Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Sojourners Lisa Sharon Harper speaks with the film's star Alfre Woodard after screening. Brandon Hook / Sojourners

The ethos of slavery still runs deep in our national consciousness. Alfre Woodard, a supporting actress in the upcoming movie 12 Years a Slave, hopes that point is taken by all who see it.

“Whenever there is repression, it takes toll on everyone; especially a physical and psychic, stunting pain on the abuser,” Woodard said at a panel following a pre-screening of the movie hosted by Sojourners last week. “My hope, expectation is that audiences will start to think about slavery in a new way. That they’ll come away with some small perspective to understand each other better.”

The panel gathered to begin the conversation about residual impacts of slavery on the United States. Woodard started the discussion with a description of what it was like to be set and involved with a film that revolves around such a difficult emotional topic.


Paul Louis Metzger 10-14-2013
'12 Years a Slave' still, Fox Searchlight

'12 Years a Slave' still, Fox Searchlight

I watched 12 Years a Slave today. The film is based on Solomon Northup’s autobiography by that name. Northrup was a free black man living in Saratoga, N.Y. He was lured away from his home to Washington, D. C., on the promise of lucrative work and was kidnapped, transported to Louisiana, and sold into slavery. He was rescued 12 years later.

Some of the questions and issues that the movie raises are: What right do people have to own others? Do money and might make right? Unjust laws — such as slave laws — exist. It just goes to show that something can be legal, yet morally wrong. Still, laws come and go. We must not confuse laws with rights, which are universal and enduring truths that do not change. What is true and right and good is always so. So, too, that which is evil is always evil. Even if unjust laws are overturned and abolished, evil can still return in other guises.  

I asked myself as I watched the movie, “Could it happen again?” Some of us may think, “Surely, something like this could never happen in our day.” And yet, people are abducted and sold into various forms of slavery here and abroad on a daily basis. Granted — people are not publicly bought and sold on the slave block in America today because of skin color; however, people are enslaved based on race and class divisions.

Otis Moss III 10-14-2013
'12 Years a Slave' still, Fox Searchlight

'12 Years a Slave' still, Fox Searchlight

Since the production of The Birth of a Nation, Hollywood has lived with the mythic world imagined by artists who view the lives of people of color as footnotes and props. From Gone With The Wind to Django Unchained, the most difficult type of film for Hollywood to get right is the antebellum story of people of color.

Django, for example used the archetypes designed by Hollywood — “Mammy, Coon, Tom, Buck, and Mulatto,” to quote film historian, Donald Bogle — and exploit them in order to create a hyper-exploitation Western fantasy, with slavery as the backdrop. The film is a remix and critique of exploitation clichés, not a historical drama seeking to illuminate our consciousness. Django is a form of visual entertainment where enlightenment might happen through a close reading of the film. All the archetypes remain in place. Nothing is exploded or re-imagined, only remixed to serve the present age.

Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave, on the other hand, sits within and outside the Hollywood fantasy of antebellum life. I say it sits within, because the archetypes forged by the celluloid bigotry of D.W. Griffith are present. But, in the hands of the gifted auteur, Steve McQueen, they are obliterated and re-imagined as complex people caught in a system of evil constructed by the immorality of markets, betrothed to mythical, biological, white supremacy.

Danny Duncan Collum 07-01-2013

Bobby McFerrin's "don't worry" optimism sets up some serious cognitive dissonance with the spirituals.

Rose Marie Berger 07-01-2013

Laments engage "the most unbearable questions of faith."

Jim Rice 06-05-2013

Even at their best, toys like the American Girl Dolls send a mixed message.

Nicku /

David Livingstone - Picture from Meyers Lexicon books written in German language. Nicku /

LONDON — When journalist Henry Morton Stanley found the world’s most famous missionary barely alive at the tiny village of Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika on Nov. 10, 1871, he gave the English language one of its most famous introductions: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

As Britain marks David Livingstone’s 200th birthday on Tuesday, Christians are being reintroduced to one of the greatest missionaries and explorers of the 19th century. A new book, meanwhile, introduces a darker side to Livingstone’s globe-trotting career and the corrosive effect it had on his marriage.

That 1871 meeting in the heart of Africa is the stuff of legend.

