Executive Editor

Sandi Villarreal 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 non-profit 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.

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

Posts By This Author

'The Invisible War' Sheds Light on Epidemic of Rape in the Military

by Sandi Villarreal 06-20-2012
 from THE INVISIBLE WAR, a Cinedigm/Docurama Films release.

Lieutenant Elle Helmer at the Vietnam War Memorial, US Marine Corps, from THE INVISIBLE WAR, a Cinedigm/Docurama Films release.

Men and women in the military face numerous challenges when they return from combat—whether post-traumatic stress disorder, economic struggles, traumatic brain injury. A glimpse at the headlines tells us the grim statistics of active-duty suicides tied to these issues.

But a new film, The Invisible War, brings to light another staggering reality: a female soldier in a combat zone is more likely to be raped by another soldier than killed in enemy fire.

The Invisible War, which opens in some markets on June 22, takes on the military culture that has failed to address the problem.

Filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering collected stories from sexual assault survivors across the country and show how hauntingly similar their the accounts are—from harassment to assault to lack of follow-up, and for some, blatant cover up. The powerful documentary pairs the survivors’ heartbreaking stories with alarming statistics illustrating the scope of the epidemic. 

According to the Department of Defense, service members reported nearly 3,200 incidents of sexual assault in 2011.

Evangelical Leaders Announce Immigration Table Launch

by Jack Palmer, by Sandi Villarreal 06-12-2012
Photo by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Evangelical leaders close in prayer at the Evangelical Immigration Table launch. Photo by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Church leaders today gathered in Washington, D.C., to announce the launch of the Evangelical Immigration Table – a broad coalition of organizations, churches and pastors from across the political and religious spectrum coming together to advance a cohesive immigration reform message.

The Immigration Table was launched at a press conference, with speakers including Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis, Dr. Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Gabriel Salguero, President of the National Association of Latino Evangelicals and Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, setting out a common set of principles reflecting the common ground that all members of the Table have found on the issue of immigration.

Read on to view photos from the press conference.

Climate Change Affects Malawi Now

by Sandi Villarreal, by Elaina Ramsey 06-07-2012

Climate change experts and skeptics can hash it out all they want, but Victor Mughogho is living it. 

His home country of Malawi is already feeling the effects of climate change in real and devastating ways. Five droughts in the past 20 years, coupled with changing weather patterns, have resulted in famine — and a generation of children growing up developmentally stunted because of malnourishment. 

10 Reasons Why I Don’t Know What Century I’m In

by Sandi Villarreal 06-07-2012
Women illustration, Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners, Photos via Shutterstock.com

Women illustration, Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners, Photos via Shutterstock.com

No, I didn’t hit my head. I’m not suffering from amnesia. I’m just really confused.

I’m sorry — what year is it again? Running through my handy list o’ headlines, it’s a little bit difficult to tell. 

I give you the 10 reasons I don’t believe that it’s really 2012.

 

Violence Against Women Doesn't Discriminate

by Sandi Villarreal 05-16-2012
 Stop Violence Against Women word cloud, mypokcik / Shutterstock.com

Stop Violence Against Women word cloud, mypokcik / Shutterstock.com

The House of Representatives passed on Wednesday a version of the Violence Against Women Act that would limit protections to immigrant, LGBT and American Indian abuse victims. House Republicans argue that Democrats are politicizing a non-issue, but stating fact is not partisan politics. 

The new version of the bill not only deletes new protections that received bipartisan support in the Senate, but also eliminates ones that existed in previous versions of the Act. For instance, the new version could make it more difficult for immigrants married to abusive U.S. citizens come forward for fear of losing their residency. 

Womanhood and Discerning 'The Call'

by Sandi Villarreal 05-12-2012
Woman reading Bible, Jacob Gregory / Shutterstock.com

Woman reading Bible, Jacob Gregory / Shutterstock.com

I’ve moved five times in five years of marriage. My husband is a pastor. I am a journalist. He is forever discerning, forever visioning— I am forever antsy.

This latest move to Washington, D.C., led me to think a lot about the “call” to serve. My husband and I were dating, then engaged, then married during his four years at seminary. I suppose I knew what I was getting myself into. (Nope, not one little bit.) 

During those years, it was drilled into my brain that even though I felt a “calling” as a writer, a storyteller, etc., it was extremely different from the call. 

Read: What your husband is doing is more important than anything you will ever do in your lifetime — ever. Except maybe have his progeny, and then, still, it’s a toss-up.

One Year Later: Bin Laden and the Cycle of Violence

by Sandi Villarreal 05-01-2012
Carolina K. Smith, M.D. / Shutterstock.com

Seattle Times and other U.S. newspapers report the death of Osama bin Laden. Carolina K. Smith, M.D. / Shutterstock.com

A year ago today, I read a Tweet that President Barack Obama was interrupting primetime TV to address the nation regarding terrorism. My heart dropped. All I could think about was that terrifying feeling 10 years earlier while watching 9-11 coverage. It only took about half an hour of speculation on 24-hour news stations, Twitter, Facebook, etc., before reports came out that Obama would be announcing the death of public enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden. 

