Olivia Whitener

Editorial Assistant

Olivia Whitener is an editorial assistant for Sojourners and would like to thank all of her college friends who requested help on their term papers for improving her editing and writing skills enough to serve in this position. Originally from Lawrenceville, N.J., Olivia has spent the past four years at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, N.C. working towards her degree in Anthropology.

While at Wake Forest, Olivia focused her studies in cultural and linguistic anthropology, particularly human-rights based anthropology and intercultural communication. She enjoys balancing the intricate theories of cultural relativism and universal human rights when working toward justice throughout the world. Olivia is excited to explore the ways that print and online media can promote on-the-ground social justice work to make positive change.

For the past three summers, Olivia has spent her summers singing songs, leading games, and watching the Spirit move at Cross Roads Camp and Retreat Center in Port Murray, N.J., an ecumenical ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church. In addition to singing songs around a campfire, reading while drinking a cup of coffee and laughing loudly in public places bring Olivia joy. 

You can follow Olivia on Twitter: @owhitener.

Posts By This Author

Encountering God in 'The Color Purple'

by Olivia Whitener, by Kurt Houwen 03-10-2016
We’re a couple taking on Emma Watson's #feminist reading list together. Here’s what we’re learning.

Image via /Shutterstock.com

During summers working at camp, one thing we did together was draw who we thought God is. The campers and I would draw anything from stars in the night sky to pictures of their friends and family to copies of images of God they had seen in paintings. Then, like Celie and Shug Avery in this passage from The Color Purple, the campers and I would discuss together how God should not always be thought of as an old white man. That image of God is limiting for those of us who cannot identify with such a figure. When you think God looks like a person who represents oppression, danger, or injustice, you don’t want to have anything to do with that God. When you broaden the scope to say God is in everything and everyone, then everyone, including me and Celie and my campers, has a part of God’s light inside us.

Carrying Love Against Hate

by Olivia Whitener 03-02-2016

Image via /Shutterstock.com

Without his community of his sisters and family, who have been mourning his death and questioning God for not saving their brother and friend, Lazarus would remain entombed. Without community, we remain bound and entombed. I’m not saying that our actions are as great as Jesus raising someone from the dead. But I am saying that God entrusts us with living into community, so that we may welcome our brothers and sisters out of death and into life.

11 Must-Read New Books On Racial Justice and Faith

by Olivia Whitener 02-11-2016
February is Black History Month. Dive into these books now...and read all year long.

Image via /Shutterstock.com

Have you read America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis and want to read more about the present civil rights movement and how the church needs to get moving? Did you stay up all night finishing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and are looking for other memoirs to lead you to more questioning of the world? Have you been waiting for another book to spark discussion in small groups, like Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy?

I reviewed our book collection of new releases from the past year and compiled a list of the most important new books to read. Enjoy! 

Emma Watson Book Club

by Olivia Whitener, by Kurt Houwen 02-09-2016
We're a couple, taking on the star's #feminist reading list together. Here's what we're learning.

Image via UN Women/Flickr

Steinem says that from traveling so much, she had an opportunity to hear from so many different groups of people — proving that, “Hate generalizes, love specifies.’” And that’s one of the theories of social change, right? Hearing personal stories brings a better sense of understanding that can get more people on board and connected.

Gun Deaths Are No Accident

by Olivia Whitener 01-15-2016

No guns, no gun deaths. That was the mantra ingrained in me from a young age. It is the line that runs through my head when I read reports stating that around 3,000 of the more than 30,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. each year are of children. In 2015, 265 minors were responsible for accidental gun shootings and 83 of these children killed someone, often because they found a loaded gun in the house and were curious.

QUIZ: Which Kind of Nonviolent Activist Are You?

There are different ways to understand the gospel's call to peace — and that's a good thing. In the last century alone, many influential Christian leaders have grappled with violence, justice, and peace, and ended up all over the nonviolence map. Where do you land? Take our quiz and find out!

