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Good News to Change the World: An Interview with Lisa Sharon Harper

I was born in Flushing Queens, New York City, January 1969. My mother tells me I was conceived the day that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. She needed comforting, she says.

My mother was raised as a Black Episcopalian, but she was disillusioned in the 1960s and kind of exchanged her faith for civic engagement. That was the choice she thought she had to make because so few churches were engaging in the Civil Rights Movement.

It’s no wonder, then, that I was not raised in the church. I was raised to be good, but not to be religious. I only saw the inside of a church about a handful of times that I can remember, throughout my childhood in Philadelphia.

John M. Perkins in 2012.
Image: Jray0203, Wikimedia Commons

So, I’m grateful that I found Jesus in high school. I’m grateful for the little Wesleyan Church that led me to faith during my first year in high school. I’m grateful for the area-wide youth group and the Methodist church where I was discipled throughout the rest of my high school years. I’m grateful for my time in Cru Inner City (then Here’s Life Inner City). It was there where I was introduced to the writings of Dr. John M. Perkins that showed me, in the middle of my all-white evangelical world, the word that God loves people who look like me and that racism and poverty matter. And I am grateful for the value for Bible-based leadership, along with inductive Bible study skills, that I received from InterVarsity. These things lay the foundation of my current ministry. I would not trade them for anything.

Most recently, I am grateful for the six years I served with the Sojourners community in Washington DC. In those years, I saw glimpses of glory as our work actually impacted the lives of millions at a time: from mobilizing evangelical clergy in Ferguson to fasting for Immigration reform to training congregations on how to love the neighbor they’ll never know through the U.S. Appropriations Budget. That, in combination with the true wisdom of Jim Wallis and the profound of intentionality of community they have been able to maintain even after shifting to a more organizational model: It really is beautiful. My feet have touched holy ground. For that I am eternally grateful.

 

PneumaReview.com: The subtitle of The Very Good Gospel is “How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right.” That brings to mind some of the most important ideas we wrestle with including hope, redemption, and acknowledging the reality of evil. What were you hoping to accomplish with this challenging investigation into what the followers of Jesus are supposed to be doing today?

Lisa Sharon Harper: Honestly, I was compelled to write this book by a disturbing question that I have been facing and wrestling with for 13 years: “What does my understanding of the gospel have to say to the deepest cries for good news that rise from the oppressed, impoverished and broken?” I took a pilgrimage 14 years ago, now. For four weeks I traveled with 25 other people, including their children and families, in one bus across 10 states, retracing two major stories of oppression in the U.S.—the Cherokee Trail of Tears and the African experience on this land from slavery to Civil Rights. My own family experienced all of these oppressions. At the end of the summer I imagined myself sharing my understanding of the gospel with my ancestor, Lea Ballard, after she had been raped for the 100th time and her children and husbands kept dying or being sold way: I imagined explaining that God has a wonderful plan for her life, but she’s sinful and, therefore, separated from God, but Jesus died for her sin, all she needs to do is pray the prayer at the back of the gold booklet and she will get to go to heaven. I imagined saying this to her. Then I imagined her response.

“Would Lea receive this as good news?” I asked. “Would this news make Lea jump and shout?”

The answer rocked me: “No.”

That sent me on a 13-year journey in the book of Genesis to investigate the biblical concept of shalom; which is what the Kingdom of God smells like. Shalom is the character of God’s rule and shalom-building is what the Kingdom of God requires of its citizens.

 

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Category: Fall 2017, Ministry

About the Author: Lisa Sharon Harper is a speaker, author, writer, and activist. From Ferguson to New York to Germany and South Africa, Ms. Harper leads trainings and helps mobilize clergy and community leaders around shared values for the common good. She is the founder and president of FreedomRoad.us (launching online Fall 2017), a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap in our nation by convening forums and experiences that bring common understanding, common commitment, and common action toward a just world. Ms. Harper is the author of several books, including Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican...or Democrat (The New Press, 2008), Left Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Elevate, 2011 & 2016), Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith (Zondervan, 2014), and the critically acclaimed, The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong can be Made Right (Waterbrook, a division of Penguin Random House, 2016). The Very Good Gospel, recognized as the "2016 Book of the Year" by Englewood Review of Books, explores God’s intent for the wholeness of all relationships in light of today’s headlines. LisaSharonHarper.com. Facebook. Twitter: @LisaSHarper. Instagram.

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