Editor-in-Chief

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

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!

Parents: Take Your Children to See 'Bully'

by Sandi Villarreal 03-29-2012
Bully movie poster

Bully movie poster

Tyler Long, 17, hanged himself more than two years ago after being teased and bullied. He joined countless others and more since who have been pushed to the limit and taken their own lives. Bully, which premieres Friday, chronicles the lives of Long’s family, along with five other children tormented on a daily basis.

Bully shows students who are mocked for their sexual orientation both by peers and teachers; they endure beatings on school buses; they have profanities hurled at them—which earned the movie an “R” rating by the Motion Picture Association of America.

MPAA’s decision sparked protests and petitions from anti-bullying groups and eventually made the Weinstein Company, which produced the documentary, release the film unrated.

I watched the film. Bully disturbs me on a basic human level—but not because of the profanity (which is probably fairly mild to the average teen). Bully disturbs me because it is real life. It disturbs me because I have younger brothers the same age as some of the students in the film. It disturbs me because it’s happening in the lives of our children all around the country.

Beyond Denominations: Jesus' Prayer to Be 'Perfectly One'

by Sandi Villarreal 03-28-2012
Man speaking to disciples, Jef Thompson, Shutterstock.com

Man speaking to disciples, Jef Thompson, Shutterstock.com

I’ve written a lot about what it really means to be the Church. And by “Church,” I mean the Church—not Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic—Jesus’ Church. The communion of believers, and all that.

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” – John 17:22-23

Jesus wants his followers to be “perfectly one” so that the world may know Him.

The Hunger Games Movie Misses the Point

by Sandi Villarreal 03-26-2012
The three stars of The Hunger Games at its LA premeire. Joe Seer, Shutterstock.

The three stars of The Hunger Games at its LA premeire. Joe Seer, Shutterstock.com

Editor’s Note: This review may include spoilers if you have not seen the movie or read the book.

I really didn’t want to read The Hunger Games. I had resisted the time sucks that were the Harry Potter and Twilight series. I’m too old for such nonsense.

But about two months ago, my friends settled on the trilogy for our next book club pick. After some initial whining, I gave in. Our last selection was Cutting for Stone—I could use a mental break. Of course, the inevitable happened. I was engrossed so completely that I flew back to Minneapolis for opening weekend and book club.

Our group of seven twentysomethings settled in with our themed cocktails among the hordes of fans, ready to be wowed. Later at our debrief in the rented-out sky club at my old apartment building—we were serious about this—we settled on a resounding “eh.”

Chaplains Say More Prisoners Switching Religions

by Sandi Villarreal 03-22-2012
Prisoner clutch Bible, Steven Frame, Shutterstock.com

Prisoner clutch Bible, Steven Frame, Shutterstock.com

Religious conversions are on the rise in American prisons, according to a recent national survey of chaplains by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

A majority of 730 chaplains surveyed say that inmates are switching religions a lot (26 percent) or some (51 percent, and the largest gains are Muslim (51 percent), Protestant (47 percent) and pagan or earth-based religions (34 percent).

But it is difficult to determine prisoners' motivations for converting, according to Cary Funk, senior researcher for the Pew Forum.

“Some of the switching may be short-lived,” Funk said, adding that it is unclear whether the conversions are based on authentic beliefs or access to certain privileges such as special food or religious holidays.

Updated: Clooney Arrested at DC Protest (Video)

by Sandi Villarreal, by Nicole Higgins 03-16-2012
Photo by Sandi Villarreal, Sojourners

George Clooney and father, Nick, speak at Sudan protest. (Photo by Sandi Villarreal, Sojourners)

Actor George Clooney was arrested during a protest outside the Sudanese embassy in Washington, D.C. Friday morning.

Pastor Who Granted Sanctuary to Meet with ICE Officials

by Sandi Villarreal 03-15-2012
Keep Indonesian Families Together, photo via Reformed Church of Highland Park

Keep Indonesian Families Together, photo via Reformed Church of Highland Park

The Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, a New Jersey pastor who granted sanctuary to an Indonesian immigrant, is scheduled to meet with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement public advocate on March 20.

But Kaper-Dale said he remains skeptical given the wording in the invitation.

“It’s an invitation to talk, but [says] ‘you’re breaking the law,’” he said.

Saul Timisela—who fled to the U.S. to escape religious persecution 14 years ago—has now lived in the Reformed Church of Highland Park in Newark, NJ for two weeks, avoiding deportation.

How to Measure the 'Evangelical Vote'

by Sandi Villarreal 03-14-2012
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A supporter of Newt Gingrich outside church in Florida. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In Tuesday’s Mississippi and Alabama primaries, about eight of 10 voters identified as evangelical, locking in victories for former Sen. Rick Santorum, and proving once again the importance of the evangelicals in the election.

