Web Editor and Chief Digital Officer

Sandi Villarreal came to Sojourners in 2012 after starting her career in print newspaper reporting and veering quickly into digital media and online journalism. She comes to Washington, D.C., via stops in St. Louis, Chicago, and Minneapolis. Sandi holds a BA in Journalism and Political Science from Baylor University and an MS in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She has worked in both print and online journalism, publishing, digital marketing, and non-profit community development.

Sandi is most interested in writing about the intersection of faith, politics, and culture, especially as it relates to the role of women both in our pews on Sundays and in our society in general. She has earned awards both for her writing and as editor of Sojourners' online publication.

Sandi hails from San Antonio, Texas, is married to a Lutheran preacher from Arkansas, and is mom to two young kids. In her downtime, you can find her visiting local wineries, watching the San Antonio Spurs, and coordinating the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Solutions Journalism Network.

Posts By This Author

Questioning Faith After Purity Culture: In Conversation with Joshua Harris

by Sandi Villarreal 07-19-2019

Still from the documentary I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

Earlier this week, author and former pastor Joshua Harris — whose bestselling book I Kissed Dating Goodbye became go-to courtship advice for a generation of teens raised within 1990s-early 2000s evangelical purity culture — announced via Instagram that he and his wife were separating. In the post, he says, “In recent years, some significant changes have taken place in both of us. It is with sincere love for one another and understanding of our unique story as a couple that we are moving forward with this decision. We hope to create a generous and supportive future for each other and for our three amazing children in the years ahead."

Exploring a Holistic Sexuality in the Black Church: In Conversation With Rev. Lacette Cross

by Sandi Villarreal 03-11-2019

Rev. Lacette (Rev. L) Cross

Amid ongoing conversations about the harm caused by a “purity” ethic taught within mostly evangelical churches in the 1990s-2000s (and for some, still today), a number of ethicists, theologians, pastors, and educators have been quietly shaping a new ethic — some for years.

Their Generation Was Shamed by Purity Culture. Here's What They're Building in Its Place

by Sandi Villarreal 03-07-2019

Some credit the negative reactions to purity culture as fueling the exodus of young adults from the evangelical church — in 2006, white evangelicals comprised 23 percent of Americans, and that dropped to 17 percent by 2016. As they have entered adulthood, become parents themselves, and have perhaps long since rejected a purity culture that they experienced as harmful to body and spirit, many find themselves left without anything to replace it. But a handful of pastors, writers, and activists have been finding their way forward — through shared storytelling, interpreting a more inclusive biblical sexual ethic, and offering new models for the church to talk about sexuality in a holistic, faithful way.

Toward a Less Toxic Discourse

by Sandi Villarreal 01-29-2019

To our readers,

As I’ve led our online coverage over the past seven years, I’ve constantly sought better and more efficient ways of connecting with you and hearing what you have to say in response to our reporting and commentary. I’m so grateful for the time you take to engage in the conversations we prompt, and you regularly provide our editors with encouragement, story ideas, and much-needed diversity of opinion.

'The World Hasn't Been Introduced To Christ'

by Sandi Villarreal 11-20-2018
A Q&A with 'The Great Reckoning' Author Stephen Mattson

"Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ," the subheading of author Stephen Mattson's first book, The Great Reckoning, encapsulates what it means to many young, white current or former evangelicals to navigate, and in some cases, deconstruct the faith of their upbringing. From the exvangelical community, to #EmptythePews, to a clear break of some from the political allegiances of their parents' generation in a time of Trump, many white evangelicals are entering into this journey for the first time. Mattson, having done the same himself, offers somewhat of a blueprint — a look at some of the hypocricies within white American evangelicalism and a guide to finding important voices outside the dominant culture to help shape what comes next. 

If Our Wounds Matter

by Sandi Villarreal 10-01-2018

Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in before testifying the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building at the Capitol Hill. Sept. 27, 2018. Win McNamee/Pool via REUTERS

Women across the world have broken open, offering their stories of abuse and assault in a shared scream, searching for a new normal so our daughters and sons won’t have to deal with the same. The response we see from men in leadership has been a series of temper tantrums at the prospect of having to change learned behavior.

'No Wall Between Amigos'

by Sandi Villarreal 09-24-2018
The crisis continues at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The altar at La Lomita Chapel in Mission, Texas. Photo by Sandi Villarreal/Sojourners

A SMALL WHITE CHAPEL sits just a couple hundred yards north of the Rio Grande river in Mission, Texas. While the chapel no longer hosts an active parish, its interior shows signs of frequent use. Prayer candles and silk flowers line the altar and the base of a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe. An entryway table holds dozens of prayers, written on folded loose-leaf paper. Children’s composition notebooks, filled with more handwritten prayers, are stacked in piles.

