NO LONGER do I have to separate myself from the victims of society, whether they are in prisons or mental institutions, or the economically poor, unable to buy time, health, space, leisure, education for their children, or a host of other things. I know myself to be victimized, because I am the victim of these powers. I can be at home with other victims.
And I need no longer to be bound by the hurt of ancient wounds in my own life because the penetrating light of Christ can pierce the darkness—the deepest darkness. And no longer need I fear the aging process. It has no destructive power over me. My diminishing powers and your diminishing powers in certain areas are the preparation for a new depth of communion with God, for which I was destined.
IN THIS ISSUE, Victoria Newton Ford writes about Ava DuVernay’s forthcoming movie adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s bestselling fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time. As in the book, Meg Murry travels through time to find her missing father. But DuVernay, who also directed Selma (2014) and 13th (2016), adds a twist. In the film, Meg and her brother, Charles Wallace, are black. For Ford, this delivers something the novel cannot: “a hero of the universe who, in our current political space and time, is afforded the least agency.” In other words, writes Ford, “Meg is an angry black girl.”
A film that depicts a black protagonist—in all her fury, pain, and love—is especially radical, Ford explains, because America has continually “sought to conscript ... black [women] into a toolbox for the country’s deliverance.” She points to the political heroization of Oprah, Michelle Obama, and the black women voters in Alabama who defeated Roy Moore’s senatorial bid.
MANY politically conservative evangelical Christians have been not too subtly transforming God into a transcendental member of the right wing of the Republican Party. It is not just a matter of their making a biblical case for their political agenda; they seem to be going further than that. They are giving the impression that anyone who disagrees with their agenda is outside the will of God. These people have been so effective in associating evangelical Christianity with right-wing Republicanism that to the secular press the word “evangelical” has come to mean the Christian Coalition.
This recent development has generated great consternation among many of us who, over the last few decades, have used the word “evangelical” to establish our own religious identity. We now have to ask, Can we continue to use that title? We hold to the orthodox theology of evangelicalism, but we are not about to buy into all the values and programs espoused by the Religious Right. ...
““DRAMATIC, POLITICAL, incendiary.” They seem like words you’d see splashed across the dust jacket of Fire and Fury, the controversial account of the Trump White House that generated a firestorm of presidential tweets when it was released earlier this year. But in this issue, Bible scholar Reta Halteman Finger uses those words to describe an older form of political drama: the book of Revelation.
Despite Revelation’s reputation as a harbinger of doom, Finger explains that the final book in the New Testament needs to be understood as an example of apocalyptic resistance literature, a genre of writing originally “intended to bring hope during times of political uncertainty or persecution.” This hope isn’t rooted in imperial acts of violence; it’s rooted in the victory of the Lamb, slaughtered but resurrected.
WHAT WOULD it take for martial law to be lifted and a genuine democracy to be instituted in the Philippines? The obvious barrier to democracy is the economic stranglehold foreign corporations have on the country and the control the U.S. government exercises through its military and economic aid and military bases. ...
The national foreign debt of the Philippines approaches $11 billion and continues to mount. The country must keep producing Barbie dolls and planting pineapples and bananas on prime land to raise enough foreign exchange to pay the interest on its foreign debt.
THE PAGES OF this magazine rarely feature scathing reviews, but in 2011 we made an exception.
That year, in our February issue, we published Nancy Lukens’ critique of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy, by Eric Metaxas. Lukens, a German professor who translated many of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s works into English, described the book as “stunningly flawed,” and lambasted Metaxas for trying to sculpt the 20th-century German pastor into an evangelical warrior on a crusade against liberal Christianity. Metaxas “does both Bonhoeffer and contemporary readers a gross disservice in implying that evangelicals are immune from the tragic error of merging nationalistic fervor with Christian piety,” wrote Lukens.
Fast forward seven years: Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer biography boasts a bestseller sticker, and a resurgence of nationalistic fervor helped win Donald Trump the White House—and the explicit support of many white evangelical leaders, including Metaxas.
PEOPLE OF faith want to see the media recognize via news coverage that religious expression is a significant American trait. “They want to see religion mainstreamed in the newspaper,” said Stewart Hoover, a University of Colorado expert on religion in the news. When it comes to churches, however, the feelings are mixed, according to a pivotal 1989 study by Hoover. Like other institutions, church bodies want to maintain control over descriptions of their symbols and stories, yet many also desire the validation and credibility conferred by appearing in the news. But going public with their news and views runs the risk of misinterpretation by journalists. ...
IN WALTER BRUEGGEMANN'S first article for Sojourners, published in November 1983, he described the “radical break” we prepare for in Advent as “the Bible’s effort to break our imagination.”
In the decades that followed, Brueggemann’s keen analysis of scripture has called out some of the darkest practices of American empire, including consumerism, gun violence, financial corruption, environmental exploitation, and sexual assault. But while he’s never shied from speaking truth to power, Brueggemann has repeatedly emphasized that the core of the prophetic vocation isn’t merely to rebuke unjust systems, but rather, as he wrote in 1983, “to think a genuinely new thought, to dream of a genuinely new world that will displace the old failed one.”
