Lisa Sharon Harper, Sojourners’ senior director of mobilizing, 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.
She has written extensively on tax reform, comprehensive immigration reform, health-care reform, poverty, racial justice, and transformational civic engagement for publications and blogs including The National Civic Review, God’s Politics blog, The Huffington Post, Urban Faith, Prism, and Slant33.
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.
Her first book, Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican…or Democrat, offers a power-packed look at the roots of evangelical faith, how evangelicals strayed so far from those roots, and what is bringing them back.
Her second book, Left, Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics, was co-written with D.C. Innes (an evangelical Republican who is also a Tea-Partier). Harper and Innes explore their philosophies of government and business, as well as six major issues that the next generation of evangelicals must wrestle with to be faithful witnesses in the public square.
Harper co-founded and co-directed the Envision 2008: The Gospel, Politics, and the Future conference on the campus of Princeton University (June 2008) and co-chaired the Envision 2011: Caring for the Community of Creation: Environmental Justice, Climate Change, and Prophetic Witness symposium in New York City (June 2011). She was the recipient of Sojourners’ inaugural Organizers Award and the Harlem “Sisters of Wisdom” Award. She was celebrated on Rick Warren’s website purposedriven.com as one of the inaugural “Take Action Heroes,” and was recently named fifth among the “13 Religious Women to Watch in 2012” by the Center for American Progress.
She earned her master’s in human rights from Columbia University in New York City. Harper serves on the board of directors of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good and is a member of Metro Hope Church in New York City, an Evangelical Covenant Church.
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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?
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