Ryan Stewart is a teacher in Springfield, Mass., and graduate of Yale Divinity School. You can find him on Twitter @RyanMcStew.

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Repairing the Infrastructure That Misremembers Slavery

by Ryan Stewart 10-19-2021
Clint Smith's 'How the Word Is Passed' shows how different places tell, or do not tell, the truth.

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith. Little, Brown and Company

THE STATUE OF Liberty, author Clint Smith tells us, was supposed to celebrate the abolition of slavery. Early models depicted the iconic copper lady holding a raised torch in one hand and a pair of broken shackles in the other, but the final version included only a piece of broken chain at the lady’s feet. With slavery shifted to the periphery, Ellis Island’s visitors could imagine liberty was, and is, possible without abolition.

In How the Word Is Passed, Smith visits multiple historic sites to offer a mosaic portrait of how different places tell, or do not tell, the truth about slavery. The book meditates on the capacity of our collective symbolic infrastructure to prepare us to rectify persistent material inequalities. If we frame slavery as something that “happened a long time ago” or leave unchallenged the warping of the Confederate commitment to enslavement into myths of honor and heritage—if, in a word, we misremember the wound—then we will not summon the will nor the proper know-how to heal it.

To The Masters of Theology: Beware Your Isolation

by Ryan Stewart 01-05-2021
Whiteness strangles the possibilities of dense life together, writes Willie James Jennings.
The cover of 'After Whiteness' by Willie Jennings.

WHEN I WAS in divinity school, we had cliques. And what often separated these cliques, these little theological gaggles, if you will, was what each prized as the decisive foundation of Christian faith. For some it was scripture; for others, orthodox or anti-orthodox tradition; for still others, charismatic revelation, or the experience of the marginalized, or some cocktail of all the aforementioned. Sometimes we said Christ united us, but then we’d wonder, with charity or suspicion, “Who is ‘Christ’ to them?” Isolated on our little islands of perpetual disagreement, we nonetheless seemed secure.

In After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, Willie James Jennings has written a love letter to theological institutions, warning against the pursuit of such security. Our knowledge of ourselves, our God, and our world comes to us creatures only in fragments, he writes, and it is in those fragments that we must always work together. Jennings weaves story and poetry to expose how the allure of “white self-sufficient masculinity” has tempted Western educational institutions, especially theological ones, to use knowledge and people to establish control in the face of fragments. Theological education may initially crack the foundations of budding ministers, but it often aims to form self-confident possessors of particular truths. This vision proceeds from whiteness, what Jennings calls “a way of being in the world that aspires to exhibit possession, mastery, and control of knowledge first, and of one’s self second, and if possible of one’s world.” Such whiteness “strangles,” he writes, “the possibilities of dense life together” for Christians.

What MTV Taught Me About 'Masculine' Christianity

by Ryan Stewart 10-05-2016

Screenshot, "American Male"/MTV/YouTube

Nearly 9 percent of men in the U.S. have daily feelings of anxiety and depression, and fewer than half of those men seek help. That’s 5.5 million men who battle mental illness each day, alone. And suicide is the second leading cause of death for men aged 10-34.

A new short film from MTV, "American Male," explores how social expectations of masculinity afflict male minds — and in particular, the minds of frat guys who feel homoerotic urges they don’t know how to explain or admit. The film follows a muscular white male as he tortures himself for his shoddy beer pong skills, his feminine hand gestures, and his alternative sexuality.

9 Bonhoeffer Quotes to Remember a Pastor Who Resisted Evil Unto Death

by Ryan Stewart 04-08-2016
Wikimedia Commons

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The German pastor was executed by the Nazi regime at Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the United States liberated the camp. When he died he famously remarked to another prisoner, "This is the end — but for me, the beginning."

9 Radical MLK Quotes to Remember on the Anniversary of His Assassination

by Ryan Stewart 04-01-2016

Although King should rightly be lifted up as a hero of nonviolence and deeply Christian minister, we need to be reminded of King's radical legacy. King harshly criticized white people who failed to support black leadership. And particuarly toward the end of his life, King began to speak out about economic injustice and militarism, decrying the ills of capitalism and the Vietnam War.

As you remember today a leader who was murdered for his political beliefs, take a moment to reflect on these nine quotes:

What It Means That Terrorists in Lahore Attacked Christians on Easter

by Ryan Stewart 03-28-2016

As many Christians sat down Sunday morning to celebrate Easter, a suicide bombing targeting Christians halfway across the world in Lahore, Pakistan killed 72 people and injured at least 320. Right as American Christians were shouting, “He is risen, Alleluia!” an entire city cried out in horror and mourning. As American children hunted Easter eggs, a bomb exploded into Pakistani children visiting a neighborhood park.