THESE ARE fear-provoking and immobilizing times for many who have labored over the years for a more just society and world. Their arms have indeed grown weary, and their knees totter and shake in the face of the present hour. The Bible is unequivocal in its contention that a frightened and trembling people are unable to act and faithfully stand in their hour of trial. Fear saps their strength and leaves them cowering in a corner ...
Isaiah prophesied to a similarly dispirited and broken people. Judah appeared doomed and its future nonexistent. The people were not only anxious about tomorrow but uncertain that they would survive the day. They had lost sight of, and faith in, the promises of God, since all that their eyes could see was desolation and ruin. The prophet challenged them to be strong and to take courage, undergirding one another as they look to the salvation of the Lord. ...
DURING THE HOLIDAYS, many of us go home. But home can be a tricky place these days. Pass the coffee and the pumpkin pie, but could we please skip the conversations with relatives who disagree with us about immigration, racism, climate change, and, well, pretty much everything?
Nope, says Katharine M. Preston in “An Experiment in Neighborly Love.” In a time of intense polarization, “talking exclusively with those with whom we agree simply hardens our positions and makes us angrier,” she writes in this issue. Instead, she challenges us to an “experiment”: gathering people with a wide range of ideological views to listen to one another. Some may see this practice as “hopelessly passive, naïve, and a waste of time,” she admits, but building empathy across the partisan divide could go a long way toward ending the cycle of alienation and frustration that makes people susceptible to fear-based rhetoric.
Our cover story offers another kind of homegoing.
IT'S NOT ONE of the Bible stories people often talk about. The tragedy of Tamar, a young woman who was raped by her half-brother and told to “be quiet” while those in authority refused to seek justice on her behalf, is recounted in 2 Samuel 13. We learn in scripture that Tamar became “a desolate woman.”
THE MAJORITY of Generation X Latinos perceive that our faith sects (both Catholic and Protestant) have little to say about the issues that affect us most: technology-induced future shock, a national debt as frightening as a velociraptor, AIDS, and (perhaps most important) race and identity. What better way to explain the phenomenon of countless young Latinos leaving—in their own words, escaping—our religious institutions?
HATRED HAS gotten a facelift. With the help of internet technology and cyberspace marketing, once-decrepit organizations like the Ku Klux Klan are regaining their youthful energy and competing for the attention of increasingly educated audiences. ... Behind the virtual makeover hides the same old-fashioned hatred that bigots have always promoted.
The internet has given hate groups ample reason to feel young again. In the United States, online bigots enjoy full protection under the First Amendment and have access to a potentially limitless audience. Webmasters are anonymous and difficult to silence; leaders suffer few consequences for their followers’ actions. And their strategies for organizational growth are beginning to look more corporate than cross-lit. ...
Virtual haters twist scripture into a white-power pretzel. The most common version of their convoluted hermeneutics is “Identity” thought, a theology that uses the Bible to justify racism and to prophesy apocalyptic judgment against non-white, non-Aryan races.
Identity sites are often eye-glazingly similar. Scripture is quoted at great length and with great gusto. Jews are the seen as the “anti-Christ” or “Satan’s seed.” Persons of color are deemed the “Unchosen” or “mud people.” Self-preservation of the white race becomes an imperative for true “Christians,” regardless of the personal costs involved.
This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in the September/October 2000 issue of Sojourners. Read the full article here.
IN THE TERM that begins this fall, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The nine justices will decide: Is a baker with sincerely held religious objections to same-sex marriage obliged—by anti-discrimination laws—to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple?
But underneath the frosting, the case exemplifies a much broader conversation in which religious liberty is pitted against civil liberties. In this ongoing fight, sides are often split down partisan lines, with conservatives championing religious liberty and liberals defending civil rights.
This religious-freedom-vs.-civil-liberties split is frustrating to many. After all, religious liberty isn’t just for conservatives; the First Amendment offers important protections to all people of faith, from Muslims who seek permits to build mosques to Christians who are conscientious objectors to war. At the same time, we care deeply about civil rights, especially in an era when so many Americans face discrimination because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. In a nutshell, we want to support religious freedom for all while also protecting the civil liberties of LGBTQ folks and other minorities. But is that even possible?
Baptist minister and constitutional lawyer Oliver Thomas is optimistic, but not naive. In “Clash of Liberties,” he explains how religious liberty laws morphed from bipartisan efforts to ensure religious liberty for all into tools used by conservatives and liberals alike to press their own advantage. If we’re serious about protecting both, Thomas writes, we’re going to have to do something that’s easier said than done: lay aside our ideological differences and work for the common good.
When we consider the inferior status of women in Palestine in the first century ... Jesus’ attitude toward women is striking. Jesus revealed himself first to women after his resurrection. The disciples ... thought the women were just dreaming. Paul does not include the women in his list of witnesses to the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). But the fact still remains: Jesus dared to appear first to women.
