Diversity

Ryan Stewart 12-05-2014
Photo by Charissa Laisy / Sojourners

Protesters stage a 'die-in' in downtown Washington, D.C., Dec. 4. Photo by Charissa Laisy / Sojourners

Protests have again erupted across the United States following the Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo for the choking and killing of Eric Garner. Building off the online mobilizing network established in response to Ferguson, the most recent wave of community actions have gathered support via social media. After events are posted on Facebook or Tumblr, or simply spread through word of mouth, Twitter hashtags provide real-time updates that direct potential supporters to the location of a march.

In Washington, D.C., protests began outside the Department of Justice at 4:00 p.m. and continued throughout the city late into the night — through the National Mall, near the White House, the D.C. police department, and city hall. Comprising many races and many ages, crowds chanted phrases like, “Black lives matter” and “This is what democracy looks like.” One black mother, Shantelle, who was pushing her toddler in a stroller, explained why she was out marching today:

“We’re proud to be American. We’re military. We love our country. But we keep getting it, my son is gonna’ keep getting it. We’re not valued and we’re not looked at. I want him to grow up in a place where he doesn’t have to worry he wore the wrong hoodie, or he was playing with a toy gun, or he gets a chokehold, and dies.”

Another, older woman simply said, “I’m old. I hate that I have to be out here. I’m sick of doin’ the same old stuff.”

the Web Editors 12-04-2014
Screenshot of Bill Hybels. Video courtesy The Tungsten Collective/Vimeo.

Screenshot of Bill Hybels. Video courtesy The Tungsten Collective/Vimeo.

Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor for Willow Creek Community Church, spoke out last week on the ongoing Ferguson protests. In the video, shared this week by Willow Creek Church-affiliated artist group The Tungsten Collective, Hybels calls on people of faith to listen to the pain and hurt expressed by many since the August shooting of Michael Brown.

He quotes James 1:19, urging people of faith to “be quick to listen, slow to speak.”

Hybels has spoken out on racial reconciliation for years, and here underscores one reason why reconciliation work is often so difficult.

“It’s just so much easier to live in your own story than it is to try to understand the narrative of the other,” Hybels said.

Indeed, when it comes to interactions with law enforcement, the black experience and the white experience in America are “two totally different narratives [that often] … don’t touch each other until a Ferguson happens,” he said.

At one point the megachurch pastor emphasizes — almost uncomfortably lightheartedly — just how untouched he’s been by fear, crime, and violence in his neighborhood.

“[Peace] is all I’ve ever known. I’ve never had a single adversarial experience with a law enforcement officer in my entire life,” he said.

But in drawing a distinction in the difference of experience, he echoes a Jia Tolentino column in TIME earlier this fall on how social divisions are revealed based on which evils we mourn and pledge to fight against. While Hybels falls short of explicitly naming a power and privilege differential, he urges humility, listening, and seeking understanding among people of faith — all the more resonant today after the non-indictment ruling on the choking death of Eric Garner.

WATCH the full video here.

Jim Wallis 12-04-2014
 Photo by Joey Longley

New York City protest following the Eric Garner announcement on Dec. 3. Photo by Joey Longley

I was in Ferguson Wednesday when it happened: In a morally stunning decision, a Staten Island grand jury announced it would not bring criminal charges against a white police officer who choked a black man to death during a brutal incident last July. Stopped for allegedly selling some loose and therefore untaxed cigarettes, officer Daniel Pantaleo put a “chokehold” on Eric Garner, despite the fact that the move is against NYPD rules. Video of the incident shows Garner uttering his last words, “I can’t breathe.” New York’s medical examiner officially called this a “homicide,” but the grand jury said no charges will be made.

Of course, this comes just 10 days after the Ferguson grand jury decision not to indict another white police officer, Darren Wilson, for fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown on Aug. 9. Sojourners had convened a retreat in Ferguson for both national faith leaders and local pastors to look deeply at the historical and theological foundations of the Ferguson events and reflect upon how the church must respond. Emotional calls from pastors in New York City came with the horrible news, and people just began to weep — one young man wailing, “This time it was all on video …. and it still didn’t matter! How can I as a black man bring a black son into this world?” Lament and prayers followed with a resolve from an extraordinary two days on the ground in Ferguson — to act.

