Associate News Editor, sojo.net

Mitchell Atencio is the associate news editor at Sojourners. He first served as a contract reporter for Sojourners in 2020.

Mitchell believes his role as a journalist is to ask compelling questions of the right people and to tell stories that impact the actions of readers. He loves writing stories of the radical or unique — especially within faith. Before joining Sojourners, Mitchell was a reporter in Kirkland, Wash. At Arizona State University he was a passionate and dedicated member of the award-winning, independent, student-newspaper The State Press. He also graduated with a degree in journalism and mass communications, but he doesn’t care as much about that part.

Although he didn’t stay long enough, Mitchell is proud to have been born in Atlanta and dreams of returning.

In journalism and elsewhere, Mitchell advocates for the physical medium. He is a vinyl record collector; a film photographer who shoots, develops, and scans his own film; a magazine subscriber; and a fan of writing letters on the family typewriter. In his spare time, he reads liberation theology, practices Zen, watches a lot of tennis, rants about the evils of pickleball, and makes coffee with a variety of methods. Mitchell is discalced out of religious commitment; he concedes it probably makes him a hippie.

Posts By This Author

Is a Christianity Without Boundaries Still Christian?

by Mitchell Atencio 02-13-2024

A man holding a Bible and wearing a sign that says "Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.” Photo via Reuters.

Was Robert E. Lee, the infamous confederate general who went to war to defend slaveocracy in the South, a Christian? The answer to this question may seem obvious: Yes. Lee was an Episcopalian who was called a “humble, earnest Christian” by a minister who was his contemporary. But some Christians may recoil at the idea that someone they see as clearly at odds with Jesus’ call to “release the captives,” would be considered a Christian.

Flag Football Is an Act of Christian Nonviolence

by Mitchell Atencio 02-05-2024

AFC running back Raheem Mostert (31) of the Miami Dolphins rushes the ball past NFC cornerback DaRon Bland (26) of the Dallas Cowboys during the 2024 Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium on Feb 4, 2024 in Orlando, Fla. Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

On Sunday, I tuned in to watch my first football game in over a year as part of my discipline toward Christian nonviolence. That may seem odd, especially since I’m the person who wrote about quitting the NFL as an act of nonviolence just last year. But this weekend I tuned in for the NFL’s Pro Bowl competition, including the flag football game, to signal my support for player safety and wellbeing.

Martin Scorsese Just Met With Pope Francis

by Mitchell Atencio 01-31-2024

Pope Francis meets with director Martin Scorsese at the Vatican, Jan. 31, 2024. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS

Scorsese, talking about his upcoming film on the life of Jesus, told the Los Angeles Times: “I’m trying to find a new way to make it more accessible and take away the negative onus of what has been associated with organized religion.”

LGBTQ+ Christians Can Build Bridges With Our Non-Affirming Family

by Mitchell Atencio 01-30-2024

Darren Calhoun. Graphic by Candace Sander/Sojourners

I’ve noticed that a lot of the resources that exist for facilitating relationships across disagreement are geared toward the non-affirming: “How should Christian parents respond if one of their children comes out as gay?” “Can Christian parents point their gay children to Jesus?” “Responding to a ‘Gay Christian’ in the Family.” And while many LGBTQ+ people don’t want close relationship with non-affirming family, those of us who do want those relationships, don’t want to sacrifice our safety. Darren Calhoun has spent two decades working to build bridges that protect the dignity and safety of all parties, including LGBTQ+ people and their non-affirming community.

Theology From the Execution Room

by Mitchell Atencio 01-16-2024

Photo of Elizabeth Bruenig by Graham Winslow Marley. Design by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners.

While a number of anti-death penalty advocates rightly highlight the exonerations, Elizabeth Bruenig prefers writing about the “confessed and admittedly guilty … since we all already agree the innocent shouldn’t be put to death.”

Dig Thy Neighbor’s Sewage Lines: Solidarity in the Rural South

by Mitchell Atencio 12-29-2023

Ryan Cagle poses with Jubilee House’s garden. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners

The Cagles are co-organizers of Jubilee House, a nonprofit ministry based in Parrish with multiple initiatives, including operating a free store and free pantry, passing out free naloxone to combat the opioid crisis, and reclaiming an old football field as a farm. Together, they work to sow a type of Christianity that would revitalize the literal and metaphorical soil of the Bible Belt.

In ‘Godzilla Minus One,’ War Is a Monster Leaving Shame in its Wake

by Mitchell Atencio 12-13-2023

Still from 'Godzilla Minus One' / Toho

Minus One, which premiered in U.S. theaters on Dec. 1, became the highest grossing Japanese live-action film in U.S. history.

