PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA has only been out of office for a few weeks, but his legacy is secure in ways that are critical to our national identity—and quite separate from his policy successes and failures.
One lens through which we can understand Obama’s relevance and lasting historical legacy is found, surprisingly, in the book of Genesis. Genesis 1:26-27 gives us the first biblical description of human origin: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, to be like us. ... Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.’”
This text is foundational to how we understand God’s purpose for the world and for human beings. Perhaps most important, it establishes the foundational value of every human as being made in the image of God ( imago dei).
This biblical revelation—and America’s racial history—is why the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 is of such lasting importance. The United States was founded on the original sin of white supremacy, which declared that some people were less human than others; the nation was built on the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans and the displacement and eradication of Native Americans. In the process, the founders of our nation cast aside the notion of imago dei. The Constitution enshrined the notion that African slaves could be considered three-fifths of a person for the purposes of congressional representation (and Native Americans counted not at all).
Choosing an African-American man for the highest office in our nation—making him the most powerful person in the world for eight years—was and is a fundamental blow to white supremacy. The Obama presidency marked a historic era in the longstanding and ongoing movement to undo white supremacy and privilege.
THOSE BEARING witness at Standing Rock have become some of the most important, and most prophetic, leaders protecting God’s earth in America today—especially given the threat to our environment that Donald Trump represents.
There is no better example of what the struggle to protect God’s creation looks like now, and may look like in the future, than the “water protectors” at Standing Rock, who have put their bodies on the line for months to stop the Dakota Access pipeline from being built on sacred tribal lands and endangering the water supply of Indigenous people. Native Americans have been joined by people of every color and creed, including clergy (see “A Chorus of Resistance” in this issue) and military veterans, to prevent the construction from moving forward, despite brutal attacks from private security forces and state law enforcement.
The decision by the Army Corp of Engineers in early December to deny an easement for the pipeline route across Lake Oahe on the Missouri River, adjacent to the Standing Rock reservation, will temporarily halt the construction. But the head of the company building the pipeline has been a major contributor to Trump’s campaign, and with perhaps the most anti-environment president in memory about to enter office, the struggle is far from over.
“It is a temporary victory,” Denise McKay, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux told the Washington Post. “We’ve got to stay put and stay united.” Her daughter, Chelsea Summers, added, “everybody is still here for the long haul.”
(RNS) Dozens of conservative evangelicals and Catholics have signed an open letter urging their progressive counterparts to “repent of their work that often advances a destructive liberal political agenda.”
The letter, posted online six weeks before Election Day by an alliance called the American Association of Evangelicals, includes criticism of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“WE CAN'T LET our status as nonprofits turn us into non-prophets.” My old friend Rev. Timothy McDonald III, senior pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church, said that at a town hall meeting on racism that we had in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church last spring, on the anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.
In McDonald’s “prophetic” way, he was pointing to a real dilemma that many of us as church leaders are having with this election. Namely, how do we speak to the clear Christian issues involved in this election without violating our status as a nonprofit organization? (Under IRS regulations, so-called 501(c)(3) organizations such as ours are prohibited from participating in political campaigns.) How do we raise up a morally independent stance, as opposed to a politically partisan position?
Sojourners has always sought to change the conversation of election debates by lifting up the voices and interests of those outside of traditional political discourse: the most vulnerable, who are often of least interest to those looking for votes or campaign contributions. We have never endorsed a candidate for president but have always raised the moral issues of poverty, peace, justice, and the dignity of every life during election campaigns and asked Christians to vote according to those values.
I spent three days in early September with three different groups of faith leaders who were trying to bring their faith to bear in this election. These meetings, which featured leaders from many faith traditions, ethnicities, and theological backgrounds, focused on how to respond to the divisive and dangerous racial rhetoric in this presidential election campaign. We sought to discern how to remain independent of partisan political causes, faithful to the transcendent Christian values that are clearly at stake in this election, respectful of Christians who are led to different voting preferences in every election (which is a healthy thing), and civil in our own public discourse in an election environment that seems to have lost all civility.
EARLIER THIS YEAR I heard Rev. William Barber of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina use the phrase “Mr. James Crow, Esq.”
