• Adam Russell Taylor "A Radical Call to Unity" | Episode Transcript

    Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the executive director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. Our goal at the society is to extend the rich spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences around the world. We invite you to share these podcasts and our free, daily meditations with your friends and family. Through them, we can continue to introduce new audiences to the writings and the teachings of Henri Nouwen, and we can remind each listener that they’re a beloved child of God. 

    Now, let me take a moment to introduce you to today’s guest. Today on this podcast, I have the pleasure of speaking with Reverend Adam Russell Taylor. Adam’s the president of Sojourners, and the author of the book, A More Perfect Union: A New Vision for Building the Beloved Community. Adam led the faith initiative at the World Bank Group and served as president in charge of advocacy at World Vision U S A.

    He has also served as the executive director of Global Justice, an organization that educates and mobilizes students around global human rights and economic justice. He was selected in 2009-2010 for the class of White House Fellows, and served in the White House Office of Cabinet Affairs and Public Engagement. Adam is a graduate of Emory, the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, and the Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology. Adam and I recently met for coffee here in Toronto. He’s someone with his finger on the pulse of America, and I want us to hear what he has to say today. 

    Adam Russell Taylor, welcome to Henri Nouwen, Now and Then.

    Adam Russell Taylor: Thank you so much.

    Karen: First of all, maybe let’s just go back to this wonderful book that you wrote, A More Perfect Union: A New Vision for Building the Beloved Community. In it, you share this bold vision that you have to replace the politics of fear and contempt that seem to dominate America today. I’d love to chat with you a little bit about what your thoughts are about that, because in a sense, that’s exactly where we are today. There’s a lot of things to be concerned about. What is your sense about how to go forward?

    Adam: I wish that things have gotten better since I wrote the book about a little over two years ago, rather than worse. But sadly, I think some of the forces that have been driving so much of that contempt and so much of that fear and even hatred have only been reinforced, versus being diminished. And so, I would argue that we’re in a pretty fragile and even dangerous place, kind of an inflection moment in American politics, and I think it’s probably had ripple effects in Canada as well. And you could reflect on that during the course of our conversation today. 

    But I’ll just give you a couple of statistics that help to illustrate where we are. So, one is that Pew and other polling firms have polled thousands of Americans, and they have found that not only do the majority of Republicans and Democrats dislike and distrust each other – that’s been true for quite a while – but we’ve now reached this more dangerous place where the majority actually hate each other and have contempt for each other. And instead of wanting to try to persuade the other side about their point of view, they want to simply defeat the other side. And so, it’s part of the reason why I describe the degree of polarization that we’ve reached in the U.S. as being toxic, because it’s reached this self-perpetuating place. 

    And it’s also what a lot of psychologists describe as “effective polarization.” So, it’s where our divisions are increasingly tied to our core identity, and increasingly in the United States, identity is being tied to your loyalty and identification with a political party, or an ideology, or even to a particular political leader. And that is really hard to break through. And part of what breaks my heart, as someone who believes in the power of love to overcome fear and believes as a Christian that we’re called to the ministry of reconciliation, is that so often the American church has been a part of the problem rather than the solution.

    So, that’s not true of all the church. There’s many of us and many organizations, including Sojourners, that are trying to be a healing force and a bridging force in the midst of this polarization. But I do think that sadly, and we can unpack this more, our faith, our religion is being much more influenced by our politics rather than our faith influencing our politics. And it’s almost as though, rather than a lordship in Christ, we’re seeing a lordship in a political party or an ideology. And to me, that is a form of idolatry that we have to take very seriously, and we need a bolder Christian witness in the face of that.

    Karen: It’s interesting to me as we talk. Our audience is a global audience. It’s not just the United States, although many, many, many of the Henri Nouwen community is based in the United States, but our audience actually stretches right around the world. And as you said, it’s obviously in Canada, too. It’s interesting that this divisiveness, many can identify it in their own country; it’s not just in America. So, there’s a timeliness to what’s going on, it seems. One of the things that comes to mind to me is that the divisions of the body of Christ seem to be deepening. What can the individual Christian do to resist this divisiveness?

    Adam: Yeah, I think there’s a lot that an individual Christian can do, and I appreciate your point, that this truly is kind of a global contagion, if you will. It’s a global challenge. It might show up slightly differently in different parts of the world, but we have the rise of many different forms of nationalism. So, part of this polarization, I think, is also being fueled by nationalism. So, there’s a Hindu nationalism that is quite powerful in India right now. There’s the dangerous rise of a lot of authoritarian and in some cases, fascist leaders. So, I think there’s a lot that we need to learn from each other. 