Twitter Just Told Bible History With Memes and It’s Hilarious

by Ryan Stewart 03-11-2016
Henry_IX / Twitter

Photo via Henry_IX / Twitter

Every now and then Twitter just nails a hashtag, and defends the fundamental value of the Internet. This time, with #MemeHistory, people are pairing a contemporary “meme” with a famous event from history. Although the theme of #MemeHistory isn’t explicitly religious, many Twitter users couldn’t resist turning to the good book for inspiration. 

All the greatest pieces of biblical drama are there: Jesus' resurrection, the Garden of Eden, Satan tempting of Jesus.

Stephen Prothero on Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars

by Ryan Stewart 01-27-2016

The culture wars have always been with us. Conservatives start them. And liberals win them. So argues Stephen Prothero in his new book Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections).

Prothero recently spoke with Sojourners about this argument, its impact on liberal activism, and how we can better wage the culture wars. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

3 White Men Arrested After Minneapolis Shooting as Protests Continue

by Ryan Stewart 11-25-2015
Twitter / Unicorn Riot

The mother of a victim of the Nov. 23 shooting in Minneapolis marches with protesters on Nov. 24. Image via Twitter / Unicorn Riot

After what is being described as "a group of white supremacists" opened fire on protesters near a Black Lives Matter camp in Minneapolis, leaving five wounded, local police are still trying to identify the shooters. On Nov. 24, police took three white men into custody, two of which turned themselves in voluntarily. A fourth suspect was also released, after investigators found the man was not present at the scene of the shooting.

South Carolina Sheriff Fires Officer After Violent Arrest, Places 'Some Responsibility' on Student

by Ryan Stewart 10-28-2015
YouTube / Magic Storm Media / CNN

Screenshot via YouTube / Magic Storm Media / CNN

South Carolina sheriff Leon Lott announced Wednesday afternoon that Ben Fields, the police officer who violently arrested a 15-year-old black female student at Spring Valley High School, has been fired.

"It's not what I expect from my deputies, and it's not what I tolerate from my deputies," said Lott.

Although Lott removed Fields from his police force, he also commented on the behavior of the student.

School Police Officer Assaults 15-Year-Old Black Female Student in Classroom

by Ryan Stewart 10-27-2015
Screenshot via Heavy

Screenshot via Heavy

On the morning of Oct. 26, a student at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina was flipped out of her desk and tossed across the room by school resource officer Ben Fields.

Fields is already facing an outstanding lawsuit filed against him for "recklessly targeting African-American students with allegations of gang membership." But in 2014, Fields received a "Culture of Excellence" award for being "an exceptional role model to the students he serves and protects."

WATCH: New Interview Shows Stephen Colbert Talking Why He Loves Mass, When Humor Crosses the Line, and a Time Jesus Must Have LOL’d

by Ryan Stewart 09-18-2015
Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com

Stephen Colbert at the 65th Emmy Awards on September 22, 2013 in Los Angeles. Photo via Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com

“I’m no particular exemplar of my faith,” says Stephen Colbert.

“I just happen to have affection for my church.”

Colbert’s latest interview with Toronto-based Catholic outlet Salt and Light is bursting at the seams with wisdom — and, of course, more than a few good laughs.

The new host of the Late Show sat down with Father Thomas Corsica for a 45-minute conversation, one which centered on the Catholic comedian’s reflections on faith and theology.

Black Lives Matter Activists Launch ‘Campaign Zero,’ a Comprehensive Policy Platform Telling Politicians Exactly What They Want

by Ryan Stewart 08-21-2015
Campaign Zero

Photo via Campaign Zero

In the last year, Black Lives Matter activists have changed the consciousness of a nation. And all along the way they have vocally advocated for concrete policy changes. But now their demands are collected in a single, beautiful website, designed to inspire activists and provoke officials.

#FergusonTaughtMe: What People of Faith Have Learned Over the Past Year

by Ryan Stewart 08-10-2015
a katz / Shutterstock.com

Activists march in New York City on October 11, 2014 in solidarity with renewed protests in Ferguson, Mo. Photo via a katz / Shutterstock.com

One year after the shooting and killing of Michael Brown, #FergusonTaughtMe is trending on Twitter. Activists, faith leaders, intellectuals, and everyday members of the movement have used the hashtag to explain how Ferguson fundamentally altered their racial consciousness. Embedded are a few tweets from Christian leaders who shared how Ferguson changed the way they do faith. 

