Founded by Jim Wallis, Sojourners is a Washington, DC-based Christian evangelical ministry professing a devotion to “social justice” that can “transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.” Formed in 1971 by religious students enrolled at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, Sojourners was originally known as the People’s Christian Coalition (PCC). The PCC community relocated to Washington, DC in 1975, at which time it adopted its new name.
An allusion to biblical pilgrims, the name “Sojourners” signifies, to the ministry’s members, a duty to be “fully present in the world but committed to a different order.” Sojourners’ original statement of faith spelled out the organization’s key tenets:
- “Violence and war will not resolve the inevitable conflicts between people and nations.”
- “We refuse to accept structures and assumptions that normalize poverty and segregate the world by class.”
- “We believe that gospel faith transforms our economics, gives us the power to share our bread and resources, welcomes all to the table of God’s provision, and provides a vision for social revolution.”
As one of its first acts, Sojourners formed a commune in the Washington, DC neighborhood of Southern Columbia Heights. Members shared their finances, participated in various activist campaigns, and organized events at both the neighborhood and national levels. The themes of these campaigns, echoed monthly in the pages of the group’s in-house publication, Sojourners, centered on attacking U.S. foreign policy, denouncing American “imperialism,” and extolling Marxist revolutionary movements in the Third World.
In the 1980s the Sojourners community actively embraced liberation theology, rallying to the cause of Communist regimes that had seized power, especially in Latin America, with the promise of bringing about the revolutionary restructuring of society. Particularly attractive for the ministry’s religious activists was the Sandinista regime that took power in Nicaragua in 1979. Clark Pinnock, a disaffected former member of Sojourners, revealed in 1985 that the community’s members had been “100 percent in favor of the Nicaraguan revolution.”
Opposing the policies of the Reagan administration that aimed to undercut the Sandinista regime, Sojourners in the 1980s initiated a program called “Witness For Peace,” under whose auspices Americans traveled to Nicaragua and returned with reports of humanitarian disasters wrought by the Reagan-backed anti-Communist guerrilla forces. The Sojourners delegates insisted that any efforts to undermine Sandinista power violated the Nicaraguan people’s “right to self-determination.”
Writing in the November 1983 issue of Sojourners, ministry leaders Jim Wallis and Jim Rice drafted what would become the charter of leftist activists committed to the proliferation of Communist revolutions in Central America. Titled “Promise of Resistance,” this document called on activists to carry out various acts of civil disobedience in order to obstruct any attempt by the United States to invade Nicaragua. CISPES, the propaganda arm of El Salvador’s Marxist guerrilla movement, was invited by Sojourners to participate in acts of resistance in the event of American military intervention. Nearly 70,000 activists signed the document, which was sent to Congress, President Reagan, the Defense Department, and the CIA.
Steadfast advocates of the nuclear freeze movement, Sojourners members in the 1980s maintained that a U.S. nuclear buildup was “an intolerable evil” irreconcilably at odds with Christian teaching, and that “[t]he Reagan Administration remains the chief obstacle to the first step in stopping the arms race.” While assailing the Reagan defense buildup, Sojourners activists downplayed the threat posed by the Soviet Union, chastising U.S. policy-makers for their tendency “to assume the very worst about their Soviet counterparts.”
With the end of the Cold War, Sojourners turned its attention to causes such as environmentalism. In one 1990 Sojourners article, for example, writer Bob Hulteen suggested that environmental activism was a logical outlet for the notions of justice long championed by the ministry. “Justice-seeking work without concern for the earth is naïve and narrow minded,” Hulteen explained.
As the Nineties progressed, Sojourners reviled welfare reform as a “mean-spirited Republican agenda” characterized by “hatred toward the poor,” and the organization mounted a spirited defense of affirmative action. In 1995, Sojourners collaborated with many other groups to establish Call to Renewal, to “specifically focus on poverty by uniting churches and faith-based organizations across the theological and political spectrum to lift up those whom Jesus called ‘the least of these.'”
Sojourners also declared against every American military intervention in the 1990s and, more recently, the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sojourners magazine contains a feature called “Preaching the Word,” through which religious leaders who share the ministry’s commitment to reading scripture through the lens of leftist politics can receive timely news articles coupled with biblical commentary to supplement their sermons. Among the periodical’s more noteworthy contributing editors are Daniel Berrigan, E.J. Dionne, Bill McKibben, and Cornel West. An influential member of the magazine’s board of directors is David Cortright.
Sojourners also runs an internship program for “anyone 21 years or older who is single or married without dependents,” aiming to cultivate a new generation of evangelical activists.
On various matters of social import, Sojourners takes the following positions:
- Capital Punishment: “We should not take life to punish wrongful death. There is no evidence that [capital punishment] deters murder. It is easy [for courts] to make fatal mistakes … The death penalty is biased against the poor … and is racially disproportionate.”
- Immigration: Asserting that “all people, regardless of national origin, are made in the ‘image of God’ and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” Sojourners calls for “a dignified guest worker program that can lead to earned citizenship”; opportunities for illegals “already living in the U.S. … to apply for permanent legal status and eventual citizenship”; and a reduction of “the waiting time for separated families to be safely reunited.”
- Taxes: Sojourners abjures the “tax cut mentality” which “ignores ‘the least of these’—leaving them with crumbs from the feast of the comfortable.” Rejecting especially “tax cuts for the rich,” the organization opposes “budget proposals asking that the cost of the deficit be borne by the poor, who are not to blame and can least afford it.”
- Israel and Palestine: Disparaging the U.S. as a “unilateralist superpower,” Sojourners calls on America to restructure its dealings with Israel and the Palestinians by “oppos[ing] the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and support[ing] an end to [Israeli] settlements.” “A real solution,” says Sojourners, “must include a Palestinian leadership that rejects terrorism and supports the secure existence of Israel, and an Israeli leadership that grants security and sovereignty to Palestinians.”
Sojourners is a member organization of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, United for Peace and Justice, and Win Without War anti-war coalitions. It has condemned the Guantanamo Bay detention center as not only “a symbol of the U.S. government’s hypocrisy and dishonesty,” but “one of the more egregious examples of the cost of unaccountable power” — as manifested in “the abuse of prisoners” and in such transgressions as the “desecration of the Quran.”
Sojourners endorsed the October 2, 2010 “March on Washington” organized by One Nation Working Together, an event whose purpose was to inspire “an intensive voter-mobilization program for Election Day 2010.” For a list of other notable endorsers, click here.
Sojourners has received financial support from a number of charitable foundations. George Soros‘s Open Society Institute, for instance, awarded grants to Sojourners in the amounts of $200,000 in 2004, $25,000 in 2006, and $100,000 in 2007. Other noteworthy backers of the organization include the Barbra Streisand Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Tides Foundation, and the Wallace Global Fund.