In 1864, Livingstone — already one of the world’s most famous men because of his trek across Africa and the 1855 “discovery” of the Victoria Falls that straddles modern-day Zambia and Zimbabwe — mounted an expedition to discover the source of the Nile River.

As months stretched into years, nothing was heard from the famed explorer.

It's time to reframe the church's conversation around same-sex relationships.

Cathleen Falsani 02-22-2013

Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

This week, in the run-up to Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, we've been taking a look at each of the Best Picture nominees, the stories they tell, and the spiritual questions (and answers) they offer.

In today's final installment, we turn our attention to Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.

RNS photo courtesy PBS.

RNS photo courtesy PBS.

As the nation marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, PBS premieres “The Abolitionists,” a three-part series, on Tuesday.

Documentarian Rob Rapley, the writer and director of the series, talked with Religion News Service about the role religion played in the lives of the abolitionists.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Nyasha Junior 12-05-2012

Who was Abraham Lincoln? You may get different answers depending on whom you ask. He is known as the Great Emancipator. He was a self-taught rural Kentuckyian. He was a husband and father. Also, he was a pragmatic politician. The new film, Lincoln, seeks to address this question by focusing on the political struggles for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the last few months before Lincoln’s death.

Recently, I saw the film Lincoln, and certainly, the parallels between Lincoln and President Barack Obama are easy to see. Played masterfully by Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln is a second-term president who attempts to pass major legislation through a partisan, lame-duck Congress during a time of deep divisions in the country. Newly reelected President Obama faces similar challenges. He is a second-term president who must contend with partisan politics while facing end-of-the-year spending and tax cuts in an increasingly polarized country. Furthermore, Obama has linked himself to Lincoln. For example, in 2007, then-Senator Obama announced his candidacy for president from Springfield, Ill., in front of the Old State Capitol as did Lincoln in 1858. Also, Obama used President Lincoln’s Bible at his swearing-in ceremony in 2008.

While it may be easy to see why some people would view the film in light of contemporary politics, Lincoln’s political context and Obama’s are quite different. Facile comparisons between Lincoln and Obama do both men a disservice since they serve in completely different contexts. The Civil War is not the war against terror. The abolition of slavery is not the fiscal cliff. After a point, our attempts to connect the characters and subject matter of the film Lincoln to current events seem rather forced.

Julie Polter 11-27-2012

I Told My Soul to Sing: Finding God with Emily Dickinson by Kristin LeMay / Grace and Mercy by Jonathan Butler / Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade by Sharon Leslie Morgan and Thomas Norman DeWolf / We Are Not Ghosts by Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young

Christian Piatt 03-16-2012

Atheist activism is hardly news these days. Folks are feeling increasingly convicted about taking their disbelief public, and more specifically, pointing out the damage done by religion.

But it seems the most recent publicity campaign by a group called American Atheists has gone a little too far, even for those not in the religious sphere.

Human rights groups howled when the following billboard appeared in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania:

Following a public uproar, the billboard promptly was replaced with one for the local symphony.

There are some more obvious concerns this kind of campaign raises, while others are more subtle. The point of the billboard is well taken, at least for me; the Bible has some messed up stories and rules in it. But cherry-picking isolated quotes like this from scripture is something that most in mainline Christianity consider a no-no. It’s called proof-texting, and it’s seen as tantamount to using the Bible as a weapon to further a personal agenda.

Diana Fishlock 03-13-2012
RNS photo courtesy Carl Silverman

Atheist-sponsored billboard erected in on of city's most racially diverse neighborhoods. RNS photo courtesy Carl Silverman.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The billboard is down, but the issue's not gone.

A billboard erected in one of the city's most racially diverse neighborhoods featured an African slave with the biblical quote, "Slaves, obey your masters." It lasted less than a day before someone tore it down.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is investigating the destruction to this billboard put up in one of the city's most racially diverse neighborhoods. RNS photo courtesy Carl Silverman.

Now, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is investigating and is meeting with both the atheists who sponsored it as well as leaders of the NAACP who found it offensive and racially charged.

The atheists behind the sign said they were trying to draw attention to the state House's recent designation of 2012 as "The Year of the Bible" -- an action by lawmakers that the atheists have called offensive.