What Does It Mean To Be an Israeli Against Apartheid?

by Mitchell Atencio 12-11-2023

Dov Baum. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners

“I have friends and family who lost people in the attack by Hamas on Oct. 7. I have colleagues and friends in Gaza who were bombed by the Israeli attack. I go to demonstrations against the genocide in Gaza because I want to be with others that shout and call for the immediate stop of this unforgivable crime. And I cannot chant all the chants in those demonstrations. I chant some of them.”

Why Interfaith Activism Needs To Ditch ‘We’re All the Same’ Slogans

by Mitchell Atencio 11-21-2023

Tahil Sharma. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners

As we officially enter the season of primaries, advertising campaigns, and debates, faith communities are as central to the election process as they ever have been. Even with the nationwide decline in religiosity and trust in institutions, religious leaders and congregations are central community builders for millions of people in the U.S.

Can We Build a Trans-Affirming Evangelicalism?

by Mitchell Atencio 11-14-2023

Rebecca Jane Morgan. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners

There is not much that Rebecca Jane Morgan appreciates about Pat Robertson, the right-wing evangelical pastor and political figure who died in June. But one moment from his life sticks out in her mind. In 2013, Robertson was asked on-air about gender affirmation surgeries (referred to as a “sex-change” surgery). The usually hardline conservative offered a nuanced answer. “I don’t think there’s any sin associated with that,” Robertson said. “I don’t condemn somebody for [pursuing gender affirmation surgeries].”

Why Are Christians So Bad at Forgiveness?

by Mitchell Atencio 10-30-2023

Chanequa Walker-Barnes. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas/Sojourners

I remember the moment I became wholly dissatisfied with Christian conceptions of forgiveness. While walking into church for a Sunday morning class on the Lord’s Prayer, I realized that I did not know how to “forgive others” as God had forgiven me. Defining forgiveness as “moving past and forgetting harm” was vague and hard to fathom. I had repeatedly seen the powerful weaponize the instruction to “forgive” against the oppressed and abused: Black people told to “forgive” the U.S. for chattel slavery; women told to “forgive” husbands who abused them; survivors of sexual violence told to “forgive” the church. Surely, this was not the forgiveness Jesus instructed. But I couldn’t escape the feeling that “forgive” was still a command for Christians to follow.

An Interview With CCCU Leadership on Racial Justice and LGBTQ+ Inclusion

by Mitchell Atencio 10-20-2023

Palm Beach Atlantic University after a rainy morning on August 24, 2017, in West Palm Beach, Fla.  Zuma Press, Inc. / Alamy

Over the course of 2023, two professors at Christian colleges and universities — Julie Moore of Taylor University and Sam Joeckel of Palm Beach Atlantic University — alleged that they lost their jobs after teaching on racial justice in the classroom. (Moore settled with Taylor; Joeckel is suing PBAU, citing discrimination and retaliation.)

What Christian Peace Building Looks Like in Israel and Palestine

by Mitchell Atencio 10-10-2023

Rev. Mae Elise Cannon. Graphic by Tiarra Lucas. Original photo courtesy Cannon. 

“We had a prayer meeting [Monday] morning with dozens and dozens of people from all different traditions, from bishops to people sitting in the pews,” Cannon told Sojourners. “We’ll have another prayer gathering on Wednesday morning. We’re grieving, we’re lamenting, and we’re also working really hard.”

Why We’re Launching The Reconstruct

In launching The Reconstruct, Sojourners’ newest newsletter, we hope to continue what we have been doing, but with more regularity: Offering thoughtful, constructive conversations with folks who are changing the world and reforming our faith.

Composing a Memorial for Musicians Exploited by the Black Church

by Mitchell Atencio 10-02-2023

Ashon T. Crawley. Original photo courtesy Trust for the National Mall. Candace Sanders/Sojourners

Ashon T. Crawley, author, artist, and professor of religious studies and African American and African studies at the University of Virginia, constructed a memorial for Black church choir directors who died during the U.S. HIV/AIDS crisis. The exhibit, “HOMEGOING,” told the story of the musicians who, as he puts it, “died within a kind of epistemological moment,” where to be a musician in the Black church was to be understood as gay, to be gay was to be understood as HIV-positive, and vice versa.

A Purity Culture Musical? Shannon Harris Is Working On It

by Mitchell Atencio 09-29-2023

The Woman They Wanted book cover courtesy Broadleaf.

Who is Shannon Harris? This is the question that Harris herself was asking as she began to untangle her life from the fundamentalist, conservative evangelical faith she had married into.

Rich Mullins Played Evangelical Court Jester

by Mitchell Atencio 09-21-2023

Outtakes from the photoshoot for Rich Mullins’s debut, eponymous album. Original photos by Mark Tucker, courtesy David McCracken.

