Sojourners Magazine has replaced Jim Wallis as editor-in-chief. Wallis remains president of the advocacy group Sojourners. The move comes after an on-going controversy over his decision to remove an article critical of the Catholic Church’s stance on racism.
The new editor-in-chief, Sandi Villarreal, was asked by Wallis to replace him.
In defense of his editorial decision, Wallis argued that whatever merits of the article they were superseded by the need to protect Sojourner’s advocacy work by maintaining good relations with the Catholic Church. The move to separate the leadership of the magazine from Sojourners is designed to preserve the independence of the magazine while protecting the advocacy work of Sojourners.
Two members of the staff resigned in the wake of the removal of the article. The article, The Catholic Church has a Visible White-power Faction, has since been reposted to the website.
As the controversy played out online and within the organization, two associate web editors, Dhanya Addanki and Daniel José Camacho, publicly resigned from the publication.
Addanki said that the article’s removal plus “three years of experiencing this toxic environment” as a Dalit woman and woman of color pushed her to leave.
“I’m unable to continue my role here in good conscience,” Camacho said in a public statement on Aug. 10. “It’s become clear that I cannot stay here without compromising my own values and commitments to social justice, journalistic integrity, and honoring diverse and marginalized voices.”
The removal of Martin’s article, he wrote, reflects “a larger and troubling pattern when it comes to editorial standards and treatment of staff.” Camacho also said there were “strong, non-transparent restrictions” on publishing stories related to LGBTQ issues and women’s reproduction. In emails to Sojourners staff, Camacho had urged Sojourner’s leadership to post a genuine apology and reinstitution of the article.
After news of Wallis’ replacement broke, Camacho said that it had only happened because two editors of color had resigned after their concerns were dismissed.
“What a shame,” he wrote on Twitter. “This wrong needs to be corrected in many ways beyond just prayer.”
Several writers and free-lancers also said they would no longer work for the magazine.
National Catholic Reporter, reporting before the shakeup:
An article alleging that the Catholic Church has a white power faction was unpublished by Sojourners magazine, prompting backlash from other Catholics over the decision, the public resignation of two of the magazine’s editors, four public statements from the editor-in-chief attempting to provide clarification, and ultimately an apology, for the magazine’s decision, and a temporary suspension from publishing new articles from outside contributors.
The controversy surrounds the article, first published online under the headline “The Catholic Church has a Visible White-Power Faction” and appearing in the August issue of the print magazine under the title “Harboring a Culture of Hate.” The essay was penned by Eric Martin who teaches religion at the University of California Los Angeles and was arrested for countering white supremacist’s protests in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.
…In an interview with NCR, Wallis said the decision to unpublish the article was the most agonizing in the nearly 50-year history of the publication and was made in an effort to prevent a break-up of the Circle of Protection, which he describes as “our broadly ecumenical coalition over ten years that has been remarkably effective in preventing deeper budget cuts to the most vulnerable.”
Among the members of the Circle of Protection are Catholic Charities USA and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with representatives from other ecumenical organizations. Wallis told NCR that he was contacted by members of both organizations, as well as other members, who expressed “outrage” at the article, and rather than risk the article’s leading to a potential break-up of allied anti-poverty groups, he made the “agonizing” and “most difficult” decision to pull the article down.
Further, he said that the editorial tensions resulted from the fact that Sojourners is both a magazine publication and an activist organization and that this episode tested the compatibility of that dual mission.