The incident of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-30) has radical implications also. Here Jesus blatantly broke three customs: He, a man, talked to a woman in public. He, a Jew, spoke to a Samaritan. Finally, he instructed a woman in religion—a topic reserved only for men. When the disciples saw Jesus talking to this woman they were disturbed, but Jesus ignored them.
Even Paul’s words and actions must have been shocking to his first-century friends. Despite his injunction at one point that women should be silent in the church, he freely recognized women as leaders at other points. In Philippians 4:2 he commended Euodia and Syntyche and called them “fellow workers.” In 1 Corinthians he assumed women were prophesying and participating actively in worship. In Romans 16:7 he saluted Junia, a woman, as an apostle ... In Romans 16:1 he called Phoebe a deacon and, according to the best translation, he said, “she was designated as a ruler over many by me.”
IN SEMINARY we “wrestled” with the problem of evil. Human evil. Systemic evil. The apparent evil of natural disasters. Drawing lines between the horrors wrought by an earthquake and the tragedy of an air crash caused by a mechanical failure. Tracing human culpability for the famine in Ethiopia. I wrote one dandy paper on the failure of process theology to deal adequately with the problem of evil. All at arm’s length, in the relative comfort of a “starving student’s” life.
It’s funny, in a way, that even though I already had worked for years with abused and neglected kids, their experience of evil rarely entered my college musings, at least not in any significant or sustained way. ... Guess what? This girl [an abuse survivor] doesn’t want my “problem of evil” package. Some do, you know. Some of the kids I’ve worked with will ask, “Where was God when I was being abused?” because they want desperately to hear that God was in the picture somewhere. Anywhere. ...
One thing is sure: I can’t “comfort” her into a faith in God. I can’t hope to find some new and dynamic arrow in the theological quiver that will penetrate the armor of her anger and disillusionment. I can’t hope to find some new stuff to put into those old packages. In fact, I have to fight every urge to tamper with my packages, and instead learn to leave them up on the shelf, where, for the most part, they belong.
“My hope for the future is that the church will be an authentic witness to the gospel despite the cost,” Filipino Bishop Francisco F. Claver, SJ, told Sojourners in 1979, “even if it means being crushed.” In the decades that followed, Sojourners reported the involvement of Filipino Christians in the People Power movements against repressive regimes that were often aligned with U.S. military power. Christians who spoke out were branded as communists. Many were tortured and killed by the military or vigilante groups.
But the Filipino church, though pressed, was never crushed. “I’ve been very encouraged by what I have seen in our people,” Karl Gaspar said in a 1988 issue of Sojourners. Gaspar—a Filipino poet, Redemptorist brother, and longtime friend of Sojourners—spent two years in prison in the early ’80s under the regime of Ferdinand Marcos. Yet he remained hopeful, “convinced that God is present despite all that which would negate God’s presence in this village.”
In this issue, Eric Stoner reports on faith-based opposition to Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ president who positioned himself as a “tough on crime” political outsider and declared himself “happy to slaughter” the nation’s 3 million drug users—and seems to be making good on his promise.
THE OLDEST mystics that we have in organized religious expression ... all have similar parabolic insights into contemplation. There is a story about the master saying to the disciples, “Tell me how you know when it is dawn.” And one disciple says, “Master, is it when we can tell the fig tree from the lemon tree at 100 paces?” And the master says to the disciple, “No, that is not how you will know it is dawn.”
So a second disciple says, “Well then, master, is it when you can tell the sheep from the goats at 50 paces?” And the master says, “No, that is not how we shall know when it is dawn.” Then the third disciple says, “Well then, master, how do we know that we have seen the dawn?” And the master says, “We will know that we have seen the dawn when we can see the face of Christ in the face of any brother or sister, no matter how near or how far.”
That’s contemplation. That’s the fruit of the contemplative life.
And unless you’re putting on the mind of Christ, I don’t know if you’ll ever see the face of the Christ in the other, or the face of the cosmic, or the face of the people of God in the other. You may be a highly efficient social worker or a marvelously compassionate do-gooder, but you will not necessarily be a Christian contemplative.
This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in the June 1987 issue of Sojourners. Read the full article here.
THE BOOK of Isaiah believes profoundly that God’s promises will prevail in, with, and through geopolitical reality. Note what an “unreal” long shot such a conviction is. I submit that only such a conviction can energize and authorize peacemaking. For without such a passion and certitude, we will soon or late succumb to realpolitik. Thus the root of peacemaking is a theological possibility and not a socioeconomic possibility. That is, the chance for peace rests in the trustworthiness of God and the issue of God keeping faith with God’s promises.
The text that authorizes this odd, subversive conviction has two features that are worth our noting. First, the text is poetry. It is not an argument about policy, but daring, inventive impressionistic rhetoric. Second, the text is poetry on the lips of God as a promise from God. That is, the speech of God is a beginning point for newness. The text, and every use of the text, is a political act as daring and as outrageous as was Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, “I have a dream.”
Peace is a dream that is uttered first on the lips of God, a dream that speaks against all settled political reality, an act of imagination from the throne of heaven in which we are invited to participate.
This article originally appeared in the May 1991 issue of Sojourners. Read the full article in the archives.