As I looked closer, I realized these weren’t just funny stories about the songwriter of “Awesome God.” Mullins wasn’t just witty among friends. He also used his humor as a tool to share his sharp criticisms, deep contemplations, and controversial ideas with largely evangelical audiences that were increasingly looking for Christian music to be a space that confirmed their assumptions.

Rich Mullins Was the Misfit Christian Music Needed

by Mitchell Atencio 08-02-2023
The witness of the writer of “Awesome God” still challenges white evangelicals.
A photo of Rich Mullins in a white t-shirt and white pants. He's sitting on a white chair with a white sheet draped in the backdrop. He's leaning forward on his knees with a grin on his face. A dog with tan-colored fur sits to his right on the same chair.

Rich Mullins / Photo by Glenn Hall (courtesy of David McCracken)

RICH MULLINS HAD a museum of a personality. The singer-songwriter, who died in a car accident in 1997, loved to show off anything he found interesting, his friends say. From music to movies to the places he traveled, Mullins loved “for you to experience what he loved,” his friend and collaborator Mitch McVicker told Sojourners.And more than just about anything else, Mullins loved Jesus.

Mullins’ career tracked alongside the evolution of contemporary Christian music (CCM), which went from marginal in the 1970s to a powerhouse genre that sold a combined 31 million albums in 1996. Best known for the modern hymn “Awesome God,” Mullins wrote his fair share of songs that fit Christian radio. But more often, his music was a kaleidoscope of faith and humanity, offering a tour of human frustration and failure.

On “Hard to Get,” Mullins, as modern psalmist, asks God, “Do you remember when you lived down here, where we all scrape to find the faith to ask for daily bread? / Did you forget about us, after you had flown away?”

In other places, Mullins plays minor prophet. “I wrote this for the Religious Right,” he declared before singing that Jesus “came without an axe to grind [and] did not toe the party line,” during a performance of “You Did Not Have a Home.”

Creative Ways Your Church Can Save Energy and Reduce Emissions

by Mitchell Atencio 07-28-2023

An LED lightbulb on a pink background. Michał Turkiewicz via Unsplash. 

Around 2017, Hamline Church United Methodist, in St. Paul, Minn. contracted an energy audit for its nearly 100-year-old building in the hopes of learning how their building might save energy and reduce emissions. Diane Krueger, a lay leader of the church’s “EarthKeepers” team, said contractors recommended the church insulate their heating pipes and change many of their lightbulbs to LEDs.

Who Is the ‘Welfare State’ Actually Benefiting?

by Mitchell Atencio 07-10-2023
Author and sociologist Matthew Desmond on how we can build out permanent solutions to poverty.
A picture of a well-dressed heterosexual couple as tiny figurines, standing in front of a large quarter. Smaller figurines of a white man carrying a dollar bill, and a black man carting around a dollar bill, are in the lower left and right corners.

CSA-Printstock / iStock

MATTHEW DESMOND, a Princeton sociologist and author, has grown tired of calls to reduce poverty — because he knows we can abolish it. In his new book, Poverty, by America, Desmond explores not the lives and struggles of people who are poor — but poverty, and the conditions that cause it. And Desmond contends that the lives the rest of us live are often connected to the conditions that cause poverty.

“To understand the causes of poverty, we must look beyond the poor. Those of us living lives of privilege and plenty must examine ourselves,” Desmond writes. “Are we — we the secure, the insured, the housed, the college educated, the protected, the lucky — connected to all this needless suffering?”

Desmond is the son of a pastor, and his work is rich with spiritual metaphor and flare while grounded in the material realities of poverty and the conditions that cause it. He dedicates a chapter of his book to refuting the idea that “neoliberal” cuts in welfare spending are to blame for poverty. “There is no evidence that the United States has become stingier over time. The opposite is true,” he writes. Instead, the problem is “a fair amount of government aid earmarked for the poor never reaches them.” Sojo.net associate news editor Mitchell Atencio spoke with Desmond about his new book, community building, and capitalism. —The Editors

Sojourners: Theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez defines poverty as “premature and unjust death,” saying that “the poor person is someone who is treated as a non-person, someone who is considered insignificant from an economic, political, and cultural point of view.” Is that a good way to describe poverty?

Matthew Desmond: I think that’s a factual way to describe what poverty is. Between 2001 and 2014, the richest women in America gained three years of life and the poorest women gained 15 days. So, poverty is death. There was a study that came out very recently that showed that one of the leading causes of death in the United States is poverty. I think that when we deny people access to basic needs, and we deny them basic economic security in this rich land, we do deny them life and happiness itself.

The other part of the quote about insignificance is very interesting because it does seem that in our popular culture — our TV shows, our movies, our children’s books — there are often no portrayals of real poverty in those media, and so it’s kind of amazing how seamlessly the poor can be erased from everything we’re reading and watching and reading to our kids.