My first reaction was relief. The second, I confess, was one of pride—shared by the nation at the time and many still. But at some point in the aftermath, I read a friend’s post that convicted me and brought me back to reality. 

When a City Can't Afford an Election

by Sandi Villarreal 04-26-2012

If the GOP presidential primaries have been any indication, voter turnout for November's election could be fairly dismal. Between the uber-polarization of the parties and nationwide trend toward the middle at a voter level, many may opt to stay at home.

The lack of enthusiasm is especially evident in the youngest voting bloc, age 18-24. According to the latest from Public Religion Research and Georgetown University's Berkley Center, young adults are not exactly excited about their prospects of either political persuasion. Further, while one in six of them are registered to vote, only 46 percent plan to cast theirs in November.

But apart from the state of public discourse and apathy concerns of the weary voter, another issue is creeping up that could pose a problem for potential turnout—money. 

According to The Atlantic Cities, some cities simply don't have the money—and have to cut elsewhere—to host an election. 

"… municipalities are scrambling to pay the costs associated with manning polling places. Some have said they'll put off road repairs while transit crews work on Election Day. Others may borrow workers from other departments to help count votes. In practice, this will likely mean fewer voting precincts, shorter hours and longer lines."

In a culture that is not known for its patience or attention span, how will this trend affect the public's motivation, or lack thereof, to hit the polls in November?

Support Increasing for Gun Rights, Same-Sex Marriage

by Sandi Villarreal 04-25-2012

Attitudes on two controversial issues are shifting. There is more support for both gun rights and gay marriage in this election cycle than in the previous two, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

Forty-seven percent support legal same-sex marriage, while 43 percent are opposed. Younger adults favor gay marriage by a 65 percent to 30 percent split.

The gun rights issue is equally split, with 49 percent saying it is more important to protect gun rights and 45 percent saying gun control is more important. The largest shift has been among African Americans, which represent a 13-point increase in favor of gun rights. 

View the full survey results HERE.

Georgetown Faculty Challenge Ryan Budget

by Sandi Villarreal 04-24-2012
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) on March 27. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rep. Paul Ryan is slated to speak at Georgetown University on Thursday morning. In the lead up, a group of professors and administrators is joining the chorus taking Ryan to task for claiming his budget proposal falls in line with Catholic teaching.

“Our problem with Representative Ryan is that he claims his budget is based on Catholic social teaching,” said Jesuit Father Thomas J. Reese, one of the organizers of the letter. “This is nonsense. As scholars, we want to join the Catholic bishops in pointing out that his budget has a devastating impact on programs for the poor.”

How Do We Engage Young Millennials?

by Sandi Villarreal 04-20-2012
Young Millennials,  Brocreative/Shutterstock.com

Young Millennials, Brocreative/Shutterstock.com

As part of the rollout for "Millennial Values Survey" from Public Religion Research and the Berkley Center, I sat at Georgetown University and listened to a very long list of what pollsters think makes up college-age millennials. I’m in the right age bracket, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what a difference just a few years makes.

I’m part of the millennial generation, albeit at the high end of the spectrum. At 29, my attitudes and behaviors look completely different to those on the lower end. Part of it, of course, is phase of life. I’m a professional, married, with a few life experiences under my belt. Most of the respondents of the survey are in college or recently graduated—half live with their parents.

In discussing the survey results with a 23-year-old friend, we worked through both obvious and subtle differences. Some key characteristics of this cohort, and perhaps ways to engage them, surfaced. 

Both Parties Have 'Work Cut Out For Them' Attracting Millennials

by Sandi Villarreal 04-19-2012
Voting illustration, Vepar5/Shutterstock.com

Voting illustration, Vepar5/Shutterstock.com

In a previous post about the recent ‘Millennial Values Survey,’ I pointed out that young millennials age 18-24 are becoming disillusioned with institutionalized religion.

It’s an anecdotal truth we’ve been throwing around quite a lot lately, but the survey proves the very clear reality that the newest generation of adults is checking the “unaffiliated” box at a rate of one in four.

But young adults aren’t just showing apathy for religion—it’s politics as well. 

Young Millennials: Rethinking Religion

by Sandi Villarreal 04-19-2012
Jupiterimages/Getty Images

Jupiterimages/Getty Images

One in four young millennials (age 18-24) identify themselves as religiously unaffiliated—up from 11 percent in their childhood. But the distinguishing factor for this age group is that the “unaffiliated” label may stick with them into adulthood and beyond.

“This cohort is so dramatically different—racially, ethnically and religiously—it can’t help but change the character of our country,” Daniel Cox, director of research at Public Religion Research Institute, said at the presentation of the “Millennial Values Survey,” conducted by PRRI and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

In the past, young adults have tended to lapse in faith during their college years and twenties, only to return with age and family. Robert Jones, PRRI founder and CEO, said that’s not likely to happen as much with this age group.

“We’ve got to come up with some new measures of religion,” Jones said.

