I AM Nancy Hastings Sehested, messenger from Prescott Memorial Baptist Church, pastor of Prescott Memorial Baptist Church, and servant of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am a full-blooded Southern Baptist. My mother is a Baptist deacon. My grandfather was a Southern Baptist minister for 70 of his 93 years. My dad is a retired Southern Baptist minister with 50 years of ordained ministry. ...
By what authority do I preach? ... It is not a new question. It is a question that was asked of our Lord Jesus Christ on a number of occasions. He had not the authority of the religious establishment, nor the authority of the state, but the authority of none other than the Holy Spirit that moved in his midst.
And so, by what authority do I preach and bear witness to my faith? ... By the authority of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, becoming a servant. And following in his footsteps, as a servant of Jesus Christ, who took the towel and the basin of water and exemplified the kind of servanthood that each one of us is called to live under, I found a towel with my name on it. And who was it that taught me this wonderful freedom of the Spirit? My Sunday school teachers. My pastor. My Southern Baptist church, who nurtured me and said, “God calls each one of us, so listen!” And so I listened.
WHILE Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be enormously proud of the strides our nation has made over the past 40 years, especially the country’s inspiring and groundbreaking election of our first black president, he would be calling on the president, the Congress, and all of us to mount a national, multiracial campaign to free the 36.5 million Americans of all races and places from the noose of poverty driven by low-wage work and to end racial disparities still prevalent in all areas of American life.
Today there are 36.5 million poor people in America, including 13 million children, although our gross domestic product is three times larger than in 1968. He would be pushing our new leaders, and all of us, to achieve long overdue health care for all, beginning with all children and pregnant women; to end the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline” that will afflict 1 in 3 black and 1 in 6 Latino boys born in 2001 unless we act together with urgency to dismantle it; to expand proven parent-child support programs and establish a high-quality comprehensive early childhood development system ...
We know what to do to end poverty, child illiteracy, and hunger and to ensure every child and person health coverage and job-rich, safe communities. Finding the spiritual and political will to do what is right and economically sensible and necessary is the challenge you and I and our new leaders face.
[After 9/11] Many of us feel a deep desire for revenge and violent retribution. We know how natural that is. We want to strike back at the perpetrators. And it is true: We do need to find and punish them. But we must not let that need be overwhelmed by sheer rage. We need to counter those who want to bomb indiscriminately, to “take them out” with missiles, or even to use everything in our arsenal. ...
Can we together agree that retribution is not the way of Jesus? Can we remain steadfast in nonviolence, despite the skepticism of those who embrace violence as a way of fighting violence? Can we repudiate belief in redemptive violence? Christians must behave as Christians no matter how much our society and churches ridicule nonviolence as idealistic and ineffective. If we cannot be faithful in such a crisis as we presently face, when will we?
Finally, we must cling to God by blind faith in such a time as this. To the question, Where is God in all this? we can answer, Where God always is: nearer than breathing and closer than hands or feet. But just as the clouds of dust and smoke and falling debris blotted out the sun on Sept. 11, so horror of this dimension blots out the light of God. In such a time, we cannot perhaps feel God’s presence, but it is there, and we have to cling to it even as we scream at the silence of God.
WOMEN IN almost every culture and segment of society experience violence ... that is directed specifically at them as women. In the United States, women of color—Latina, African American, Asian, and Native American—experience violence that is specifically focused against them because of both their race and their gender. When misogynist violence combines with racism, the result is a unique and deadly threat to women of oppressed races. ...
Women of different races and economic backgrounds have begun to join together in a movement to end the violence that endangers them all. The women of color who are involved in this movement, however, bear witness to the barriers that hinder such cooperation. Prominent among them is the misunderstanding or ignorance of the particular ways that both individuals and institutions perpetrate violence focused against women of color. It is clear from the historical and current experiences of women of color that racism is an inextricable factor in this violence. They reject, therefore, analyses that blame only sexism and patriarchal structures for violence against women. The problem of misogynist violence can only be fully addressed when the experiences of all women are incorporated into the perspective of the movement for change. Both racist and anti-women stereotypes and attitudes must be overcome before society can become a safe place for all women.
AS SOME of you have no doubt already heard, the Post American [the original name for Sojourners] and our entire community will be moving, in early September, from Chicago to Washington, D.C. ... The Post American, first published in late 1971, began as a quarterly tabloid and has developed into a monthly magazine with a broadly ecumenical, national, and international readership. ... The final decision came less through an analytical process of weighing the pros and cons and more as a result of a growing sense among us all that Washington, D.C., was the right place for us to be.
CAN THE words “Christian” or “faith” appear in proximity to political issues? And if they do, what should they mean? On May 23, a delegation of U.S. Christian leaders came to Washington, D.C., to proclaim to the press and the country’s political leadership that yes, faith and values are vital to the public life—and if they are genuinely expressed they should transform our discourse, policy, and social fabric. What true biblical faith doesn’t do is let religious conviction be manipulated by partisan politics.