    But in terms of what an individual Christian can do, one thing that you can do – and I’m not saying this as a shameless plug for my book – but we can be a lot more aware of how our brains are often hardwired for division. We have this flight-or-fight response that has been well known in the field of psychology. But cognitive research has shown us a lot more how we have this confirmation bias, for example, where because certain frames get planted in our heads, we have a certain worldview, if you will, and when new information comes to us that doesn’t match our pre-existing frame, that information just bounces off. And it’s part of the reason why, particularly when people are often in almost their own media information bubble, it makes it very difficult to try to persuade them with facts or figures, because it just bounces off their sense of reality.

    There’s also another brain malfunction, if you will, called the halo effect, where if we identify strongly with something, we like something very strongly – this can include a politician – then it makes it very difficult for us to hear any kind of criticism about that politician, because any criticism toward them feels like a criticism of us.

    And I think that’s part of the reason why the support for former President Trump has remained so strong among his most ardent supporters. I wrote a piece about this in in our Sojourners publication that helps to explain why after each of the four indictments that have happened over the last year have just reinforced the support among his core supporters – about probably about 35% of the population in the United States. 

    So, there’s a lot more that I can point to, but I’m just kind of sharing this because while on the one hand, our brains are hardwired for division and polarization, our faith should hardwire us for unity and reconciliation. And so, I think this is a time for Christians to offer a countercultural force, a countercultural witness. Christ called us to be salt and light in the world. And so, the commitment to loving our enemies is quite radical right now, in the midst of this contempt and this polarization. A commitment to really try to seek reconciliation, to show empathy toward the other and toward the marginalized – all of these core teachings and commitments of our faith are actually the very things we need to heal some of our broken politics. 

    I think the other piece is that in my mind, the church should be a place where people from very different backgrounds and very different points of view, politically and ideologically, can still come together and have fellowship with each other. Where they can center their unity in Christ, which supersedes any loyalty that we have to a political party or ideology, et cetera. Unfortunately, almost the exact opposite is happening in many churches, not just in the United States, but across the world, where your political perspective or your cultural background is almost a proxy for your Christian faithfulness.

    And again, I think that’s something that we really have to resist. We need to create a space within the church where we can be grounded in some shared Christian values and allow those values to create enough unity that enables us to have the hard conversations about a lot of sensitive or controversial issues, whether it’s everything from abortion to issues around gay marriage or to a whole series of economic and political issues. 

    The last thing I’ll just say that is I do think that it is incumbent upon Christians to use their voice to defend the dignity of every single person, and to try to defend, particularly for those of us that live in democracies, even if they’re imperfect, the right for everyone to vote, to have a voice, to be able to exercise their agency through the political process. And in the United States context, we’ve seen this really alarming assault, if you will, on the right to vote, particularly impacting Black and brown communities. And it’s really, really critical that not only do we defend the right to vote, but we also try to make our democracies more free and fair and responsive. So, those are just a handful of things, but I think there’s so much that is needed in this moment, and it’s going to take a little bit more courage than I think a lot of Christians have been willing to show.

    Karen: It’s interesting, because as I look back, and I’ve been at many events, gatherings in the States, and often felt like somehow faith got wrapped in a flag. But our faith is so much richer than the culture of our countries. And I love America. I love Canada. I love the countries of the world. I truly admire the courage that I see in Ukraine. But our faith has to be bigger and richer and deeper, don’t you think?

    Adam: Absolutely. As I mentioned briefly, I do think nationalism – and in the case of the United States, we have this kind of white Christian nationalism, which is a particular version of it that is arguably the biggest danger, not just to the health of America’s democracy, but is the biggest threat to the witness of the church itself. In the case of the United States, this form of Christian nationalism says that we really are and should be a Christian nation. In other words, Christian should have this kind of dominant voice and role in American life, even though we have enshrined a commitment to the separation of church and state in the First Amendment of our constitution that says the exact opposite, right? Says we should have the free exercise of religion and there should be no established religion in this country.

