” said the cabby who drove me home from the airport. When his father died in Ethiopia, he had to drop out of his American university where he was studying computer engineering to start driving cabs to support his family back in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has no social safety net.
“In America,” said my cab driver, “you have services and programs that help keep families together in hard times.” He hasn’t seen his family in nine years. His cab-drivers’ salary is hardly enough to pay for a plane ticket to Ethiopia. Besides, if he takes time off, that would be less food, education, and possible eviction for his mother, brothers and sisters.
While it is true that America has a social safety net, it is weaker than it was just forty years ago and it’s come under more intense attack in recent years. The deficit is the justification for shredding the net now. And extremists are pushing the party that claims a lock on “family values” to nullify the programs that protect at-risk American families from slipping into poverty.
In the name of “fiscal responsibility,” the Tea Party-led House GOP passed H.R. 1956, a bill that takes cash from the hands of America’s poorest working families in order to protect the richest of the rich. H.R. 1956 requires workers to present a Social Security Number rather than an IRS issued Individual Tax Identification Number to claim the child tax credit. Seems simple enough, but the bill is crafted to target working immigrant families the hardest, even if they are legal residents or have children that are American citizens. The GOP called this a compromise. H.R. 1956 is what they offered in return for the extension of the Payroll Tax cut. Congress could have paid for that extension by ending the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which were set to expire on January 1, 2012. But the GOP said absolutely not. Instead, they crafted H.R. 1956.
Racial Jeopardy and American Politics
During a roundtable chat with a group of emerging young evangelical leaders recently, someone posed the question: “Has America become a post racial society?”
Well, we haven’t had a race riot in a while — does that mean race isn’t relevant anymore?
A black president just gave the State of the Union Address. How about that? Does that mean America’s OK with the race thing?
Our nation is a more ethnically diverse nation than it’s ever been. Does that count for anything?
Scholars across disciplines agree that what we think of as “race” literally was invented here in the 17th century to delineate castes within a system of extreme privilege and subjugation.
So, rather than thinking about the dreaded word, “racism,” to answer the question, perhaps it would be more helpful to think about how our society has been “racialized” and then ask if such a racialization still exists or reverberates in today's American culture.
Martin Luther King Day: Healing Prayer and the Lies We Believe
Have you ever heard of healing prayer?
Richard Foster writes about it in his seminal book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. Healing prayer is different than prayers of supplication or intercession — the kind of prayer where we get to ask God for stuff. It’s different from contemplative prayer — the kind where we get to sit and soak in the presence of God.
Healing prayer goes deep into the soul of the prayer with one purpose — to heal hearts and souls broken by life. In healing prayer, the one on their knees invites Jesus to go deep — to reveal core lies she or he has believed about themselves, God, the world, their relationships; to identify the point when that lie took root in the soul; and then to renounce the lie and invite in the truth.
I was in the middle of my second year as a volunteer staff member with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in 1996, when I had my first experience of healing prayer. It was a hard year for various reasons, so a good friend offered to pray for me. She starting by asking Jesus to come a join our circle of prayer — to sit with us and talk with us in the spiritual realm.
Then she got down to it: “Reveal the lies, Jesus,” she prayed.
We met weekly for spiritual surgery. One by one over the course of a year, Jesus revealed lie after lie that I had believed about myself, God, and my relationships. And the good doctor (Mark 2:17) took out the scalpel and cut that cancer from my soul and replaced lies with truth. The affect was dramatic.
Today (Jan. 16), we celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a man who called America to face the lies embedded in its soul.
Immigration: Alabama is Organizing... Again!
My adoptive dad’s family goes back five generations in Mississippi. They endured the most ruthless lashes of American slavery and the most brutal state-sponsored terrorism during the Jim Crow legal regime. In fact, my dad personally had a brush with the Klan as a child. The Ku Klux Klan broke up an evening meeting at his grandparents’ church in the early 1950s. He doesn’t remember much about the night, except the terror. In his adult years, he looks back and realizes they were probably organizing.
Organizing… in Mississippi… before Rosa Parks said “No” in Montgomery, Ala. My grandparents were organizing.
Yet even my family history—along with images of sneering white southerners during the desegregation of Little Rock High School, complicit whites riding near-empty buses during the Montgomery bus boycott, and white officers hosing down black children in Birmingham, Alabama—did not prepare me for what I encountered when I traveled to Montgomery, Alabama, last month.
I boarded a plane in Washington, D.C., to fly to Montgomery early on December 17. There I would conduct Sojourners Organizing training for Immigration Reform in partnership with the Greater Birmingham Ministries (GBM), a faith-based organization dedicated to building more just communities and systems in Alabama.
A Turning Point on Immigration
A conference at Cedarville University shows new political boundary-crossing in the Christian college world.
Lowes, Lowes, Lowes ...
Lowes pulled its ad dollars from a show that aims to tighten the tapestry we call America because of a faux controversy drummed up by a hate group that said, through its claims of “propaganda," that it's not possible for Muslims to be American.
But the fabric of our nation exists because of the genius of our nation’s founder, who, in the very first amendment to our Constitution, protected the integrity of religion by forbidding the establishment of any one religion as the religion of the state.
In every single society before the founding of our Union, religion and state were married. History has taught us that religion co-opted by the state loses its integrity and its prophetic power.
Ours was a grand experiment that built America into a grand tapestry of ethnic and religious groups that thrive side by side in relative peace—more so than in any other nation in the world.