“America is fed up with what many in the church are doing, polarizing us into Left and Right. Christians are called to a politics of reconciliation,” said Tony Campolo at a press conference held that morning. ...
Jesus was a feminist, that is, a person who promotes the equality of women with men, who treats women primarily as human persons and willingly contravenes social customs in so acting. The gospels give no evidence of Jesus ever treating women as inferior to men. When the restricted state of women in the Palestinian Judaism of that time is recalled, even this mere absence of a male superiority attitude is extraordinary. ...
IT WAS after midnight at the end of another long, busy day, and I had an early breakfast meeting the next morning. I decided to read a psalm before I turned off the light and, with no particular rhyme or reason, settled on Psalm 127. Although I have read this psalm before, I was completely unprepared for the shock it gave me that night.
Verse two caught me completely off guard: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil.” I was struck right between the eyes. There could not have been a more vivid and disturbingly apt description of my life and the lives of most people I know here at Sojourners and elsewhere.
IN 1968, the [Latin American Catholic] bishops met in Medellín, Colombia, to examine the church’s role in social and political transformation in Latin America. Here the vision of a “preferential option for the poor,” which had been rising up from the base for several years, was first clarified.
“The Lord’s distinct commandment to evangelize the poor,” wrote the bishops at Medellín, “ought to bring us to a distribution of resources and apostolic personnel that effectively gives preference to the poorest and most needy sectors.”
AS I WRITE this, one week after the beginning of “Desert Storm,” the networks have returned to their regularly scheduled programming, responding to polls the third day of the war indicating that Americans were tiring of the coverage. (Considering what we don’t hear, “coverage” seems a wholly appropriate euphemism—just try to verify reports beginning to leak out of the war zone of 100,000 or 200,000 civilian casualties.) War news has become a mere refrain—“Allied forces continued today to pound Iraq ...”—punctuated with videotaped missile strikes or bemasked reporters and the horrific wailing of air raid sirens.
Where do most radical thinkers stand on belief in human progress? In fact, they have not rejected it; they want to speed it up. The commitment to creating the Kingdom of Humanity, in a radicalized form, still undergirds the condemnation of capitalism. Almost all social readings are permeated with the unstated premise that our age is an improvement over all others. ... So what? What is wrong with the conviction that we are actively working with history to build the best of all possible worlds? If nothing else, I think it leads to a distorted reading of the past and a misleading analysis of the present. ...The danger comes in where there is a confusion of God’s ways with our ways—a confusion that is always suicidal for theology.
AS A member of Sojourners Community, I make my home in Southern Columbia Heights—a place in which it’s all too easy to miss seeing the beauty and courage that lie alongside the suffering of low-income families. I see people crowded, pushed one against the other. Children are often afraid, preoccupied with fears of violence. I feel a wave of despair each time another ambulance screams past my bedroom window on its way to the hospital.
Our neighbors struggle to make ends meet, and we are trying to stand with them. But gradually my faith has worn thinner and thinner. All the old expressions of praise and faith no longer seem to hold much meaning.
Yet into the midst of this hopelessness has come a weekly hour when an entirely different side of the neighborhood comes before me. On Monday evenings a few of us from Sojourners gather with some of our neighbors at our neighborhood ministry center. We sing and pray a little, but most of all we study scripture together. ... Sometimes we sing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarm. Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms. The words describe our total dependence on a God who wants to hold and carry us as a mother. In this world, and in this neighborhood, I need to trust that God. Thanks to my friends, I’m drawn more and more to do just that.
There’s a photo he carries for long journeys
like this one, for trips on loaded market lorries
where the passengers take their seat, perching
on top of cargo, or sitting on crude benches
inside the buses coming from Sudan with names
like “Best of Luck” or “Mr. Good Looking.”
I wish to thank Susan Windley-Daoust for her article “Beyond the Wheelchair Ramp” (May 2015). As someone born with right-side paralysis in the 1940s, I know the frustration of being thought of as less by the general population. My parents were told that I would never walk and never be able to care for myself, and that I would likely be “retarded.” But my parents did not listen to those warnings and gave me the opportunity for as normal of a life as anyone else.
Many thanks to Emilie Teresa Smith (May 2015) for witnessing to the costly impacts of Canadian mining companies borne by Indigenous and impoverished people around the world. As Christians, we must not ignore that churches in Canada and the U.S. are complicit through their investments in mining companies. Many of us in the United Church of Canada are responding to the call of our partners in Guatemala and are asking the United Church Pension Board to divest from Goldcorp. Learn more at www.marconf.ca/resources/treasure.
The Greeks know how tightly coiled
are circumstances with many windings
before tragedy’s spring snaps.
The horse bolts flame-like from the gate;
we do not see its years of training.
So too, the thunderhead today slow bloating
and thickening with muffled rumblings.
The steeds were restless, but the reins
held tight, until a crack of the whip
unleashed the pummeling flood.