civil war

A Miracle of Resilience

MY GREAT-GRANDMOTHER, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Johnson, was born in 1890 in Camden, S.C., with a different last name from all the other people in her household. Three generations later, we have no idea where the name Johnson came from.

Lizzie grew up working plantation land owned by her grandmother, Lea Ballard. Lea received the land in the wake of the Civil War: We don’t know how or why, though one theory speculates that Lea, who was listed as a 42-year-old mulatto widow on the 1880 U.S. Census, may have been the daughter of her slave owner. He may have given the land to her after the Civil War. We don’t know. We only know that Lea owned it, that she had 17 children who worked that land, according to family lore, and that the city of Camden eventually stole the land from her by the power of eminent domain. This we know from records I hold in my possession.

Lizzie married a railroad man named Charles Jenkins. Lizzie and Charles had three children; Charles later died in a railroad accident. Lizzie had a choice: endure the brutality of the Jim Crow South alone with three kids, or move with the stream of black bodies migrating north. Lizzie migrated to Washington, D.C., and, eventually, to Philadelphia and took her lightest-skinned child with her.

Both mother and child were light enough to pass for white. My caramel-toned, straight-haired grandmother, Willa, and her brother, Charlie, were too dark. So they were left behind in the care of their elderly great-grandmother. Willa and Charlie joined others on the plantation and earned their keep working the fields.

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The Echoes of Abraham Lincoln in President Obama’s Prayer Breakfast Speech

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Shutterstock / RNS

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque / Everett Historical / Shutterstock / RNS

President Obama’s political opponents are outraged over his remarks at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast comparing Islamic violence to historic Christian violence.​ Jim Gilmore, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, called the remarks “the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime.”

But anyone who is angry with Obama’s speech must also express the same wrath toward one of the greatest presidential speeches in American history, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, delivered 150 years ago next month.

Obama used his annual remarks at the National Prayer breakfast to condemn radical Islam (though he didn’t use the term). In the process, he made some more general comments about how religion has been used — both today and in the past — to promote violence.

What has rankled many conservatives is Obama’s statement that “during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” He then brought his historical analogy closer to home:

“In our home country, slavery, and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Iraq: Humility Is the Best Option

Via The U.S. Army, Flickr.com

Via The U.S. Army, Flickr.com

America is stunned by what is happening in Iraq right now, and happening so quickly. We may be facing the worst terrorist threat to international security so far — despite all we have done and sacrificed. Both our political leaders and media pundits are admitting there are no good options for the U.S. now. But there is an option we could try for the first time: humility. Let me turn to two biblical texts that might provide some wisdom for both the religious and non-religious.

If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:20–21)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

All nations use propaganda to tell half-truths and spread misinformation about their enemies, which should be honestly challenged. Even so, it is also true that we have real enemies in this world, as individuals, groups, and nations. To assume otherwise is foolish, from the perspective of history, certainly, but also in light of good theology about evil as part of the nature of the human condition. According to the Bible, even our faith communities will encounter enemies. Jesus’s teaching assumes that we will have enemies, and he teaches us how to treat them. In the passages above, Jesus and Paul the Apostle offer guidance for more effective ways of dealing with our enemies. It seems to be clear that our habit of going to war against them is increasingly ineffective. For the past several years, we have found ourselves in a constant state of war with “enemies” who are very hard to find or completely defeat.

Christians in the Sudan Face Travel Restrictions, Cardinal Says

A Sudanese Christian woman carries a cross. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

For Christians living in predominantly Muslim Sudan, travel restrictions are making life more difficult each day, a Roman Catholic cardinal said.

Sudanese Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako highlighted the challenges at a Catholic Bishops Conference in Juba, the Republic of South Sudan’s capital. His auxiliary bishop could not attend the Jan. 21-30 meeting because his passport was seized by security agents, along with those of eight priests.

“Christians in the two countries are facing difficulties,” Wako told the gathering. “We [bishops] must focus on serious matters and come up with strong messages.”

Syrian Christians May Get Pulled into Civil War

View of Maalula village with Muslim Mosque and statue of Virgin Mary. Photo: Via RNS/John Wreford/Associated Reporters Abroad

A huge statue of the Virgin Mary towers over churches, monasteries and mosques in the Syrian city of Maaloula, where a dialect of the Aramaic language of Jesus is still spoken.

The town has managed to stay out of the Syrian conflict between Sunni Muslim rebels and the regime of dictator Bashar Assad, as have most of Syria’s 2 million Christians.

But worsening violence has forced the community into a corner: Continuous clashes between the rebels and the regime in this isolated town of 2,000 people as well as other Christian towns over the past two weeks have many Christians worried that they will no longer be allowed to stay neutral.

Obama, Seacrest, and Our War Against Indifference

Ryan Seacrest during an American Idol taping, s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

Ryan Seacrest during an American Idol taping, s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

As President Barack Obama prepared to address the nation on Tuesday evening to articulate a plan for intervention in Syria, NBC rushed to assure its viewers that the Ryan Seacrest-hosted game show, The Million Second Quiz, would not be interrupted. As detailed by the network, the president would speak for only 15 minutes, thus viewers could watch their televisions with full confidence that the entirety of the hyped-up program would be fully protected. While there was suspense as to whether NBC would follow through on its promise of an unbroken telecast, the presidential coverage stayed within the agreed upon time slot, viewers were able to watch their regularly scheduled program, and all was well in the world.

In the meantime, all is not well in the world. 

Christian Pacifism: Relevant Beyond Syria

Create Peace sign, nagib / Shutterstock.com

Create Peace sign, nagib / Shutterstock.com

As the United States prepares to “officially” become involved in the Syrian war, Christian pacifism has reemerged as a much-discussed and relevant topic. Unfortunately, the concept has been somewhat misrepresented, undervalued, and often downright demonized within evangelical communities.

Critics often assume Christian Pacifism is some sort of radical political movement associated with marijuana-smoking hippies who are anti-government conspiracy theorists. To make matters worse, pop-culture (and much of Christian culture) has made pacifism seem, well, passive — as if pacifists are unpatriotic and un-American heretics who refuse to enlist in the military and avoid physical confrontations at all costs. They are characterized and perceived as weak, scared, and gutless.

In reality, the beliefs that form Christian pacifism are spiritual and scripturally founded around the life of Christ. And whether you agree with the theology, it’s hard to passively dismiss the Biblical argument for pacifism as some sort of crazy mumbo-jumbo.

The Ethics of a Syrian Military Intervention: The Experts Respond

Syria illustration, Aleksey Klints / Shutterstock.com

Syria illustration, Aleksey Klints / Shutterstock.com

As the Obama administration readies for a probable military strike against Syria, Religion News Service asked a panel of theologians and policy experts whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria in light of the regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Would the “Just War” doctrine justify U.S. military action, and what is America’s moral responsibility? Here are their responses, which have been edited for clarity.

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