    But then on top of that, it’s this ethno-nationalist view that it’s really white Americans who are the true Americans. And of course, this has been a struggle since the very inception of America, where we treated Black Americans as less than full humans and only gave the right to vote to white, land-owning males. And so, I think we’ve got this ongoing struggle about who the “we” in the “We, the people” truly includes, and whether we are going to be a country that is going to fully embrace being a multi-religious, multiracial democracy. And part of the reason I wrote that book is I was trying to create a roadmap on how we could get to that inclusive, just, multiracial, multi-religious democracy. 

    But you’ve got these forces that really are a heresy. They are a distortion of the Christian faith. And there’s subtle versions of it, and there’s more overt versions of it. You know, their overt version showed up on January 6th, where a lot of the protestors, the insurrectionists literally were praying before they engaged in insurrection in our capitol. They were holding crosses and they had signs that talked about how Jesus was behind their cause. And so, I think that form is fairly easy to repudiate. But the more subtle versions of this that have seeped into the church are often more challenging to identify, because they have been intertwined with a lot of the American ethos and myths about the country. 

    So, this myth that we are a Christian nation that I mentioned earlier, the myth that we are a chosen nation, that God has a particular chosen-ness for America, which has again been with us from the very beginning, the myth that we’re an innocent nation that can be do no wrong – all of those provide these on-ramps into much more dangerous forms of Christian nationalism that again, I think are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus, but also are perversion of our faith.

    So, I think this is a moment where it’s important for us to name and resist those perversions of our faith, but also to be clearer about what our faith actually means, and how we put that into our public life. Dr. King has a quote that I absolutely love, Dr. Martin Luther King, where he said, “The church at its best is called not to be the master or the servant of the state, but to be the conscience of the state.” And what I love about that quote is there’s so much temptation for the church to try to be the master of the state, to be the one controlling the state. And then oftentimes in the process of doing that, it becomes subservient to the state. It gets co-opted into the state. This is exactly what happened with the religious right movement in the United States.

    And what I think our faith really calls us to do is to be this conscience, to be the ones that are holding our politicians accountable to our core values, that are the constant voice for those that don’t have as strong of a voice in our countries or in our communities. To be a voice that is protecting the most vulnerable and the most marginalized, the modern-day widows, orphans, strangers, and people living in poverty in our current time. To me, that is the vocation of the church that is so needed. And then, combined with that kind of advocacy voice, we also need to be that voice that refuses to demonize our political opponents, that shows this resilient love. I wanted to share a quote by Henri Nouwen, given the focus of our conversation.

    He one said, “In a world so torn apart by rivalry, anger, and hatred, we have the privileged vocation to be living signs of love that can bridge all divisions and heal all wounds.”

    I just love how he points us in this direction of a vocation that is about living signs of love that then bridge divisions and heal wounds. 

    And there’s a lot of people across the world, including in the United States, that are deeply wounded right now, that are kind of lost. They’re searching for belonging; they’re searching for meaning. They’re – you know, in the United States, we are dealing with an epidemic of loneliness, an epidemic of suicide that often is tied to that loneliness, an epidemic of grievance, and people that just feel really angry. And I think you don’t respond to that by just showing contempt toward them or blaming them. You respond to that with empathy and respond to that with really trying to engage them in a loving way, and trying to disciple them into a greater commitment to justice, to peace and to steadfast love. 

    Karen: You know, it’s interesting. When we were talking last in person over a cup of coffee, I was sharing with you about this wonderful series of videos that we found. And in fact, they’re on our YouTube channel. We first aired them, I think, in January of this year, and Henri was addressing a gathering at Sojourners. And Sojourners had brought together all the people that were frontline social justice workers. And Henri came with very much the message that you can get burned out on the frontline. There’s no two ways about it. Your passion to change the world and to right the wrongs can be so demanding on the spirit that you could get somehow dried out. And he was basically calling everybody to remember to keep this relationship, this contemplative connection to God, who can resource you and who can, in a way, strengthen you in that time. Not saying that it wasn’t important, but rather that it was so important that everybody needs to do that. 

    How do you, Adam, stay deeply connected to Jesus in all of this? I mean, it is kind of an overwhelming time in so many ways. How do you get resourced in this living faith and find in it the strength to keep going, not to be discouraged?

    Adam: That is a great question. And you know, I have to admit, I have been on a learning curve when it comes to that, over the course of my vocation and career. I, one, just realize that I stand on the backs of those who came before me. And I think about that in the context of a cloud of witnesses. I’m sitting in a room that literally has a whole series of just really amazing portraits or photos of all of these witnesses that have come before me and us at Sojourners. People like Dr. Martin Luther King, but also so many others. And so, I think that’s one part of it. 