But there were concerns that erecting such a billboard is playing with fire.





the Web Editors 01-11-2012
Human Trafficking Awareness Day

It's National Human Trafficking Awareness Day! Photo courtesy of the Not for Sale Campaign

Today people across the nation (and the blogosphere) are taking part in National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, which encourages participants to get educated and get active in the fight to end the suffering of the estimated 27 million persons living in slavery today.

In his speech declaring January to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, President Obama intimated a serious commitment to the fight to end modern slavery. This year, Obama and Congress have the opportunity to make historic, bipartisan progress toward this worthy goal.

And it’s not just government that’s getting involved. Just last week, over 42,000 young Christians banded together at Passion 2012 to raise more than $3.1 million dollars to fund organizations fighting to bring prevention, freedom and restoration to those trapped in slavery.

Sojourners has long been committed to the fight to end this abhorrent evil, and the current issue of Sojourners Magazine seeks to engage the topic head-on. 

Inside, we invite you to explore our coverage and involvement in the fight against human trafficking over the past year!

Matthew Santoro 01-09-2012
Image from Passion 2012.Photo by: Kenny Hamilton, 11Alive News, with permission.

Image from Passion 2012.Photo by: Kenny Hamilton, 11Alive News, used with permission.

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? – Isaiah 58:6 (NRSV)

A pervasive criticism of modern Christians, both from outsiders as well as concerned Christians, is that people of faith are not taking seriously Jesus’ call for us to serve “the least of these.”

Thankfully, we may be turning a corner.

Last week in Atlanta, more than 42,000 Christians packed the Georgia Dome  for four days to participate in Passion 2012. Spearheaded by Passion Conferences founder Louie Giglio, Passion 2012 is another in an ongoing series of conferences intended to engage the “university moment” with Jeusus’ compelling message.

What made Passion 2012 so compelling for so many wasn’t the impressive list of popular Christian speakers, including Francis Chan, John Piper, and Beth Moore. It wasn’t the popular worship music of Chris Tomlin, the David Crowder Band, Charlie Hall, and Kristian Stanfill. Nor was it the presence of 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne.

It was the call to action — the invitation to make Jesus’ message of social justice a reality in this world.

Shane Claiborne 10-27-2011

On Nov. 5 folks all over the world will divest from Wall Street and its banks … in order to invest in a better world.

Ideologies alone are not enough. There came a point in the movement to abolish slavery where ideology required responsibility. As one abolitionist said, “The only way to be a good slave-owner is to refuse to be a slave-owner.” To truly be against slavery also meant that you didn’t drink sugar in your tea, because sugar was produced with slave labor.

So on November 5, my wife and I will be joining the “Move Your Money” celebration, moving our money from Bank of America to the non-profit credit union here in Philadelphia.

It is one small step away from the vicious cycle that continues to see money transfer from the increasingly poor to the increasingly rich.

It is trying to take to heart Jesus’ command to “Get the log out” of my own eye.

It is a move towards Gandhi’s call to “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

It’s one little step towards being less of a hypocrite tomorrow than I am today.

Randall Balmer 10-03-2011

The puzzle here is not that readers of the Bible would tilt toward the political left. That, for me, as well as for thousands of other American evangelicals, is self-evident. Jesus, after all, summoned his followers to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, to welcome the stranger and to care for “the least of these.” He also expressed concern for the tiniest sparrow, a sentiment that should find some resonance in our environmental policies.

No, the real conundrum lies in the subtitle the editors of Christianity Today assigned to Franzen’s article, which was titled, “A Left-Leaning Text.” Adjacent to a picture of a Bible tilted about 45 degrees to the left, the editors added the subtitle: “Survey Surprise: Frequent Bible reading can turn you liberal (in some ways).”

The fact that anyone should register surprise that the Bible points toward the left should be the biggest surprise of all.

Lisa Sharon Harper 09-30-2011
Dear Herman, On September 28, you actually called African-Americans "brainwashed" for their support of the Democratic Party.
Amy Stetzel 09-26-2011

[caption id="attachment_34028" align="alignleft" width="214" caption="Detail of a sculpture at the site of a former slave market, Christ Church, Zanzibar. By Cathleen Falsani."][/caption]