WATCH: Key and Peele Skit Imagines a World Where We Glorify Teachers Like We Do Athletes

by Ryan Stewart 07-28-2015
Comedy Central / Youtube

Photo via Comedy Central / Youtube

The Comedy Central duo has long been using comedy to challenge injustice. Now they’re tackling education.

The new skit portrays Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as primetime anchors of “TeachingCenter,” a show meant to mimic ESPN’s flagship athletic program, SportsCenter. The two hosts obsess over new teaching trades, a live draft for teachers, and an in-depth analysis of pedagogical technique. We even get a glimpse at a BMW commercial starring an educator.

Cosby Cover Sparks #TheEmptyChair Dialogue About Rape Culture

by Ryan Stewart 07-27-2015
Randy Miramontez / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Randy Miramontez / Shutterstock.com

July 26's visually-arresting cover photo of New York Magazine shows 35 of the 46 women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. The story also includes extensive interviews with each of the women who agreed to speak publicly.

Even as the evidence continues to suggest Cosby is a serial rapist, and even though Cosby admitted to giving drugs to sexual partners, he is still pushing a PR campaign to cover over the accusations.

The latest article reveals the wide diversity of women who have leveled accusations at Cosby.

Confessing My White Supremacy

by Ryan Stewart 07-07-2015

Image via /Shutterstock

For white people who care about racism, it’s time we stop pointing the finger at others and start confessing our own sin.

Every white person I know denounces the blatant, tragic racism of Dylann Roof. They abhor that this sort of thing could possibly happen in 2015. They can’t believe there still exists people who are THAT racist, who would fly the Confederate flag, who could possibly say (x and y and z). They shudder and shake at such insanity.

Many white moderates and conservatives I know would express such a view.

And some of those white people are also quick to point out “structural racism.” Chastising the “lone wolf” fallacies of those who think Roof acted outside of a racist context, these folks stress the importance of systems. For them, racism isn’t simply perpetrated by extremist Southerners or a few power-hungry police officers. Rather, it’s sustained primarily in local and national policies. With their cultivated, educated, birds-eye view, these white people expose “white privilege.” They, ahem, get it.

This is the enlightened white liberal par excellence.

But both views enable an understanding of racism that exists outside our own selves. Racism doesn’t exist outside our own selves, white folks. It doesn’t simply exist in THAT guy. It’s not just a vague political force in policy. It exists in you. It exists in me. I am racist. I am a white supremacist. And if you're white and reading this, you probably are too.

Pastor: If DOJ Officials Won’t Read the Torture Report, I'll Read It to Them

by Ryan Stewart 06-04-2015
Photo via National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Left to Right: Rev. Ron Stief, Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, Colin Jager. Photo via National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, N.J., travelled to Washington, D.C., on June 3 with a simple task: to read the torture report outside the Department of Justice.

“As a pastor, I know that admitting the truth is the first step toward redemption,” said Kaper-Dale.

“When the DOJ admitted in court that it hadn’t even opened, let alone read, the full Torture Report, I knew I had to help the department start the path toward redemption. By reading the report outside the DOJ, I hope to open the hearts of at least a few DOJ employees.”

Is It Good or Bad When Churches Shrink?

by Ryan Stewart 05-15-2015
Photo via Wouter Tolenaars / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Wouter Tolenaars / Shutterstock.com

According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, there are markedly fewer Christians and more “nones” — those who identify of no faith at all — in the U.S. than just seven years ago.

In the wake of this news, many critics have lost themselves in the question of who’s winning. But this isn’t a crisis. We don’t need to defend ourselves. We don’t need to obsess over whose team is in the lead. 

But we also can’t just shrug our shoulders. If we have any faith that Christianity has value in the public sphere, we should be reasonably concerned when people begin to see little importance in Christian identity.


Deep Divide Remains Between How Black and White Americans See Justice System

by Ryan Stewart 05-07-2015
Image via PRRI, Religion & Politics Tracking Survey, May 2015

Image via PRRI, Religion & Politics Tracking Survey, May 2015

The percentage of white Americans (46 percent) who believe blacks and other minorities receive equal treatment to whites in the criminal justice system is exactly the same as it was in 1992 — the year of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. In contrast, only 17 percent of black Americans and 39 percent of Hispanic Americans agree.