“Please watch over our brothers, sisters, and all the children being held hostage at the border,” one prayer says. And another: “Please bless our health & the children being separated from their parents @ the border.”

La Lomita Chapel is now part of a municipal park and serves as a rest stop for passersby—while Border Patrol trucks sit just outside the park entrance and a helicopter circles overhead. The chapel land was originally granted to Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate priests in the mid-1800s. Given its location—midway between mission centers in Brownsville and Roma, Texas—La Lomita served as a meeting place and “housed transient visitors to the mission,” according to a historic marker on the site.

I visited the chapel, quite by accident, during a reporting trip at the border at the height of the family separation crisis. The separation of parents and children moved the hearts—and wallets—of people across the nation. But that fervor waned after a U.S. District Court judge gave a July deadline for reunification and more than 1,500 children were reunited with their parents, largely thanks to the efforts of faith groups and advocates. For many, it seemed, the story was over. The reality is that the crisis continues.

As of this writing, 497 children remain separated from their parents, 22 of whom are under the age of 5. More than 300 parents have been deported, and many who signed a waiver to be reunited say they were coerced. Children, including some babies and toddlers, haven’t seen their parents in months. It’s likely that some of those children will never see their parents again.

Family Separation Is the Latest Eruption in an Ongoing Emergency

by Sandi Villarreal, by Bekah McNeel 08-16-2018

Undocumented immigrant families walk from a bus depot to a respite center after being released from detention in McAllen, Texas, July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Over the past four months, news from the border has chronicled the stories of families detained and separated — many of them seeking asylum from gang violence in Central America. Children as young as 8 months have been taken from their parents and sent across the country to children’s shelters, privately run detention centers, and, some, to foster families. Now, 20 days after a court-imposed deadline, more than 550 children still have not been returned to their parents, at least 300 of whom have been deported.

Thursday Was the Deadline to Reunite Families. Hundreds of Children Are Still in U.S. Custody

by Sandi Villarreal 07-27-2018

Douglas Almendarez poses with his wife Evelin Meyer holding a photo of their son, in La Union, in Olancho state Honduras July 14, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw earlier this week praised the government's efforts to reunify some of the more than 2,500 children who had been separated from their parents upon crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in advance of the July 26 deadline. Yet as of that deadline, 711 children ages 5-17 remain in U.S. custody. Another 46 children under the age of 5 also have yet to be reunited with their parents

4 Faith Groups Tapped to Receive Reunified Families Separated at the Border

by Sandi Villarreal 07-18-2018

Rosaries sit on the check-in table at Catholic Charities of San Antonio. Photo by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Parents who have just been reunited with their children — after being separated, some for months, amid the implementation of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy — are offered food, clothes, toys, and other essentials and are paired with background-checked volunteers to help them through the next steps of the process.

After Viral Facebook Fundraiser, RAICES Offers $20 Million to Cover Bonds for Separated Families

by Sandi Villarreal 07-10-2018

Photo by Kayla Lattimore/Sojourners

RAICES Texas — the San Antonio-based immigration legal services provider that has received tens of millions of dollars via a viral Facebook fundraising campaign launched amid the family separation crisis at the border — today announced a plan to distribute $20 million of their funds: give it over to the Department of Homeland Security to “post bonds” for mothers being held in detention.

Defending an Independent Press

by Sandi Villarreal 04-25-2018
There's a reason why freedom of the press and religious freedom reside together in the First Amendment.

ONE SPACE WHERE I find rest, amid the noise of living and working in Washington, D.C., sits directly in the heart of the hustle: the Newseum, dedicated to the defense of Amendment 1 to the U.S. Constitution.

It may be an odd choice, since it exhibits the front page of 60 newspapers each morning, each listing the harrowing headlines I’m trying to escape. But in this space, dedicated to education on our First Amendment freedoms, I find special solace.

Etched on a large window overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol are these words: “Freedom of Press Speech Religion.”

There is not much breathing room between those freedoms inherent to all Americans, nor between those listed separately: freedom of assembly and petition.

It’s a well-placed reminder about freedoms many Americans take for granted. In 2016, 39 percent of Americans could not name a single one of them. Fifty-four percent could name freedom of speech, but only 17 percent and 11 percent could name freedom of religion and freedom of the press, respectively.

When freedoms don’t “feel” threatened, it’s easy to take them for granted.