Millennials Find Distinction Between Personal Morality and Common Good

by Sandi Villarreal 04-19-2012

College-aged adults are not letting their moral beliefs on social issues filter into their politics.

According to the just released “Millennial Values Survey” by the Public Religion Research Institute and Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, adults age 18-24 are much less likely than their parents to cite social issues like abortion (22 percent) or same-sex marriage (22 percent) as critical.

While the group is split on social issues personally, it doesn’t factor into its political reality. For example, while 51 percent believe abortion is morally wrong, 59 percent believe access to abortion should be legal. Likewise, 48 percent believe sex between members of the same gender is morally wrong, but 59 percent favor allowing same-sex couples to legally marry.

The gap is also evident in their religious affiliation. The percent of religiously unaffiliated jumped from 11 percent in childhood to 25 percent now.

Their attitudes toward Christianity paint a picture of possible motives behind the shift. Two-thirds say that Christianity can be described as “anti-gay,” and 62 percent believe present-day Christianity is “judgmental.”

The full survey will be released this morning at Georgetown University. Check back with Sojourners for more coverage of the findings.

Sandi Villarreal is Associate Web Editor for Sojourners. Follow Sandi on Twitter @Sandi.

Catholic Leaders Say Rep. Paul Ryan Distorting Church Teaching

by Sandi Villarreal 04-13-2012

In response to Rep. Paul Ryan’s recent comments justifying the Republican budget plan on Catholic grounds, 60 prominent Catholic leaders today released a statement saying his claims “profoundly distort” Catholic teaching.

“Simply put, this budget is morally indefensible and betrays Catholic principles of solidarity, just taxation and a commitment to the common good,” the statement reads. “A budget that turns its back on the hungry, the elderly and the sick while giving more tax breaks to the wealthiest few can’t be justified in Christian terms.”

John Gehring, Catholic Outreach Coordinator at Faith in Public Life, believes Ryan’s beliefs are skewed.

“This budget turns centuries of Catholic social teaching on its head,” Gehring said in a news release. “These Catholic leaders and many Catholics in the pews are tired of faith being misused to bless an immoral agenda.”

Read the full statement and signatories HERE.

Q Conference: Restoring the Justice System

by Sandi Villarreal 04-11-2012
Photo via Wiki Commons (http://bit.ly/IqqTaf)

Bryan Stevenson delivering a TED talk in California last month. Photo via Wiki Commons (http://bit.ly/IqqTaf)

 

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world with 23 million behind bars. Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, speaking from the Q Conference on Wedensday, said this high rate is inextricably tied to poverty, age, mental illness and race.

“In this country, the opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice,” said Stevenson, a law professor at the New York University school of Law. “If we’re going to be concerned about ending poverty, we must be concerned about justice.”

Q Conference - Miroslav Volf On Faith in Public Life

by Sandi Villarreal 04-11-2012
Miroslav Volf. Photo via Wiki Commons (http://bit.ly/HABnUJ).

Miroslav Volf. Photo via Wiki Commons (http://bit.ly/HABnUJ).

An interconnected, interdependent world means a greater intermingling of faiths and the possibility for conflict. We’ve seen it in the United States in anti-Shariah legislation and the recent atheist Reason Rally.

Theologian Miroslav Volf, director and founder of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, argues that globalization and the resurgence of faith in the United States increases the need for pluralism in public life.

Q Conference - Ed Stetzer and The Future of Discipleship

by Sandi Villarreal 04-10-2012
Ed Stetzer at the Q Conference. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

Ed Stetzer at the Q Conference. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

Share the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.

The phrase is usually attributed to St. Francis of Assisi and is often invoked by the timid Christian, the too-cool hipster Christian, and basically every Christian ever who is afraid of evangelism.

Ed Stetzer—president of LifeWay Research, speaking from the Q conference on Tuesday—said there are two problems with that statement: it’s not true, and Assisi never said it.

“We don’t want to separate those two because biblically we can’t, and statistically we don’t,” Stetzer said.

Jim Wallis and Richard Land on Finding Common Ground

by Sandi Villarreal 04-10-2012
Jim Wallis and Richard Land at the Q conference, Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners

Jim Wallis and Richard Land at the Q conference, Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners

How different would the state of our political system—and the tenor of the election season—be if voters and politicians on both sides decided to speak civilly?

Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land spoke at the Q conference Tuesday on the topic “What Can We Agree On?”

The intention is to acknowledge difference but—as Christians—focus on the areas of agreement based on our biblical understanding.

Cascarones, or, Hitting is OK Because It's Easter

by Sandi Villarreal 04-03-2012
My family attacking each other with cascarones. Photo by Jesse G. Villarreal

My family attacking each other with cascarones. Photo by Jesse G. Villarreal

Growing up, Easter weekend meant a giant family party at my grandparents’ house complete with a piñata, Easter egg hunt, possibly a mariachi band, and – on at least one occasion – my younger cousins dressing up to perform the Passion play.

But the best part (you know, besides celebrating Jesus resurrecting from the dead, providing salvation for the world)?

Cascarones!