July 5, 2022

Sojourners Writer Speaks at Human Rights Week

by Daniel Simonds ’17


Xenophobia is defined as fear of the stranger. Gordon Social Justice Initiative (SJI) brought a Convocation speaker to campus who quelled this fear from multiple angles — biblical, political and sociological.

Lisa Sharon Harper, Chief Church Engagement Officer at Sojourners, said, “Moses coming out of hundreds of years of enslavement now wrote, ‘All humanity bears the image of God.’ And it’s revolutionary because, what does it do? It democratizes power.”

The author of the Book of Genesis, Harper said, is writing from the perspective of someone coming out of oppression. This treacherous context of the creation story better aligns with Harper’s great-grandmother’s experience as someone who birthed 17 children as a breeder for her slave masters, than with a liberal arts undergraduate’s more comfortable walk with the Lord.

Lisa Sharon Harper. Photo by Daniel Simonds

Harper said that this perception changes the way we read Luke 4, in which Christ delivers his first sermon.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because it has appointed me to preach good news to the middle class.’ I’m just testing you. No, [the good news is said] to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,” Harper said. This was Christ’s first message.

Harper described systematically what the idea of “showing Christ’s radical love” looks like.

“If you are made in the image of God, then you are human. If you are human, then you are called by God and created with the capacity to exercise stewardship of the world,” she said.

But currently, Harper said, the U.S. federal government is preventing minority groups from fully exercising their God-granted stewardship via repressive refugee and immigration policies.

Sentilissa Khamrang ’19, a SJI member, recalled from her lunch interaction with Harper asking, “‘How can I (myself) help indigenous people gain a voice without stealing the show?’ Now she looked at me and said, ‘Where are you from?’ I replied, ‘India.’ And she looked at me and said, ‘You have to be part of the stand, you have to embrace your race and take the spotlight.”

Khamrang said, “I can tell you that, after that, I had a new sense of pride in my heritage.”

Harper has spent the last 14 years “swimming” in the book of Genesis. Through her deep study, she can easily relate one scriptural mandate to the issue of xenophobia.

“We actually have one of the first commandments that is given in Scripture and that is to migrate — to move over the whole face of the Earth, to cover the Earth,” Harper said.

Instead, “hierarchies of human beings” have been created so some will be ruled by those deemed more worthy to exercise dominion.

However, she continued, this is breaking the command of God: exercising dominion in a way that doesn’t serve all. It is exercising dominion in a way that says, “Eh, God doesn’t know what God’s talking about.”

Harper emphasized her central claim and said, “When we govern in a way that dismisses, diminishes, even crushes the capacity of any people or people to exercise dominion, then we are also diminishing, dismissing, even crushing the image of God on Earth.”

The A.J. Gordon Chapel audience hushed to silence, as Harper said she would let the idea “sit for a minute.”

Harper provided a biblical precedent to the contemporary issue of xenophobia. Luke 1, Harper said, begins with the historical context of the Virgin Mary’s annunciation. King Herod had attempted insurrection, ordering thousands to die on the cross.

“In those days, Mary got a message. And her message was one that made her sing and shout and what she’s saying was, there’s going to be a reversal. ‘The low will be brought high, and the high will be brought low,’” Harper said. It is during this time that the kingdoms of men reckon with the Kingdom of God.

64 percent of Americans do not support Syrian refugee resettlement in the country, according to an August 2016 Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll.

SJI member, Kodi Haney ’18, was stirred to action by Harper’s original rhetoric on combatting widespread xenophobia.

“By loving and welcoming “the stranger” we are engaging in activity that is directly advancing the Kingdom of God on Earth. Wow. That rattled me and really motivated me to think about small ways I personally can act everyday in opposition to xenophobia,” he said.

SJI member, Maggie Cashman ’18, explained how Christians today can respond to Christ’s instructions on service.

“We have an opportunity as a nation right now to embrace people from all over the world by welcoming immigrants and refugees and showing Christ’s radical love,” Cashman said.

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