    I also think about the cloud of witnesses, of course, from the Bible, from Joseph to Moses, all of the prophets. That is a huge part of what sustains me – listening to their struggles, and listening to the way in which God was able to use them despite all their imperfections and all their weaknesses and all their doubts. And yet, we’re able to push forward. 

    Another important spiritual exercise for me is I get a lot of joy and communion with God through running. I’ve been running my whole life. I used to be a sprinter. I don’t sprint anymore, because I have a bad back, but I do run. And it’s just a commitment at least once a week, hopefully more than that. I run through a beautiful park in D.C. called Rock Creek Park. And I have a particular route – it’s about a 5K run, so I’m not talking about marathons here, but enough to get a good exercise. And there’s a particular rock that is in this creek that I climb to. And I just sit there and I listen to the water and I go into a deep sense of prayer.

    And there’s a particular prayer that Father Richard Rohr, who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation, taught me. It’s very simple, but it’s based on the Psalm, “Be still and know that I am God.” And I say that all together, and then take a deep breath and center myself. And then I say just part of it. So, I basically take one part off each time. So, “be still and know,” “be still,” and then finally, “be.” And this is the kind of being — being connected to God, trusting in God, leaning on God, surrendering to God, that is so critical for this work. 

    And then, I guess the last thing I have to remember is that it’s really important to take a long view, that we can get discouraged, we can get deflated very easily by the current state of affairs, if you will, all the crises we face as a world and within our communities and countries. And I really have to remember that this battle is not ours. It’s God’s. And that ultimately, through Jesus and his ultimate sacrifice, we have the ultimate victory over sin, over death, over injustice. I mean, the cross that so many of us wear, I really take seriously, because Jesus transformed the symbol of brutality and oppression in Roman times, into our symbol of salvation and liberation. And so, that gives me strength, for sure, and gives me a sense of hope.

    Karen: It’s interesting when you describe yourself as a runner, immediately I see that scene in Chariots of Fire where Eric Liddell says, “When I run, I feel His pleasure.” And I think it’s wonderful to feel that when we’re doing what God’s called us to do, we feel his pleasure. And God does give us that sense. And I love what you just shared. It really moves me. 

    I want people . . . the last time you and I talked, we talked a lot about your book, A More Perfect Union: A New Vision for Building the Beloved Community. It’s a wonderful book. I really have enjoyed it. And I’d just love to give you a chance just maybe to say a little bit more about the beloved community. Why that title? Take us there.

    Adam: I would love to, and I did a little bit of homework before we were going to have this podcast, and just reread some of my favorite Henri Nouwen quotes. So, I want to share one that connects action and contemplation. Because that’s the other thing I just want to emphasize, is that one of the things I’ve learned as I become more mature in my activism and my career is that I used to put my action in one place over here and then my contemplation over here. And now I realize that they are like synergistically connected, right? That contemplation helps to prepare us for action. So, Henri Nouwen once said, “Christian life is not a life divided between times for action and times for contemplation. No. Real social action is a way of contemplation. And real contemplation is the core of social action.”

    I couldn’t say it better. And so, again, the more we can try to fuse these together, I think, is important. In terms of the beloved community, so, I grew up very much infatuated with the civil rights struggle. I grew up kind of in the shadow of the civil rights struggle. I was born in 1976. I talk about, in my book, a little bit of my story. My parents made the controversial decision to get married to each other in 1968. Controversial, because my mother was Black and my father’s white. And they instilled in me this strong belief that my generation inherited the unfinished business of the civil rights struggle. So, I took that very seriously as I was growing up. And as I read as much as I could get my hands on about the civil rights struggle, I started hearing about this moral vision, this concept of the beloved community.

    It showed up in a lot of Dr. King’s speeches, but also Ella Baker and Congressman John Lewis and so many others would reference the beloved community. When Dr. King had his first major victory in Montgomery during the bus boycott, in his victory speech he described that the ultimate goal of the civil rights struggle was redemption. The ultimate goal was reconciliation. The ultimate goal was the creation of the beloved community. So, for Dr. King, he understood that the North Star of the civil rights movement was this vision of the beloved community. And what’s interesting is he referenced it a lot, but he never had one speech where he fully defined it. I mean, he talked about how it’s a commitment to non-violence, to equality, to what he called agape love, this kind of unconditional, selfless love, and so we know some of the elements of it. 

