Rose Marie Berger

Senior Associate Editor, Sojourners magazine
Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Rose, a native of the West Coast, lives in Washington, D.C. She has been on Sojourners staff since 1986.

For more than 25 years, Rose has rooted herself with Sojourners magazine and ministry. She is author of Drawn By God: A History of the Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries from 1967 to 1991 (with Janet Gottschalk, 2012) and Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood.

A native of the West Coast, Rose has lived in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. since the mid-1980s. In the course of a 30 plus-year career in faith-based activism, advocacy journalism, and pastoral leadership, she has proven to be a skilled organizer, exceptional writer, visionary pastoral leader, and innovative teacher of biblical literacy.

With Sojourners, Rose has worked as an organizer on peace and environmental issues, internship program director, liturgist, community pastor, poetry editor, and, currently, as a Senior Associate Editor of Sojourners magazine, where she writes a regular column on spirituality and justice. She is responsible for the Living the Word section, poetry, Bible studies, and interviews – and oversees the production of study guides, discussion guides, and the online bible study Preaching the Word. She is also a religion reviewer for Publishers Weekly and a Huffington Post commentator. Her work has appeared in Religion News Service, Radical Grace, The Merton Seasonal, U.S. Catholic, and elsewhere.

Rose has a veteran history in social justice activism, including: organizing inter-religious witness against the Keystone XL pipeline; educating and training groups in nonviolence; leading retreats in spirituality and justice; writing on topics as diverse as the “Spiritual Vision of Van Gogh, O'Keeffe, and Warhol,” the war in the Balkans, interviews with black activists Vincent Harding and Yvonne Delk, the Love Canal's Lois Gibbs, and Mexican archbishop Ruiz, cultural commentary on the Catholic church and the peace movement, reviews of movies, books, and music.

A founding member of a small creative writing group, Rose Berger has taught writing and poetry workshops for children and adults. She’s completed her MFA in poetry through the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. Her poetry has been published in Sojourners, The Other Side, Radix and D.C. Poets Against the War.

Rose grew up in the Central Valley of California, located in the rich flood plains of the Sacramento and American rivers. Raised in radical Catholic communities heavily influenced by Franciscans and the Catholic Worker movement, she served for nine years on the pastoral team for Sojourners Community Church; five as its co-pastor. She directed Sojourners internship program from 1990-1999. She is currently Senior Associate Editor and Poetry Editor for Sojourners magazine.

She has traveled throughout the United States, and also in Israel/Palestine, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosova, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and El Salvador visiting primarily with faith communities working for peace in situations of conflict.

Rose’s articles include:

She co-owns a house with Sojourners Senior Associate Editor Julie Polter in the Southern Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. and shares it with Rose’s retriever “Juba.”

Posts By This Author

The Beatitudes and Executive Order 13767

by Rose Marie Berger 05-02-2017
False hope is found in a thousand Facebook posts.
Shutterstock.com

Shutterstock.com

OUTSIDE, A HELICOPTER circles this D.C. neighborhood, a dog barks anxiously in the alley. Inside, a woman sits in a straight-backed chair reading the Beatitudes. She adjusts her glasses. “Bienaventurados los que lloran, porque ellos recibirán consolación.” Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “It’s a beautiful prayer,” she says.

My neighbor Lola cleans office buildings during the week, takes English classes on Saturdays, goes to Mass on Sundays. Her husband operates a jackhammer for a construction crew. On the “Day Without Immigrants,” Lola’s boss said because it wasn’t organized by the union, workers should not stay home. So she went to work. Her husband stayed home. “We have to stand together,” he said.

Lola and her husband sometimes share their one-bedroom apartment with a man who was their neighbor in El Salvador. He works days, nights, weekends. He sleeps on a mattress in their main room for a few hours in the afternoon. Lola leaves pupusas for him, wrapped and warm. Sometimes he drinks too much, turns up the radio, dances. They quiet him so he doesn’t disturb the neighbors. He feels safe there.

Down the Path of Protest and Dissent

by Rose Marie Berger 03-09-2017

Image via Johnny Silvercloud/Flickr

The 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, election, and aftermath provide some data with which to diagnose how America is measuring up — not only to her to her founding principles but, for American Christians, to our confession of Christ and the laws of God.

When You See Something ... Act!

by Rose Marie Berger 02-28-2017
Active-bystander intervention is what 'love your neighbor' looks like in public.

