Inspired by the leaders of the civil rights movement, Sojourners was founded 50 years ago as a faith-based national media organization, an advocacy organization, and a home for people seeking community. Today, as a new Independent Sector member, Sojourners continues its work to inspire hope and build a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.
We spoke with Jessica Felix Romero, Chief Strategy and Impact Officer, to learn about the organization.
IS: What is your organization’s mission?
JFR: Sojourners inspires and brings together people of faith and conscience to build a society where neither punishment nor privilege is tied to race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.
Throughout Sojourners’ history, we have informed and mobilized tens of millions of people through media, trainings, convenings, events, and activism. We help shape national policies and priorities through grassroots and national advocacy. We offer culturally informed, intersectional resources and trainings in faith-rooted organizing, as well as opportunities for people to put their training to work in their communities. Our message reaches across political and theological spectrums. Our journalism and commentary through Sojourners’ own digital and print publications continue to grow, reaching more than 6 million people last year.
IS: Tell us about your organization’s areas of interest, the communities you serve, and how your work relates to the goal of a healthy nonprofit sector so that everyone can thrive.
JFR: Through Sojourners’ multimedia publications, activism, resources, and networks, we inspire and equip many other organizations, denominations, and faith-based groups to realize a more inclusive and just multiracial democracy. Sojourners works to dismantle systemic racism and white supremacy, address poverty and inequality, transform our broken immigration system, confront the threat of climate change, ensure women and girls everywhere can thrive, revitalize democracy, and so much more.
Through our work, we teach people how to draw upon faith-rooted organizing strategies and learn how to identify shared values and vision that can move their communities to build a healthier democracy.
Sojourners is well situated to offer healing and a way forward: for our churches, our divided communities, and each person struggling with faith amid collective trauma. We do that through prophetic words and powerful art – from first-person essays to solutions-oriented reporting; from stunning illustrations to stylized quotes shared on Instagram that offer moments of inspiration. The following represents just a sample of some of our work over the last year:
- When Christian Media Peddle Lies by Adam Russell Taylor
- Empathy Is Both Better and Worse Than We Think by Cynthia R. Wallace
- How Parler Played to Conservative Christians’ Fear of Censorship by Lexi McMenamin
- It’s Not Enough to Condemn Hate by Lucas Kwong
- The Business of Prioritizing White Comfort by Courtney Ariel
- May It Become Our Practice to Counter Hate and Fear by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette
IS: As an Independent Sector community member, what are you looking forward to that will help your organization better achieve your mission and serve your community?
JFR: Sojourners has always worked in close partnerships and coalitions with other Christian, interfaith, and secular nonprofits. Since 2011, Sojourners has been a founding member and steering committee co-coordinator of the Circle of Protection, a broad coalition of Christian organizations dedicated to protecting government programs that help people experiencing poverty and hunger.
Sojourners is enthusiastic about working with an even broader coalition of nonprofits and foundations in ways that advance our work. We hope our membership will enable us to pursue new and innovative partnerships for different aspects of our work as well as expanding existing partnerships and coalitions.
IS: What are some of your organization’s core or special programs?
JFR: Economic Inequality: The Circle of Protection (CoP) convenes a broad coalition of faith organizations dedicated to protecting government programs that help people experiencing poverty and hunger. Multiple times over the past decade, the CoP has helped protect critical government programs that serve people experiencing poverty and hunger, staving off deep cuts that would have been devastating not only to vulnerable people but to nonprofits that would have been expected, yet unable, to fill the gap.
Voting Rights: In 2020, Sojourners’ grassroots voter protection campaign – in partnership with the National African American Clergy Network, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, the Skinner Leadership Institute, Brennan Center, and hundreds of state and local partners – contributed to unprecedented voter participation. We trained and engaged more than 2,500 faith leaders nationally to encourage and support their communities to vote early and safely and advocate with election and elected officials for a free, fair, and safe election. We energized a strong Black voter turnout with “What’s at Stake” gatherings, faith events, and social media outreach. We also earned media attention from over 100 national, state, and local outlets. We mobilized more than 1,300 multiracial, interfaith chaplains at more than 1,000 polling sites in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Alabama, and other states. Our work contributed to the unprecedented turnout we saw in Georgia: 525 people participated in our Georgia runoff training, and 36 chaplains volunteered at 24 polling sites across the state.
In 2021, we are facing an onslaught of new efforts to undermine and restrict the right to vote. The next few months will be critical for protecting and building support for expanded voting rights. Our message for 2021 is “Faiths United to Save Democracy,” reflecting that the campaign is now increasingly multifaith, multiracial, and intergenerational. We are working with our partners to organize faith leaders to reach out to secretaries of state, legislatures, governors, and election officials, telling them “We are Watching” and will oppose attempts to restrict voting rights. We are hosting state-based clergy “Know Your Rights” trainings to inform clergy about the impacts of proposed or enacted state initiatives attacking the vote, as well as how to prepare voters to utilize existing laws for maximum nonpartisan voter registration and turnout. This includes helping congregants and community members obtain necessary identification to vote, determining whether they have been purged, and understanding how they can vote.
IS: Independent Sector brings together a diverse community of changemakers to strengthen civil society and ensure all people in the United States thrive. How does your work intersect with Independent Sector’s mission and our member organizations?
Seeking the thriving of all people in the United States and indeed all over the world is and has always been at the core of Sojourners’ work.
Equally central to our work is our commitment to partnerships and coalitions across all sectors of society, as well as across all types of human diversity and all expressions of religious faith – including those who are religiously unaffiliated. Sojourners looks forward to joining Independent Sector and its members, both for the sake of deepening and strengthening existing partnerships and coalitions, as well as creating new, innovative partnerships to further our individual and collective work in the world.
IS: Independent Sector focuses on collaborating with individuals and the nonprofit sector to create a healthier sector and racially equitable and just nation. Tell us about aspects of your work that help support or advance these objectives.
Creating a racially equitable and just nation has been at the core of Sojourners’ work for the last 50 years. From the moment of our founding in 1971, Sojourners has been dedicated to making the connection between a deep personal faith and its implications on the issues shaping the nation and the world – with opposition to systemic racism, poverty, and the Vietnam War being among the first and foremost issues. Today, Sojourners is focused on many issues fundamental to a racially equitable and just nation, including continuing to be a counter voice against the dangerous tide of white Christian nationalism and white supremacy, emphasizing the existential threat of climate change, supporting a new generation of BIPOC leaders, supporting reforms to our immigration and refugee policies to promote human rights and a path to citizenship, equipping clergy to defend voting rights, countering racialized policing and reimagining public safety, and much more.
Learn about other Independent Sector members and becoming a member. On November 16, Rev. Adam Russell Taylor, President of Sojourners joined Independent Sector’s Board of Directors. Read IS President and CEO Dan Cardinali’s essay, “Members in Mission,” which welcomes Taylor and other new board members. The top photo is courtesy of Sojourners.