Since hearing the phrase, I have been reflecting on the revised and updated name for Jim Crow, the comprehensive and brutal system of racial segregation, discrimination, and terrorist violence against black lives and bodies—explicit in the U.S. South, and often implicit in the North, throughout the 20th century.
I have been thinking about this new and more-sophisticated Mr. James Crow, wearing a white shirt and a tie instead of a white sheet and a hood and inhabiting the back rooms in state legislatures and corporate offices instead of rural backwoods lynching sites.
I’ve also been thinking about Mr. Crow’s strategy for the 2016 election and the years ahead.
Mr. James Crow’s biggest concern now is the transformational demographic shifts occurring in the United States, which by 2040 or so will see a significant milestone: For the first time, the U.S. will no longer be a white-majority nation and, instead, will be made up of a majority of minorities. That’s one of the most important facts in American political life today. This fundamental demographic shift in racial and cultural identity is underneath almost everything in U.S. politics—including the presidential election.
So with a suit instead of a sheet, how does Mr. James Crow, Esq., enact his strategy? And what are the servants of Mr. Crow saying to one another?
THIS NEW VERSION of Jim Crow has a clear, systematic strategy to protect white supremacy and promote racial segregation, discrimination, and even violence. He knows that even he, with all his power, can’t prevent the racial demographics of America from evolving. But he thinks he can obstruct and delay the changes that new racial demographics will bring to American life and politics. In apartheid South Africa, we saw that even when a racial group is in the minority, it can wield the power to oppress other races and protect its own supremacy.
Mr. James Crow’s five-part strategy includes:
On Monday, Sept. 12, Rev. Dr. Jim Wallis opened Calvin’s Center for Faith & Writing fall 2016 series with a speech about his new book, “America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.” The bestselling author, activist, preacher and theologian drew a large crowd to the CFAC. All seats were full, and some visitors had to park in overflow lots near the Seminary and science building.
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Press contact: Michael Mershon, Director of Advocacy and Communications
“White privilege is an ideology. It’s an idol.”
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September 2, 2016
Faith leaders from different traditions condemn Trump’s immigration platform as immoral and an affront to the values of sacred texts
In a letter signed by 49 evangelicals from Texas and around the country, the Christian leaders said officials have a “moral obligation” to stop the execution, which is scheduled for Aug. 24.
There are fundamental ethical, moral, and even religious choices that will have to be made by all of us now — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents; conservatives, liberals, and those who feel politically homeless (like many of us); Christians, Jews, Muslims, those of other faiths and none at all. And those choices are much deeper than partisan politics
At Washington National Cathedral on Sunday, an interracial group of clergy gathered to discuss the role of the white church in perpetuating racism. And what the church might do to heal the wounds. A tough subject, but dealt with unflinchingly
Every black parent in America has to have “the talk” with his or her sons and daughters — about how to act and not act in the presence of white police officers with guns. It’s a painful family ritual that is slowly being discovered by America’s white parents as more and more police killings of young African Americans occur and are nationally discussed.
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June 23, 2016
Washington, DC - Rev. Jim Wallis, President and Founder of Sojourners, today issued the following statement on the Supreme Court's decision regarding President Obama's executive actions on DAPA, DACA:
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Contact: Michael Mershon, Director of Advocacy and Communications
June 8, 2016
Washington, DC - Sojourners Founder and President Jim Wallis today responded to the plan released by the House of Representatives’ Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility.
Jesuit Fr. Daniel Berrigan was regularly challenged during his life by skeptics and newcomers to the cause of peacemaking to show the results of the thankless work he had undertaken. He regularly responded that God calls us to faithfulness, not success.
Invoking the call of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, more than 50 faith leaders from across the political spectrum joined together today to speak out on the current state and alarming rhetoric of the 2016 election cycle, which they say, “threaten[s] the fundamental integrity of Christian faith and the well-being of society itself.”
The statement, “Called to Resist Bigotry — A Statement of Faithful Obedience,” names the racial and religious bigotry of Donald Trump and his disrespect of women as gospel issues, and not merely political matters, saying: “… while Donald Trump certainly did not start these long-standing American racial sins, he is bringing our nation’s worst instincts to the political surface, making overt what is often covert, explicit what is often implicit."