ROBERT HARVEY had a problem. The church he pastors was vandalized after the election: “Trump Nation. Whites only” was scrawled across its sign. His congregants, nearly 85 percent of whom are immigrants from West Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, were shaken.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reported 1,094 bias-related incidents across the country in the month after the election. The greatest number of these types of events are against women in public spaces who are also immigrants, Muslim, or African American. These are assumed to be a “small fraction of hate-related incidents,” as the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that two-thirds of hate crimes go unreported.

Harvey, rector of Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Silver Spring, Md., decided to take action. First, he reached out to the local community and other religious congregations. Second, he signed up for a nonviolence and “active bystander intervention” training.

To understand how to be an “active bystander,” one must first understand the “passive bystander” effect. Research shows that when someone needs help and they are in a crowd, bystanders are less likely to act. The more bystanders there are to an event, the more each one thinks someone else will help.

Welcome to the Resistance. Here's Your Survival Guide.

by Rose Marie Berger 02-01-2017

All great resistance communities practice a two-pronged approach. Mohandas Gandhi described this as an “obstructive program” alongside long-term “constructive engagement.” Both are needed for the wheel of resistance to turn.

The Mosquito Manifesto

by Rose Marie Berger 12-22-2016
Are we American Christians or Christians in America?

WHAT DO YOU do when the democratic process delivers the power of the presidency to an authoritarian leader with the strategic impulse control of a 2-year-old?

Here are a few responses I’ve observed.

OPTION 1: The Ostrich. Bury one’s head in the sand until the annoyances pass. The virulent rhetoric of Mr. Trump’s campaign, combined with his appointees and advisers, make this option available only to men of European decent. (White women may cover their heads, but shouldn’t bury them completely.)

OPTION 2: The Spaniel. Fluff up one’s coat and appear clean and eager on the doorstep of the new master. Hope for the best; hope for a bone. This option is supported by many who are well-meaning, are part of the political elite, or are dangerously naive.

OPTION 3: The Cockroach. When the light comes on, scatter into the street with a sign saying “Not My President.” Or simply hide in a dark corner hoping to pass the coming wrath undetected. This escape behavior is instinctual in creatures that are startled or undeveloped.

Since the wee hours of Nov. 9, I’ve exhibited most of these behaviors myself.

But as a Christian, I’m not allowed to live in illusions for long. In Paul’s “letter of tears,” written to the fledgling church at Corinth, he wrote, “We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:8). Therefore, existing in a “post-truth” state is not an option.

Americans are deeply disillusioned about the state of our nation. The fundamental optimism of the “American dream” has not matched reality for at least three generations. American optimism has always been partly delusion, as evidenced by the experiences of those defined outside of it or on whose backs the “great good” was built.

An election, however, is supposed to be a tool for the nonviolent transfer and distribution of power, not a therapy session to deal with disillusionment.

An Abundance of Cultural Differences

by Rose Marie Berger 10-26-2016
Catholics from different parts of the world have widely divergent experiences and contrasting approaches to “just war.”
Awe Inspiring Images / Shutterstock.com

Awe Inspiring Images / Shutterstock.com

'WE CAN JOYFULLY anticipate an abundance of cultural differences and varied life experiences among the participants in the Rome Conference,” wrote Pope Francis in his welcome letter to the Nonviolence and Just Peace gathering in Rome, “and these will only enhance the exchanges and contribute to the renewal of the active witness of nonviolence as a ‘weapon’ to achieve peace.”

Nowhere were the “cultural differences” and “varied life experiences” more conspicuous than in the conversation about whether there is ever a Christian justification for armed force.

U.S. and Western European academics are thoroughly trained in the theory, theology, and application of just war theory. It’s taught in U.S. and European seminaries. It’s taught in all military academies. It provides a framework for international law.

In stark contrast, Catholics living in Iraq, Sudan, Uganda, Afghanistan, Syria, Congo, Sri Lanka, and other war-torn countries are not schooled in just war philosophy. It is not part of training for priests or academics or those in political life. When people from war-ravaged regions talk about “just war,” they speak from the experience of having been on the receiving end of “morally acceptable” drone strikes. They make a powerful argument for a paradigm shift away from just war thinking.

In regions of civil unrest, some said, where religious extremism is used as propaganda to advance partisan military and political objectives, even associating the language of “just war” with Catholicism can categorize Catholics as “combatants.”

In the case of Colombia’s brutal, 52-year-long civil war, Jesuit priest Francisco De Roux described how just war teaching misled Catholics into taking up arms. “In my Catholic country,” said De Roux, “our nuns and priests join the guerillas because of the just war paradigm. The Catholic paramilitaries pray to the Virgin before slaughtering people because of the just war paradigm.”