Local experts in St. Louis County helped us understand the damage done to their local communities for decades that led to the response that erupted after the killing of Michael Brown. We walked silently and prayerfully alongside the memorial to the slain teenager on West Canfield Avenue with black parents imagining their own sons lying there, and white parents realizing this would never happen to our kids. We kept looking at the street where this bloody incident had taken place, feeling more and more doubt about the narratives the county prosecutor had used to exonerate and excuse the white police officer from any responsibility — or at least a trial to publically sort out “conflicting testimonies.”

We met in a church with seven young leaders of the Ferguson protest movement. In just 116 days, these young people had become self-educated and extraordinary leaders, and we listened to a compelling analysis of their urgent situation and how they were trying to apply the history of social movements to change their oppressive circumstances. Their chilling stories of police harassment and brutality, preceded by a narrative of the educational and economic brutality that black young people like them experience daily were transforming words for those of us who listened, spellbound. As I listened, I realized America would be converted by these young people’s honest and earnest conversation — they would win the national debate about our criminal justice system’s response to young people of color.

Adam Phillips 12-04-2014

There’s this microaggression happening online, offline, and all around that has a nice sentiment, but really needs to stop. Can we call for a week-long moratorium on decrying “ALL LIVES MATTER?”

This is a request specifically for my white brothers and sisters, especially those in the church.

I, of course, as a white heterosexual married middle-class highly educated American male, believe that all lives matter. It’s something I’ve been fighting for my entire adult life. Whether it is the mother infected with HIV by her wayward husband in western Africa, whether it is the undocumented immigrant father who may be separated from his American-born children, whether it is the NRA card-carrying white uncle who does an honest job and is a good neighbor back in the midwest, whether it is the homeless thirty-something woman coming off a bad meth addiction but needing shelter during a difficult winter, of course, by all means, every life matters.

Your life matters. My life matters. All lives matter.

This is a non-negotiable. This is true. This is what it means to be made in the image of God, as we’re told in the Book of Genesis — everyone, whether you’re white, black, brown, male, female, straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, Republican, Democrat, rich, poor, nice, kind of a jerk, young, old, middle-aged, we all matter.

But these past couple weeks — these past four months, five months, 22 months? — it’s important that we stand with the ever-growing chorus and declare, yes, black lives matter. With the heartbreaking, soul-wrenching death of Michael Brown, the news just yesterday of another non-indictment in the death Eric Garner, or the dark night when Trayvon Martin was shot down in Florida, a chorus of voices has risen to declare with one voice and hashtag that #BLACKLIVESMATTER.

the Web Editors 12-02-2014
'God and the Gay Christian' author Matthew Vines. Screenshot from Sojo Stories:

'God and the Gay Christian' author Matthew Vines. Screenshot from Sojo Stories: God and the Gay Christian.

Matthew Vines took a leave of absence from his Harvard studies to explore what the Bible says about homosexuality. As a conservative evangelical Christian with a high view of scripture, Vines struggled to reconcile his identity as a gay man with the apparent teaching of the Bible. In his book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, Vines explains what he has learned about scripture and tells the story of his own pilgrimage of faith, fidelity, and family.

Read “My Dad’s Worst Day” (Sojourners, June 2014), an excerpt from Vine’s groundbreaking book. And be sure to watch this original SojoStory video, as Vines discusses his journey as a gay evangelical Christian who has immersed himself in seeking new and deeper understandings of what the Word has to say to us today on these profoundly important issues. 

WATCH more below.

12-01-2014
What do the killing of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown tell us about race in America?
12-01-2014
We asked Lisa Sharon Harper to answer a few questions about the verdict, the broader context behind the protests and what it all means for Christians.
Sandi Villarreal 11-26-2014

Sign on boarded up window in Ferguson on Nov. 25. R. Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

For me, Thanksgiving was always Christmas’ annoying little sister. Thanksgiving isn’t a festive season spanning three months that warrants its own albums; it’s a day when American gluttony reaches its zenith, and also the Cowboys play. It’s not a holy day of obligation — and in my worst moments, I complain to my preacher husband about the additional service “invading” our holy midweek day off work.

But this year Thanksgiving feels especially out of place — sandwiched between an early winter and the hopelessness of misunderstood lament. I want so badly to be thankful because I truly have so many reasons to fall on my knees in exaltation. But before I count my “blessings” — before the praise hits my lips, it’s strangled by the cry for others whose lots might only be described as cursed.

Adam Ericksen penned a great reflection this morning, saying, “God doesn’t force us to be thankful in times of grief and despair. Rather, God meets us in our honest and raw emotions.”