Enter 2017. Already this year, we’ve experienced attacks on the freedom of religion as evidenced by the surge in Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks and the Trump administration’s failure to mention Jews or anti-Semitism in its Holocaust Remembrance Day statement (a stark departure from the previous six administrations). We’ve seen lawyers spill pro bono hours in airports defending the freedom of religion by enforcing legal protections for international travelers in the face of what appeared to be a “religious test” for entering the country.

People of faith across the U.S. and across party lines rightly have been outraged at potential infringement of religious liberty under the Trump administration.

Teachers React to President Trump’s Proposal to Arm Them in Schools

by Sandi Villarreal 02-23-2018

Over the past week — after listening sessions with the student survivors of the Parkland shooting and parents who have lost children, as well as state and local leaders — the most repeated solution to the epidemic of gun violence that President Donald Trump has offered is arming some percentage of our school’s teachers.

Dreamers ‘Are Just Like Us’: Santa Fe Youth Group Pens Op-Ed Defending DACA

by Sandi Villarreal 01-26-2018

Youth Initiates from the United Church of Santa Fe walk the trails along the Arizona-Sonora border. Photo courtesy Rev. Talitha Arnold

People of faith and other advocates across the country are calling for a permanent fix for the 800,000 young people at risk of losing their DACA status if Congress doesn’t reach a deal soon. In one Santa Fe, N.M., congregation, those calls are coming from the youth group.

More Than 100 Liberty Grads to Return Diplomas, Citing Falwell’s Support of Trump

by Sandi Villarreal 08-22-2017

Donald Trump delivers remarks at Liberty University commencement May 13, 2017. Shealah Craighead [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

More than 100 Liberty University graduates have pledged to withdraw support and return their diplomas to the office of university president Jerry Falwell Jr., citing his continued support of President Donald Trump after Charlottesville — along with a letter expressing their concerns, copied to Liberty’s board of trustees, by Sept. 5.

DeVos: ‘It Would Be Premature’ to Commit to Keeping Title IX Sexual Assault Guidance

by Sandi Villarreal 01-18-2017

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, said during her Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 17 she looks forward to understanding the “range of opinions” around Title IX rules for colleges addressing sexual assault on campus. While DeVos agreed with Sen. Bob Casey (D.-Penn.) that “sexual assault in any form or any place is a problem,” she stopped short of saying whether she would uphold 2011 rules laid out in the Office for Civil Right’s Dear Colleague Letter, which requires any schools receiving federal funding to have procedures in place and take immediate action on incidents of sexual violence, harassment, or discrimination.

 

What Will 'Sanctuary' Look Like in 2017? San Antonio's Response to Hundreds of Freed Migrants Shows One Way

by Sandi Villarreal 12-09-2016

Released families flood local church. Image courtesy RAICES.

In early December, Immigration and Customs Enforcement released nearly 500 women and children from Texas family detention centers, flooding San Antonio emergency shelters — and revealing the generosity of a city.

“After this weekend’s events San Antonio may not be a sanctuary city on paper, but it’s a sanctuary city just by the actions of the community,” said Amy Fischer, policy director for the RAICES in San Antonio.

African-American Clergy to Trump: Bannon Appointment Makes 'Reconciliation and Unity Extremely Difficult'

by Sandi Villarreal 11-18-2016

Steve Bannon. Photo by Don Irvine, via Flickr.com

A group of African-American clergy have issued an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump, urging him to “reconsider this appointment especially as you step into your role as President in a nation struggling to move past a deeply divisive campaign.”

The letter, organized by National African American Clergy Network co-chairs Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Dr. T. DeWitt Jr., and Dr. Otis Moss Jr., came before the announcements today of Sen. Jeff Sessions to Attorney General.

What's Behind White Evangelical Anxiety?

by Sandi Villarreal 10-26-2016

Much ink has been spilled this election cycle on the future of evangelicalism given the “God gulf” between some white evangelical Donald Trump supporters and those evangelicals who have either long denounced Trump’s candidacy or who more recently have decided that some of Trump’s rhetoric and policy proposals have gone too far. But the root of this divide may be found in this fact, released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute: “No group has a dimmer view of American cultural change than white evangelical Protestants.”

Jerry Falwell Jr. Cuts Anti-Trump Column From Liberty Student Paper

by Sandi Villarreal 10-19-2016

Jerry Falwell Jr. introduces Donald Trump at Liberty University's convocation.

A student editor at the Liberty Champion, Liberty University's student newspaper, is crying foul after his column was axed by university president Jerry Falwell Jr. The piece — part of a weekly column by sports editor Joel Schmieg — took aim at Donald Trump's so-called "locker room talk" in which the Republican presidential candidate bragged about being able to get away with sexual assault.