Sheryl Johnson is a white settler, born on Treaty 1 territory in what is colonially-known as Winnipeg, Canada. She is a recent graduate of the PhD program at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California where she studied Christian Ethics supervised by Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda. Sheryl currently serves as a Professor of Theology and Chair of the D.Min program at St. Stephen’s College and as a part-time minister at a progressive UCC congregation.
Sheryl Johnson, “Beyond the Church Industrial Complex: Congregations Embodying Economic Liberation”
Given the economic insecurity, precariousness of life, and intersecting forms of systemic injustice in our world, what can churches do to not only proclaim a vision of another world, but embody and make real that liberative vision through their practices? This paper will profile three examples of churches pushing back against the so-called Church Industrial Complex to create alternative social safety nets, enact racial and colonial reparations, and re-envision just what the metrics of “success” for churches should be. Drawing on in-depth case studies and interviews with pastors, church members, and church governance leaders, this paper will bring forth learnings from these three specific settings that show that justice-rooted alternatives are possible.
The paper will glean broader insights from these settings for the church at large, as well as for other communities looking to more deeply align their prophetic beliefs with their everyday practices. It will also consider the ways that churches often conform to conventional approaches, rooted in frameworks such as white surpremacy, colonialism, and neoliberal capitalism, to demonstrate what is at stake in this work. However, the focus will be on the constructive and liberative potential for churches to show not only church members but also the broader society that justice-based alternatives are possible and can change the lives of individuals, communities, and the planet.