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.
Posts By This Author
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.
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