Here I (Still) Stand...498 Years Later

by Olivia Whitener 10-30-2015

Image via /Shutterstock.com

Oct. 31 is approaching quickly — a day marked throughout the United States by costume contests, pumpkin carvings, and children knocking on neighbors’ doors with questions of “trick or treat?”

But for Protestant churches around the world, Oct. 31 is also a celebration of a grown man knocking on a (rather large) door, asking a different question of the Catholic Church:

From whom does salvation truly come? And a follow-up: How do we refocus the church on the Gospel?

On this date, almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther hammered his 95 Theses onto the front doors of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany — an act that, unforeseen by Luther at the time, is now credited with beginning the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s 95 Theses outlined his abstentions to the practice of selling indulgences to guarantee Christians salvation, emphasizing that grace is given by God alone and can only be assured by the clergy, not bought from them.

With the help of the social media of his day — the newly-improved printing press — news quickly spread to people throughout Europe that Martin Luther was questioning the papacy and attempting to refocus the church’s theology on forgiveness through the word and the eucharist, neither of which required financial prosperity. Within a few years, Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for his continued teachings, which included suggestions that the Bible should be accessible to all people and that priests not necessarily need to be celibate.

The Reformation gathered Christians from across Europe into a community of “rebels,” from which multiple denominations would spring up over the next half a century.

Today, 498 years later — with of a Catholic pope nicknamed “The Peoples’ Pope,” who is on Twitter and preaches about income inequality — what would Luther think of the state of the church?

I Am a Mainline Protestant Under the Age of 35. Yes, We Exist.

by Olivia Whitener 10-15-2015

Image via  / Shutterstock

I spend (most of) my Sunday mornings sitting in a pew at an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation, singing old hymns, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer which I have had memorized since before I went to school.

At age 22, I make an effort to get my dose of word and sacrament before heading to brunch on Sunday mornings. Though I love the beach, I found greater joy in singing songs and leading Bible studies at a mainline church camp during my recent summers.

I love the sound of an organ.

New Malala Documentary a Model for Interfaith Learning

by Olivia Whitener 09-28-2015

Screenshot from 'He Named Me Malala'/YouTube

The story of Malala Yousafzai is well beloved by Western media, with news outlets having followed her life closely for the past three years. And rightly so. The Pakistani teen is an activist for girls’ education and a well-respected world leader in promoting the voices of women and girls around the globe.

It was her belief that all girls have a right to an education that made her a target of the Taliban, resulting in Malala losing hearing in her left ear and being forced out of her beloved home in the Swat Valley, Pakistan. Malala celebrated her sixteenth birthday by addressing the United Nations in 2013, the same year she released her memoir, I Am Malala. And most recently, she was named the Nobel Peace Prize recipient of 2014. Her non-profit, The Malala Fund, invests and advocates for girls’ secondary education, in order to amplify the voices of girls around the world who have been ignored.

It would be hard to create a stronger superhero for girls and boys in anyone’s imagination.

'Accidental Saints' Is a Call for a Vulnerable Church

by Olivia Whitener 09-16-2015

Image via YouTube

Within her tale of adding reconciliation to her annual lessons and carols was a challenge to the church: to come out of the hole of escapism and into “a place where we dive right into difficult truths.”

With hard-hitting candor, Pastor Nadia asked, “When we find ourselves in a world where we see up-to-the-minute images of human suffering...can we really afford quite so much sentimentality in Christianity?”

As we see bodies of child refugees washed upon shorelines, can we sit comfortably in our pews, not asking for any changes to our hospitality or political structures? When we know that innocent lives continue to be lost at the expense of keeping control of our guns for our own personal safety, does it make sense for us to gloss over the stories in the Gospel where Jesus proclaims peace over all things? Is Christianity about memorizing the most inspirational verses of the Bible, or is it about putting them into action to combat the injustices of our reality?

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