Bitterness seems all at once selfish and appropriate. I grieve the chasm that has been revealed between brothers and sisters. If there is anything I learned from my Monday night glued to television screens watching my former home of St. Louis in flames it’s that this “conversation” everyone keeps saying we need to have is happening in two different languages.

11-26-2014
Religious leaders from across the theological and political spectrum are calling for peace — with some adding demands for social change — in the aftermath of a Missouri grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, over the Aug. 9 shooting of an unarmed black teenager.
11-26-2014
The verdict on America's criminal justice system is already in for many Americans: guilty, for treating young black men differently than young white men.
Adam Ericksen 11-26-2014
tomertu / Shutterstock.com

tomertu / Shutterstock.com

Are you feeling pressure to be thankful?

We are in the midst of the Thanksgiving season. I’m reminded everywhere I go to “Be thankful!”

Well, call me the Scrooge of Thanksgiving, but I’m just not feeling thankful. The more someone tells me to “Be thankful!” the more I feel a sense of despair.

Be thankful? In the midst of Ferguson, Mo.? Jim Wallis writes that, “Many black families woke up this morning knowing that the lives of their children are worth less than the lives of white children in America.” And what will white America do about it? Nothing new. One side will continue the status quo of racism by denying that it even exists and then they will blame the victims. I firmly stand in the other side that blames America’s deeply embedded structures of racism, economic injustice, and educational inequality. To make matters worse, America is sharply divided over the shooting in Ferguson. Each side of the division blames the other for tragic violence. Sunday’s heated debate on Meet the Press between former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson is indicative of the deep racial tensions underlying not only Ferguson, but every city in the United States.

My Facebook news feed and the media are telling me how I’m supposed to feel about Ferguson. Outraged. Hurt. Anxious. Guilt. Anger. Bitter. But certainly not thankful.

11-25-2014
In light of the grand jury decision handed down tonight, it is of utmost importance that all Christians, but specifically white evangelicals, talk less and listen more.
Jim Wallis 11-25-2014
Ferguson protests Monday night. Photo by Heather Wilson / PICO

Ferguson protests Monday night. Photo by Heather Wilson / PICO

Many black families woke up this morning knowing that the lives of their children are worth less than the lives of white children in America. The deep distrust of law enforcement in their own communities that so many African Americans feel just got deeper last night — 108 days since the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown — when the prosecuting attorney announced the decision not to subject the police officer who killed Brown to a trial where all the facts could be publically known and examined.

We now all have the chance to examine the evidence — released last night — in the grand jury’s decision not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson, who fired multiple bullets into Michael Brown. But the verdict on America’s criminal justice system is already in for many Americans: guilty, for treating young black men differently than young white men.

11-25-2014
As the church considers the events of these days, the greatest challenge we face is this: Will we allow our view of "what we see" to go unexamined?
the Web Editors 11-24-2014
Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Michael Brown Nov. 23, in St. Louis, Mo. Joshua Lott/Getty Images

A grand jury has found that no probable cause exists to indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Mo., police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, on Aug. 9, said St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch on Monday evening.

McCulloch said the grand jury was instructed on the law and presented on five possible indictments. He emphasized that the jurors "are the only people who have heard and examined every witness and every piece of evidence."

Protests throughout the St. Louis metro area — as well as nearly 100 cities across the country — are planned in response to the decision. Last week, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a preemptive state of emergency and activated the National Guard to respond to “any period of unrest that might occur following the grand jury’s decision concerning the investigation into the death of Michael Brown.” Rev. Traci Blackmon, a clergy leader in the St. Louis area, recently told Sojourners that while the city and county police departments have amassed weapons and riot gear to react to the protests, local community leaders and faith groups have been stocking up on bandages and first-aid materials. 

Earlier in the day Brown’s family asked for 4.5 minutes of silence this evening before protests begin — a statement on the 4.5 hours Michael Brown’s body was left in a Ferguson street following the shooting.

The Justice Department is conducting its own federal investigation, however recent reports have indicated that it is not likely to result in civil rights charges against Wilson. 

Stay tuned to Sojourners for continued updates and analysis. 

11-24-2014
Tamir Rice, 12, was with his sister and a friend in a gazebo in a Cleveland park on Saturday when a rookie cop shot him in the chest.
Drew Miller 11-24-2014
Activists from Take Back the Bronx on Oct. 11, a katz / Shutterstock.com

Activists from Take Back the Bronx on Oct. 11, a katz / Shutterstock.com

In an intimate conversation between Jesus and his disciples, just before Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him three times, Jesus asks Peter, “Will you lay down your life for me?” As Jesus’ crucifixion approaches, his question to Peter becomes reality, and the people who know of Jesus or his movement must make a choice — to suffer and die with Jesus, or to slip away in fear and passivity — to welcome Christ, or to reject Christ.

