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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July 2015
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Why Jesus Would Say 'Black Lives Matter'

As Christians we should recognize the language of black lives matter. After all, Jesus did not say "blessed is everyone," but "blessed are the poor" (Luke 6:20). He did not say "as you do it unto everyone, you do it unto me," but "as you do it unto the least" (Matthew 25:40). Jesus did not say "love everyone," but "love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44).

Continually Jesus drew our attention not to loving people "in general" but to specifically caring for those we would tend to discount or condemn. Black lives matter is exactly the kind of thing Jesus would say.

Rainbows Over Dublin and the Arc of Bono’s Activism

Bono on the #U21e tour in Arizona on May 23, by aliza sherman on Flickr.com

Bono on the #U21e tour in Arizona on May 23, by aliza sherman on Flickr.com

When Ireland became the first country to legalize same-gender marriage by popular mandate, double rainbows appeared over Dublin, and an Irish rock band transformed their Arizona concert into a gay-rights celebration. Almost 30 years ago, Bono endured threats from angry Arizonans for his support of the U.S. national holiday for the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But on Saturday, Bono invoked King as peacemaker as U2 celebrated the victory of love, turning the song “Pride (In The Name of Love)” into an anthem for gay pride.


Bono shared, “This is a moment to thank the people who bring us peace. It’s a moment for us to thank the people who brought peace to our country. We have peace in Ireland today! And in fact on this very day we have true equality in Ireland. Because millions turned up to vote yesterday to say, ‘love is the highest law in the land! Love! The biggest turnout in the history of the state, to say, ‘love is the highest law in the land!’ Because if God loves us, whoever we love, wherever we come from … then why can’t the state?’”

Womanhood and Parenting in the Black Lives Matter Movement: A Web-Exclusive Interview with Erika Totten

Photo by Rick Reinhard

Erika Totten is a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in the greater Washington, D.C. Metro area, and an activist for the black liberation movement at large. She stresses the importance of self-care for activists and radical healing for black people through emotional emancipation circles. In a recent interview with Sojourners (June 2015), Erika painted a picture of what liberation could and should look like, challenging churches “to listen and stand up.” Below, read Erika’s web-exclusive answers to questions on parenting and womanhood within the movement.

How has your womanhood helped or hindered you as a leader in this movement?

I don’t think it’s hindered me. There are certain spaces where my voice isn’t valued. But an elder named Dorie Ladner, one of the founding members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, affirmed what I was saying and believing. She said, “If they don’t offer you a seat at the table, kick the damn legs from underneath the table.”

If no one is giving me the space, I take it.

As a woman, I speak up passionately. And I believe that passion comes from the fact that we are the givers of life. So if black people are being killed, we birthed that person. If you are threatening the lives of our children, black women will stand up. I’m a mother and a former teacher, so these are my kids.

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Mass Incarceration: The Politics Behind the Bars

Mass incarceration means 2.4 million Americans behind bars; 2.7 million children with parents in prison, on probation, or on parole; and1.5 million black and brown men missing from their homes. It means having more prisons in America than high school teachers. Most importantly, it means that something in this broken system must change. And as Tobias Winright writes in “A Matter of Degrees,” (Sojourners, June 2015) prison-based education programs—for both inmates and correctional officers—provide a good place to start. 

Read the infographic below to learn more. 

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Pentecost and the Power for [Socioeconomic] Reconciliation

R. Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

Men pray after Officer Darren Wilson's name released in Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 15, 2014. R. Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

Socioeconomic reconciliation is the removal of gaps in opportunity, achievement, health, thriving, and well-being that exist between groups of people in our nation and world. In the face of myriad breaches of the common human bond and experience, a breakthrough act of the Spirit today would activate and agitate the established church in her ministry: a ministry of socioeconomic reconciliation.

The ministry of socioeconomic reconciliation will require a church empowered with tongues of fire and the gift of interpretation. These tongues must speak with a prophetic voice. But we must also have the heart and capacity to translate the words of marginalized communities into the language of policy, power, and program. That is why I thank God for the compelling, confusing roles I’ve been called into over the last nine months. This form of reconciliation requires the church to fulfill of the vocation of the militant mediator, which offers as much renewal in the streets and city hall as we experience in the sanctuary.

Peter the Violent Agitator

Image via Jef Thompson/shutterstock.com

Image via Jef Thompson/shutterstock.com

When the high priest's guard came to arrest Jesus and execute him under an unjust oppressive legal system on a false charge, Peter wasn't having it.

The police tried to apprehend Jesus and met Peter's sword coming at their heads. He cut off the high priest's servant's ear in the process. Peter wasn't marching. He wasn't rallying. He wasn't chanting or trying persuade the establishment to review their policies. He wasn't even looting, taking his anger out on inanimate objects. He was trying to protect his friend by violently acting out directly towards those who had been tasked to carry out the injustice.

Peter didn't try to reason with the men, but with his actions, Peter loudly and clearly said, "F*** the police!"

Jesus, Drawing Muhammad, and the Idolatry of Free Speech

Protest in Paris following the Charlie Hebdo attack, Anky / Shutterstock.com

Protest in Paris following the Charlie Hebdo attack, Anky / Shutterstock.com

If Christians are going to take seriously Jesus’ command to follow him, then we need to stop this absurd defense of drawing pictures of Muhammad. And if we defend the practice of ridiculing our fellow human beings by hiding behind the freedom of speech, then we have made freedom of speech into an idol.

Pamela Geller, as a non-Christian, has the right to host the conference. But Christians do not have the right, or the freedom, to support the conference. For Christians, freedom comes from following Christ in loving God and our neighbors as we love ourselves. The obvious implications of Jesus’ command to love our neighbors means that we should not mock them.

More Than Demographics

Demographic illustration, i3alda / Shutterstock.com

Demographic illustration, i3alda / Shutterstock.com

The story of world Christianity’s recent pilgrimage is dramatic and historically unprecedented. The “center of gravity” of Christianity’s presence in the world rested comfortably in Europe for centuries. In 1500, 95 percent of all Christians were in that region, and four centuries later, in 1910, 80 percent of all Christians were in Europe or North America.

But then, world Christianity began the most dramatic geographical shift in its history, moving rapidly toward the global South, and then also toward the East. By 1980, for the first time in 1,000 years, more Christians were found in the global South than the North. Growth in Africa was and remains incredible, with one of our four Christians now an African, and moving toward 40 percent of world Christianity by 2025. Asia’s Christian population, now at 350 million, will grow to 460 million by that same time. Even today, it’s estimated that more Christians worship on any given Sunday in churches in China than in the U.S.