    But what I realized is that this was a vision that in some ways needs to be reimagined, recast for our contemporary times. And that it’s not a vision that has been co-opted yet or caricatured yet by one particular side, if you will, or one particular voice. And so, for me, the beloved community, and this is my most succinct definition, is to build a society, to create countries and a world where everyone is valued, everyone is respected, where everyone is enabled to thrive. And where neither punishment nor privilege is tied to our race or ethnicity or our religion or our sexual orientation. In other words, we are literally affirming and protecting the imago dei in everyone. And I know that that’s a big vision, but I actually think it’s a vision that would inspire and resonate with the vast majority of people in the world. 

    And it’s not just a Christian vision, even though it’s rooted in a lot of Christian values. It’s a vision that’s rooted in a Jewish understanding of tikkun olam, the kind of healing and repairing of the world. It’s a vision that shows up in lots of different cultural traditions. And so, I make the argument in my book that we’ve got a lot of pernicious narratives and pernicious visions, one of them being the Christian nationalist vision that we talked about earlier, that are dominating our politics. And you can’t counteract a negative, pernicious vision unless you have a more positive, unifying, and inspiring vision. 

    And so, the beloved community to me is still the most hopeful vision that I think could replace and counteract some of these harmful visions. So, that’s what I really try to unpack in the book. And I talk about all of these, what I call beatitudes of the beloved community. Things like commitment to imago dei equality, to ubuntu interdependence, to radical welcome, to nonviolence, and to human dignity.

    Karen: But you used the word ubuntu. How do I say that? And what does it mean?

    Adam: Yeah, ubuntu, ubuntu.

    Karen: What does that mean?

    Adam: It is something that is a concept, a belief system, if you will, that really influenced me. Well, it’s influenced me for a long time, but I really discovered it when I went to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa in 1995, so just about, like, a little over a year after Nelson Mandela was elected the first Black president of South Africa. 

    And ubuntu, I think, is captured best by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said, “I am because we are.” It is this really deep understanding that our lives truly are interconnected or interdependent, and that I can’t fully realize my full potential unless you realize your full potential. I’d like to describe it as the Golden Rule on steroids. I mean, it very much is like the Golden Rule, but it takes the Golden Rule and then goes even further.

    And so, what I describe in my book, is this concept of ubuntu interdependence is both very much found in our faith tradition. So, when the prophet Isaiah in chapter 58 describes the kind of worship that pleases God the most, he literally describes a commitment to feeding the hungry and breaking the yoke of injustice is when not only God will be pleased, but then our light will shine like a noon day after we do those things, right? And so, it’s this understanding that our wholeness is tied to the wholeness of others. Our liberation is tied to the liberation of others. 

    And we can’t limit who that other is, because God doesn’t limit who the other is. There is no other for God; we’re all made in God’s image. And so, I think it’s this really beautiful understanding and concept that I think is an ethic that has often been missing in our Western capitalist context, and particularly in the American context. The American ethos has often been rugged individualism, which I think, at worst, has become this kind of sanctified selfishness. And that really is contrary to this commitment to interdependence that I think is found throughout our faith traditions and really should show up not just in how we treat each other, but also should show up in what we prioritize in terms of our public policy decisions and our budget decisions and more. 

    Karen: It’s interesting to me that Henri Nouwen arrived as a student here in North America at first at the Menninger Clinic, and then he went on to teach at Notre Dame and Yale, et cetera. But when he arrived, he was just so drawn to what he was seeing happening with Dr. King, and he wanted to be part of that. And when King called for the ministers to come, he came, and he marched with him to Montgomery. And then, when Martin Luther King died, he couldn’t stay away. He had to come and be together with everyone, and mourn. And so, I know at the very root of Henri Nouwen was his sense that, “This is something so important that’s happening, and I want to be part of it.” And the godly part wants to be part of it, wants to join in and be a part of this.

    I love the fact that you call this the beloved community, and you’ve explained it well. It’s interesting, because Henri took it down to the personal level. As people read Henri, it’s a very intimate kind of thing, and it tends to be – he’s basically saying, “You are beloved.” And most of us doubt it when we’re very intimate with ourselves. It’s kind of like, “How could God love me? Who I really am?” But that call, that God does see you as beloved, does see every single one as beloved, is really incredible. And it becomes the fabric that intertwines with your ubuntu reality here. I think it’s pretty wonderful. 