Peter is certainly not the only one to face this decision. Judas must choose to betray Christ or not; the high priests must choose between power and mercy; Pilate must choose the approval of the people or trust his own conscience. These individuals, however, do not stand alone in their decision-making, but among one of the strongest but often overlooked characters in Scripture — the crowd. As Jesus stands before Pilate, it is not Pilate who truly holds power — it is the raging crowd before him that demands for the freedom of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus.

When looking back on the crowd’s decision, it is easy to see how wrong it was until we begin to ask where we stand among the crowd in our time. In the case of Ferguson and the grand jury’s decision on Darren Wilson, most of us stand in the crowd, waiting to see what the grand jury and the state may do while we decide what we must do. All eyes are on the jury, yet many of us who are watching realize that the real power does not reside in Gov. Jay Nixon or the grand jury, but in us. Just as it is the crowd who sways Pilate to crucify Jesus, so it is we who can determine whether justice comes in Ferguson and everywhere where racism exists. As bell hooks writes, “Whether or not any of us become racists is a choice we make. And we are called to choose again and again where we stand on the issue of racism in different moments of our lives.” Today, we have another choice. The grand jury is under the spotlight, but we are all responsible.

Cynthia J. Martens 11-18-2014
Fr. Nabil Haddad, photo from Cynthia J. Martens

Fr. Nabil Haddad, photo from Cynthia J. Martens

Fr. Nabil Haddad is a passionate and energetic man. As a Melkite Catholic priest and dean of Old Cathedral in Amman, Jordan, he is especially passionate about fostering peace and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims. This work keeps him very busy, as he travels often to bring his message of peace as far and wide as possible.

The day before we met, Fr. Nabil announced at a press conference a new initiative called Karama. Karama is the Arabic word for dignity. He stressed the importance of coexistence between the Abrahamic faiths and how this can be achieved through education focusing on human dignity and by talking about citizenship. Fr. Nabil said this approach is very successful in reaching the hearts and minds of the Muslim community.

“Do not make the religion of Islam the problem,” he said. “Instead use our vibrant witness – that is what is lacking in other societies.”

11-17-2014
his is an open letter to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon urging him to maintain peace and protect those exercising their right to free speech.
Cathleen Falsani 11-17-2014
Lila Katz, refugee. Image courtesy the author.

Lila Katz, refugee. Image courtesy the author.

Currently, 78 nations worldwide criminalize same-sex relations; of those, seven may impose the death penalty for consensual same-sex conduct, according to ORAM. In Uganda, for instance, where there has been capital punishment for homosexual activity in the past, homosexuality currently is considered a criminal act punishable by a 14-year prison sentence.

At a recent JFCS-East Bay staff meeting, Weiss, director of refugee and immigrant services, recounted the story of a recent LGBT refugee arrival that brought many staff members to tears.

"One person who I had the honor to pick up at the airport and witness his experience and his mind was blown," Weiss began. "He went from having nothing — nobody to help him, in fear for his life, 23 years old (my daughter’s age) — having to flee barefoot, climb over a fence, escape prison, run for his life, police find him at his cousin’s house, re-arrest him … the story is just incredible. Multiple times fleeing on foot with no money, no water. Being in a refugee camp. Being beat up by a group of Somali men in the refugee camp that was supposed to be his refuge.

"Being physically and of course emotionally traumatized. And then getting on a plane — not knowing where he was going until he’s about to travel and then finding out he’s going to San Francisco," she continued. "On the way to the airport, we had this wonderful Iraqi LGBT volunteer who came five years ago as a refugee himself and he says to me, five minutes before the [new] guy arrives, ‘I’m five years old; I was born when I came down that escalator five years ago and this guy is about to be born.

"And down the escalator comes this jet black African guy who is obviously very gay — in the way you can tell by his escalator ride," she said, drawing knowing laughter from the staff, some of whom are LGBT themselves. "He couldn’t hide it. That’s why his life was in danger. On the way back from the airport, our volunteer says that after we drop him off, he’s going to The Castro, and [the new guy] says, ‘Can I come with you?!’

"It’s really just remarkable to witness his journey from hell to heaven," Weiss said.

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