Sandi Villarreal is former editor-in-chief of Sojourners. She came to Sojourners in 2012 after starting her career in print newspaper reporting and veering quickly into digital media and online journalism. Sandi holds a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Baylor University. She has worked in both print and online journalism, publishing, digital marketing, and nonprofit community development.
Sandi is most interested in writing about the intersection of faith, politics, and culture, especially as it relates to women's leadership both within our churches and on the political stage. Sandi has earned awards for her news and commentary writing, as well as for her work as editor of Sojourners' online publication.
Posts By This Author
After Viral Facebook Fundraiser, RAICES Offers $20 Million to Cover Bonds for Separated Families
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
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
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
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
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
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
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'
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?
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
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.
The Baylor Crisis Isn't About Football. It's About Women's Lives.
So the story, as presented, has been either one of the downfall of a Cinderella sports team or one of political hypocrisy. And left behind are the stories of women whose lives were forever changed and subsequently ignored, first by the administration and now by the media.
How Motherhood Helped Me Understand the Incarnation
For me, as a mother, the incarnation becomes tangible thus: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” and [not listed in Gabriel’s announcement] he’ll be brutally killed in front of you. It becomes tangible when I again picture this mother at the foot of a cross where her son hangs. He is the savior of the world, carrying out God’s perfect plan through his death and resurrection, yes. … But he is her baby.
Baylor Maintains Silence as Students, Alumni Demand Transparency on Sexual Assaults
On Feb. 9, the day after more than 200 Baylor students, alumni, faculty, and staff gathered in front of university President Ken Starr’s campus residence for a candlelight vigil honoring the community’s sexual assault survivors, Starr released a statement on the school’s website saying, “We hear you loud and clear.”
Starr was not present for the vigil — according to an inquiry to the media communications office, he was in Washington, D.C., on university business.
His brief statement read: “You want us to continue to improve. And you want definitive, responsible actions after we receive the insights and recommendations from Pepper Hamilton. You have my word on both.”
Baylor Students, Alumni Call for Changes to School's Response to Sexual Assaults
A group of Baylor University students and alumni will gather for a candlelight vigil outside university President Ken Starr’s home on Feb. 8 in an effort to urge changes to how the school handles sexual assault.
The vigil is being organized by Stefanie Mundhenk, a recent graduate who described her own experience through the school’s Title IX process in her personal blog. Mundhenk’s account — coupled with a recent ESPN report accusing the school of mishandling cases of sexual assault by Baylor football players, and subsequent CBS Sports commentary calling on President Ken Starr to “stop stonewalling” about the rape cases — sparked outrage among Baylor alumni, many of whom responded in an open letter to the university administration over the weekend. Since the open letter was shared on Saturday, the list of signatories has risen from 50 to more than 1,300.
Dr. Larycia Hawkins on the 'Inquisition' at Wheaton and Why She Wants to Stay
Dr. Larycia Hawkins — the Wheaton College professor who recently was placed on administrative leave because of her Facebook comments showing solidarity with the Muslim community and saying Christians and Muslims worship the ‘same God’ — has been at the epicenter of much speculation over the future of both Christian liberal arts and the evangelical faith writ large. The administration maintains that her comments seemed to be inconsistent with the college’s Statement of Faith, and earlier this month provost Stan Jones delivered a recommendation to the president to initiate termination. A hearing before the Faculty Personnel Committee on Feb. 11 will result in a recommendation to the president and board of trustees on how to move forward.
Weekly Wrap 12.18.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week
As the lead editor behind the dubious byline “the Web Editors,” it is within my job description to read all the Internet. And this is how the Weekly Wrap was born. This week, I decided to show all my biased cards and give you, fair reader, a glimpse behind how I decide what’s worth your spare few minutes on Fridays. As a religion writer and journalist, I give special attention to mainstream outlets that actually get faith right; I get sucked in by clickbait on the regular; I have a few favorite go-to publications (can you spot ‘em?); I link to a piece or two from our own publication that I think are excellent and perhaps underappreciated; I usually find at least one thing from my home state of Texas; and I cry ugly tears at most things having to do with babies. There are all my secrets. And here is the Weekly Wrap. —Sandi
‘Maybe There’s Hope:’ Looking for God in 'The X-Files' Reboot
Series writers (which included Vince Gilligan of later Breaking Bad acclaim) were never exactly subtle with their nods to faith. While Mulder was an atheist, his constant journey to a truth larger than himself, and indeed, this world, mirror many a sojourner, albeit perhaps without the little green androgynous beings. And Scully’s faith as a child in the unquestionable Catholic Church, and then as a doctor in science above all, and then as a lover and a mother in a more tangible God, allowed for a deeper-than-average glimpse at the push-pull relationship between blind belief and pure, clinical reason.