Game Changer?

by Rose Marie Berger 10-26-2016
What if 1.2 billion Catholics embraced gospel nonviolence?

“JUST WAR IS KILLING US! There is no just war.”

That proclamation by a Catholic sister from Iraq, and others like it, resounded at a Vatican gathering this spring and fell on surprisingly receptive ears.

Sister Nazik Matty, an Iraqi Dominican, joined others from around the world in Rome in April to wrestle with how the Catholic Church could “recommit to the centrality of gospel nonviolence.” She has watched members of her religious community die for lack of medical care during war.

“Which of the wars we have been in is a just war?” asked Sister Matty, who was driven from her home in Mosul by ISIS, also known by the Arabic acronym Daesh. “In my country, there was no just war. War is the mother of ignorance, isolation, and poverty. Please tell the world there is no such thing as a just war. I say this as a daughter of war.”

The Rome gathering on Nonviolence and Just Peace was unprecedented, bringing together members of the church hierarchy with social scientists, theologians, practitioners of nonviolence, diplomats, and unarmed civilian peacekeepers to discuss Catholic nonviolence and whether in the contemporary world armed force can ever be justified.

Of course, with such diverse participants, there was not a common mind on whether just war theory, a doctrine of military ethics used by Catholic theologians, has outlived its usefulness as church teaching.

Some of the academics and diplomats—particularly from the United States and Western Europe—maintained that just war criteria, when properly applied, are useful when working within halls of power, from the Pentagon to the United Nations, for restraining excessive use of military force by a state. One participant cautioned against “broad condemnations of just war tradition, if it means closing off dialogue with our allies.” Another questioned how diplomacy could continue without the just war framework as its common language.

But Catholics who came to Rome from conflict zones—Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Colombia, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Uganda—brought a different perspective.

Piracy and Puritanism at Wells Fargo

by Rose Marie Berger 10-25-2016
Advent is a time to push back against “the data of despair,” a time to take actions that generate “narratives of hope.”
Northfoto / Shutterstock.com

Northfoto / Shutterstock.com

I OPENED MY first savings account at Wells Fargo in Sacramento, Calif., when I was 8 years old. I remember the bronze stagecoach penny bank they gave me to help me practice saving. When I moved to Washington, D.C., I put my money into a D.C.-based bank, soon bought out by Wells Fargo. But it wasn’t the same Wells Fargo I’d grown up with.

In 2012, the Justice Department found Wells Fargo guilty of discriminating against both African-American and Latino borrowers during the subprime mortgage heist. It’s one of the top two banks invested in the Corrections Corporation of America, which is one of the largest for-profit prison companies in the U.S. In 2015, Wells Fargo was the world’s largest bank.

This fall, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, who abruptly resigned in October, was called before a congressional investigative committee to answer accusations that thousands of Wells Fargo employees secretly opened 2 million fraudulent accounts without customers’ permission or knowledge, and were incentivized by the company to do so. Employees opened false banking and credit card accounts, transferred funds, and created phony access codes and email addresses. “The frauds violate federal and state statutes against bank fraud and identity theft,” William K. Black Jr., white-collar criminologist and cofounder of Bank Whistleblowers United, told Sojourners. Customers incurred charges and fines; in some cases, their credit ratings were damaged.

CEO Stumpf accepted “full responsibility for all unethical sales practices in our retail banking business.” (John Steinbeck once called this kind of thing a successful combination of “piracy and puritanism.”)

Wells Fargo claims that it has fired 5,300 people since 2011 related to these practices, but details are vague; the fraud investigators were hired by Wells Fargo. We don’t know how many were fired because they couldn’t fulfill the extortionate sales quotas.

A Prayer for Haiti

by Rose Marie Berger 10-12-2016

Photo provided by Ginette Thomas

As for us, Lord, we who are far away from the rubble and the flood,
from the sobbing and moans, but who hold them close in our hearts,
imbue us with the strength of Simon the Cyrene.

Mary Cosby, Cofounder of the Landmark Church of the Saviour, Dies at 93

by Rose Marie Berger 07-07-2016

Image via  / Shutterstock.com

Mary Campbell Cosby, cofounder of the Church of the Saviour movement she launched with her husband and partner Rev. N. Gordon Cosby in the 1940s, died this week in Washington, D.C. She was 93 years old.

News of her passing spread quickly on July 3. Kayla McClurg sent an email to family and friends saying, “I am writing to let you know that our dear Mary Cosby passed away very gently and suddenly this afternoon at Christ House.”

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