    Over the years, Henri made a great distinction between productivity and fruitfulness. And Sojourners has sowed seeds of justice for more than half a century. Can you share with us the fruit that’s being harvested at the intersection of faith and public life? Because I think there is a fruitfulness and there’s that whole business of a long journey in the same direction, not turning back. You can make mistakes, but you keep going. Tell me a bit about the fruitfulness that Sojourners is seeing.

    Adam: So, we as an organization, and in a broader sense, as kind of a community and movement, celebrated 50 years this last year, and we stretched over two years because of the pandemic. But in the course of that, we just had a chance to really reflect on our history. And I won’t tell all that history, but we were actually founded in Chicago, and the original magazine of the organization was called the Post American. And then about four years later, that small community decided to move to D.C., and they wanted to create a new name. And so, I found out that one of the choices was Solomon’s Portico. Another choice was The Way, and then the third one was Sojourners. And they chose Sojourners because of its real deep, deeper meaning. It literally is to be on a spiritual pilgrimage, to be in, but not of, the world. And this sense of sojourning – like when anyone ends up transitioning to new opportunities from our staff, we always say, “Once a Sojourner, always a Sojourner,” because we’re on this journey together. 

    So, I think some of the fruits that I see around us, one – and this is through some of our efforts through a broad campaign called Faiths United to Save Democracy, which we are doing in conjunction with the National African-American Clergy Network and a whole bunch of other organizations and the organization that our founder, Jim Wallis, went on to create at Georgetown, called the Center for Faith and Justice. But that campaign is literally mobilizing thousands of Black clergy and white, mainline allies and evangelical allies and people from the Latino church. And then, more recently, we brought in rabbis and in some cases imams, to be on the front lines of protecting everyone’s what we call the sacred right to vote, and to try to ensure that we do in fact have free, fair, and safe elections in the United States. 

    All non-partisan work; we’re not doing this to advantage one political party or the other. We’re doing it because at the heart of a healthy democracy is the free exercise of everyone voting. And we see it as a kind of assault on imago dei when we deny someone or we limit their ability to vote. And so, on Election Day, we have trained and then deployed hundreds and hundreds of what we call “poll chaplains.” And these are clergy that are literally in their clergy outfits, if you will, attire, who provide a moral presence at polling sites and are able to answer people’s questions, are able to direct people to a hotline if they’re having challenges, and can really be a deterrent to intimidation and even violence.

    And it’s kind of sad that we even have to say that we need that in this particular day and age, but we have seen the threat of violence at people. Toward poll workers, but also toward voters in the last couple of elections. So, to me, the fruit is like that commitment to be a moral presence, to be the conscience as I described earlier, is really inspiring. 

    The other example I’ll point to is that we helped to co-create this coalition called The Circle of Protection. And to me, it’s one of the most hopeful examples of how, despite many different theological and political differences, a huge cross-section of the church has managed to come together and advocate together to protect funding in the U.S. federal budget that helps to protect those who are most vulnerable, particularly people living in poverty or very close to poverty.

    And this started about 10 years ago, when there was a big fight over our budget, and there was an effort to dramatically reduce our deficit. And we decided in that moment to start mobilizing faith leaders to both pray for that budget negotiation, and to fast, and to make a commitment that we would advocate with our voices and with our fasting, that programs that benefit those who are most vulnerable are not included in the negotiation rounds or what was cut and what was kept. And we were successful in convincing President Obama at the time, and the Speaker of the House at the time, John Boehner, to literally take out programs like food stamps and housing assistance from the chopping block, essentially. And it ended up protecting billions and billions of dollars for programs that are literally a lifeline to those who are most vulnerable in the United States.

    And that coalition has kept together. So, it literally includes the Catholic Conference of Bishops. It includes the National Association of Evangelicals. I it includes the National Council of Churches. And they clearly don’t agree on a lot of things, but they come together in a very strategic, very committed way to advocate in a concerted fashion to ensure that we have bipartisan support for these programs that we believe are a reflection of our faith values. And so, it’s really had a huge impact ever since. 