Presidential hopefuls are again battling it out to be the God candidate, but the tide of the so-called “evangelical vote” seems ever-shifting. Santorum—a Catholic—is doing better to court most evangelicals, while former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney — a Mormon — is beating out Santorum among Catholics. And according to a recent poll, Republicans in the Deep South are still questioning whether President Barack Obama is a Muslim.

Religion matters.

But what does the “evangelical vote” even mean anymore? And can any one candidate really claim it? Even with Santorum’s win Tuesday, a significant number still fell into Romney’s column — and that’s just among Republican evangelicals. Obama was able to draw some evangelical support in 2008 and could garner more in November.

Young Evangelicals: Unaffiliated Does Not Always Mean UnChristian

by Sandi Villarreal 03-13-2012
"Meet the Millennials," photo by TheeErin/Wylio (http://bit.ly/yZ7ZF9).

"Meet the Millennials," photo by TheeErin/Wylio (http://bit.ly/yZ7ZF9).

There has been a lot of talk lately — both in the public sphere and most definitely here at the Sojo offices—about young people leaving the church.

I would argue that--while some of my fellow millenials are jumping ship on Christiainity--many are not so much leaving the big-C “Church,” (see my post on the definition of the word), as they are leaving established churches. The surveys show a migration from a particular denomination to “no religion.” To me, that doesn’t say atheist/agnostic; it just says that this generation of Christians doesn’t want to be labeled.

If you look at the numbers, millenials are quitting the church, not quitting Jesus. Unaffiliated does not necessarily mean unChristian.

My generation doesn’t want the “Southern Baptist,” “Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod,” “Roman Catholic” affiliations thrust upon us. Not only do we disagree with some of the tenants of said denominations, but each title carries all sorts of baggage left at our feet.

We’ve seen post after post listing possible catalysts to twenty-somethings turning away from the religion of our fathers in droves. Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum blames college. The reasons listed here on God’s Politics, in books and by church leaders themselves each probably factor in to some degree.

But I do want to dismiss some of them.

God's Church is Not a Building

by Sandi Villarreal 03-09-2012
Catholic Cathedral Interior, Rechitan Sorin, Shutterstock.com

Catholic Cathedral Interior, Rechitan Sorin, Shutterstock.com

What is a church?

Is it the stained-glass windows or welcome bell mounted in the steeple? Is it the straight-backed pews or scent of incense wafting into the narthex? Sunday school classrooms or spaghetti dinners in the basement?

If you view a church as a building, what happens when it goes away?

According to Reuters, 2011 was a record year for church foreclosures:

“Since 2010, 270 churches have been sold after defaulting on their loans, with 90 percent of those sales coming up after a lender-triggered foreclosure, according to the real estate information company CoStar Group," the article reads. "In 2011, 138 churches were sold by banks, an annual record, with no sign that these religious foreclosures are abating, according to CoStar.”

Christians Can Find Humor in 'GCB'

by Sandi Villarreal 03-08-2012
Still from upcoming 'GCB' episode, Photo by Karen Neal/ABC via Getty Images

Still from upcoming 'GCB' episode, Photo by Karen Neal/ABC via Getty Images

It’s a television show that 1) follows “Desperate Housewives” and 2) only got “meh” ratings for its Sunday premiere, so I was slightly taken aback by the mini-firestorm over ABC’s new “GCB.”

The show, based on the book Good Christian Bitches by Kim Gatlin and starring Annie Potts and Kristin Chenoweth, is getting heat from conservatives and Christian groups for portraying Christians in a poor light for their cattiness, opulence, and overall … well, bitchiness. (Don't worry; I'm female. I get to say that.)

New York City Councilman Peter Vallone is going so far as calling for a boycott of the show, saying,” the title of the show alone is yet another outrageous attack on the Christian faith. Charlie Sheen will be back on ‘Two and a Half Men’ before we see a similar title targeting another religion.”

Contraception and Common Decency

by Sandi Villarreal 03-05-2012
(Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Rush Limbaugh at a Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers game in November. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

I was raised half-Catholic and half-Southern Baptist in Texas, so Rush Limbaugh made an auditory appearance now and again in my car growing up. One of my early memories was discovering a new term: “feminazis.”

These dangerous women were unkempt, outspoken, and downright ungodly, if you believed Limbaugh. Then I reached about age 14. I was actually going to be a woman and maaaaybe this was kind of insulting. I realized that Limbaugh was often self-admittedly absurd—a shock-jock. I stopped taking him seriously.

So when he spit out his latest attack on women and outrage followed, I wondered whether I should even be surprised. What came out of his mouth was disgusting, but this is a man who doesn’t believe in the existence of sexual harassment.