A group of D.C. churches kicks off several months of revival meetings Sunday -- with a twist: Its main teaching text is a book called "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," by civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander. One of the leaders, the Rev. Rebecca Stelle, of the Church of Christ, Right Now, spoke to The Washington Examiner about the revivals and why she sees poverty and mass incarceration as spiritual crises.
Do you consider yourself to be of a specific faith?
I consider myself to be Christian. There are so many different ways to understand that term. For me, an important part of that is Jesus' journey toward the cross. ... He entered into the mess and the fray so that by being present with people in the mess, he could do the work of reconciliation. And because the work of reconciliation is always disruptive work to people who would rather have things divided, Jesus got into a lot of trouble, but it's precisely there that he invites us to follow him. So I want to be a Christian who understands the call to discipleship in that way.
Why did you choose Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" as the text for the upcoming revival meetings?
Her basic premise is that the same oppression that was functioning in the era of slavery, after emancipation, that oppression continued but in a different form under Jim Crow laws. And then with the end of Jim Crow laws, that oppression continued still. We no longer oppress explicitly on the basis of skin color, but we deny people rights and opportunities on the basis of whether they've been incarcerated. And it just happens that we lock up an awful lot of black and brown people. ... She gives a pretty compelling argument that it hasn't happened by accident ... and what we want to say is that reason is not of God, that it is a direct violation of what God intends for God's people.
Some people might say it's idealistic to believe churches can accomplish your goals, like ending poverty or patterns of mass incarceration. Why do you think it's possible?
I think it is more possible for the church to do it than any other entity, if and when the church is being the church in the sense that the church is drawing on the power and the spirit of God, because that's the power and the spirit that's unstoppable.
What does it mean to you that these revival meetings coincide with the 50th anniversary of key events in the civil rights movement like the March on Washington?
It is a remarkable tradition to claim and to walk in. I think the danger always when it comes to [Martin Luther] King, and to Jesus and to any of the prophets, is that we put them on a pedestal and applaud them for their good work and commemorate, but we don't pick up the mantle and take the next steps. They've laid the groundwork for us, and our responsibility is to keep it going.
At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?
My answer is pretty brief: Love wins.