    And most recently, we had a really huge victory in expanding this program called the Child Tax Credit that provides funding to families so they can better support their kids. And that victory literally lifted 40-plus per cent of kids living in poverty out of poverty in the United States. Now, sadly, it expired – or least, the expansion of it expired. So, now we’re now advocating to get it back. But it’s the kind of example of what can be done when we work together and we find that common ground.

    Karen: You know, America has for all of us, for nations around the world, put forth a model, the model of democracy. We never envisioned that it was so fragile, but we see that today. 

    But I would love to hear from you: What makes you hopeful when you look at the global church, because we are talking to a global audience, and this is wonderful to see the very practical, roll-up-your-sleeves, how we bring our faith to bear on the country we are in. But what do you see for the global church?

    Adam: One, I see a lot of hope in the sense that the epicenter of Christianity has really shifted to Africa and Latin America and parts of Southeast Asia, where they are finding expressions of Christian faith that I think are really, really powerful, and that there’s a lot that we in the “West” can learn from. For a long time, Christianity was in some ways over-influenced by the American church, or the North American church, and now, we’ve got this kind of real shift. And so, for example, the fastest-growing parts of Christianity are very much connected to the Pentecostal movement, and in some cases the charismatic movement, and this real emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of a really deep, personal, redeeming relationship with Christ, I think is still really needed. And it is a really powerful force.

    And so, I hope that some of that can continue to spill over into how we think about our faith and how we think about our relationship with Christ in North America. I’ve been really inspired by many Christian organizations in other parts of the world that continue to be on the front lines of meeting people’s needs. So, all across sub=Saharan Africa, in particular, the church is still one of the biggest providers of healthcare. It’s the biggest responder when a disaster strikes. And so, to me, that is like putting our faith into action to meet people’s needs, and to treat their needs as holy. 

    And then, I think that there’s some really hopeful examples of where Christians are really being bold in the context of peace-building and peacemaking. We have supported an initiative that’s actually in the Catholic community, called the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, where we’re trying to support and amplify the work of Christian – well, in this case, Catholic – peacemakers all around the world. And we’re actually trying to convince the Vatican and ultimately Pope Francis to ideally put forth a new encyclical that would really be focused on peacemaking, that would rewrite just war theory, which often puts too much emphasis on the option of war or war as a means to resolve conflict, and instead, really emphasize the call to peacemaking. So, those are some of the examples that I’m seeing. At Sojourners, we have always been connected to the global body of Christ, and both try to lift up voices of Christians that are being courageous with their faith and advancing justice in lots of different ways.

    And so, one of the things that I’m really committed to is to continue to do more of that and to also try to support a next generation of Christian leaders that are in particularly contexts where it’s very risky for Christians to speak out against injustice, either because of an autocratic government or a corrupt government or an authoritarian government. And while it’s extremely challenging, I still feel like there’s a real opportunity and a real need for more Christians to stand in the gap and to be willing to take that kind of position or role.

    Karen: I am so grateful that Sojourners exists. And for those who are listening, perhaps you don’t know about Sojourners; go to your webpage and discover it and sign up. It’s really worth knowing Sojourners and their publications. They’re excellent. And of course, I love Adam’s book, A More Perfect Union: A New Vision for Building the Beloved Community. 

    Adam, it’s a delight to chat with you today. It really is. You’re a force for good, I would say. I know that Henri and Jim Wallis were good friends, and I know if Henri had lived, he would just love to be your friend, too, because you’ve got your feet on the ground, but you’ve got a heart for action. And it is pretty exciting to see that and to see you building up young leaders and calling them forth, and maybe even providing protection for them. Thank you for being with us today.

    Adam: Thank you, Karen.

    Karen: Really a pleasure. 

    Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. What an honor for me to spend time with Reverend Adam Russell Taylor, the author of a More Perfect Union: A New Vision for Building the Beloved Community. Henri Nouwen was inspired by, and in turn, was a source of spiritual inspiration, for Sojourners when he was alive. Jim Wallis and Henri were friends. I’m delighted to see the wonderful work Sojourners continues to do now under the leadership of Adam Russell Taylor. To find out more about Sojourners and their amazing resources, go to sojo.net. 

    Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. For more resources related to this program, click on the links on the podcast page of our website. You’ll find links to anything mentioned today, as well as book suggestions. If you enjoyed today’s podcast, we’d be so grateful if you’d take time to give us a review or a thumbs-up, or pass us on to your friends and companions on the faith journey. 

    Thanks for listening. Until next time.

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