Shelter in the Storm
AN IRAQ WAR VETERAN passes the offering plate after listening to a sermon on Christian persecution in the early church—tales of torture and execution. A 19-year-old student—home for the summer from college, where her first experience at a fraternity party turned violent—listens to her childhood pastor recite the story of David and Bathsheba and David’s subsequent path to redemption. A mother placates her two children with Cheerios and raisins as she struggles through the exhortations to spousal submission, hiding bruised arms under long sleeves in the middle of July.
The Christian story is littered with trauma—from slavery (the Israelites in Egypt) to sexual assault and abuse (Dinah, Tamar, Bathsheba) to the trauma of war (see: much of the Old Testament) to, of course, the crucifixion of Jesus and martyrdom of his disciples.
There is possibly no better resource for understanding the implications of and need for healing from trauma than faith communities pointing to the cross and Jesus’ answer to violence. Both the need and the opportunity are great. But perhaps too often Christians proclaim the message of Easter—victory and restoration—while skipping past the violence and trauma of Good Friday. Some theologies explain away that violence as a necessary component of ultimate salvation—but let’s get to the salvation part, okay?—leaving survivors of trauma who fill our Sunday pews without a touchstone for healing within the very communities that purport to be safe spaces.
How We Talk About Life — and Death
It’s not often words escape us. But in the aftermath of the now viral recording(s) raising concerns over whether Planned Parenthood seeks profit from aborted fetal tissue — and the crassness with which its representative discusses how to accomplish it without “crushing” the tissue/organs — that’s where we were left: with no words. We confess to being at a complete loss of what to say in the face of humanity’s brokenness.
Beyond the ethical questions of how an organization receives payment for tissue sales or the debates around the potential benefits of the patients’ donations of fetal tissue, the videos are an in-your-face reminder of our culture’s blatant disrespect for life.
That disregard is not unique in our society, of course. Journalism: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Medicine: “There’s nothing more to be done. She’s a vegetable.” Justice system: “He’s gonna fry.” War: “Light ‘em up.” Uncomfortable questions about life and death and ethics are best papered over with emotionless cliché, obviously.
As a society and as individuals, when we fail to recognize the imago dei in others, we trend further away from our uniquely human capacity to empathize and closer to isolated, analytical, and almost robotic assessments of value.
When Parenting Meets #FeedFear
As a journalist, editor, media professional, and all-around digital addict, I believe the ever-present “newsfeed of fear” engenders a very real threat to our personal well-being. But is it possible that it also harbors startling implications for our behavior and even our relationships?
Reflecting on Gareth Higgins’ words on “availability heuristic” (“A Newsfeed of Fear,” Sojourners, May 2015) — basically, that our fear of bad things happening is based on how many examples of those bad things we can easily bring to mind — the first thought that entered my head was my constant command to my 1.5-year-old, “Hold Mommy’s hand!”
Of course, we live in the middle of Washington, D.C., on a high-traffic street with no front yard to speak of; any time we leave the house, I have to go on high alert lest my newly running toddler dart off the sidewalk. But when I dug a little deeper to explore in what other circumstances my danger-Will-Robinson-danger alarm has gone off, I was forced to admit that it can occur basically any time she’s in my care.
When I became a parent, it inexplicably became frightening that my house didn’t have a mudroom — or anything save a single slab of lockable wooden door separating our warm and cozy home from the terror that existed beyond it. Suddenly, a 5-degree rise or drop in my kid’s nursery — indicated by her video monitor, which also plays soothing lullaby music — became cause to purchase a window AC unit and an electric heater despite our house’s central air and heat. I contemplated buying the mattress pad that sounds an alarm if it detects baby has stopped breathing (because SIDS), but opted against it since I was already checking on her every five minutes anyway.
First, let me say, I think all of these are good and normal (right?) reactions to first-time parenthood, and I have since calmed the hell down. But they can also be artificially generated behavioral responses to the digital world we live in, enhanced by mommy blogs and parenting books warning us of the dangers of crib bumpers (27 accidental deaths/year) and window blind cords (about 7 deaths in 2014). And don’t even get me started on #PregnancyFeedFear — somewhere around 6 months in, you give up and just eat the dang sushi and deli meat.