When Adam Taylor entered Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in 1999, he was uncertain about his future. He had just spent a turbulent post-college year in New York City working under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The death of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo had set off angry demonstrations, and Taylor, whose father is white and mother is African American, found himself in a familiar role, trying to facilitate conversation and reconciliation. He also wrestled with a call to ministry while leading young adults at Brooklyn's Emmanuel Baptist Church. He felt a complete disconnect between his concept of pastoral ministry and his passion for political advocacy.
At Kennedy, Taylor found Jim Wallis, founder of the progressive Christian organization Sojourners, who was teaching as an adjunct professor. Wallis's class "connected the dots on so many things I cared about," says Taylor. "So much of why I care about social justice is because of my faith." Newly invigorated, Taylor helped found Global Justice, a student movement that works for HIV/AIDS relief. He later joined Sojourners' staff and in his spare time pursued ordination jointly with the American Baptist and Progressive National Baptist denominations. In August 2009, he began a one-year appointment in the prestigious White House Fellows program, established by Lyndon B. Johnson to expose talented young professionals to government administration.
Question & Answer
How do you connect your faith with social justice?
My social and economic justice activism is rooted in trying to live out Jesus' call in Luke 4 to "preach good news to the poor … to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." As much as I feel a calling to speak truth to power around issues of injustice, my participation and membership in a local congregation help to keep me grounded and hold me spiritually accountable.
I seek to go deeper in my relationship with Christ through prayer, Bible study, contemplation, running, and devotions. Each feeds my spirit and helps to order my steps in the context of my activism.
What social justice issue matters most to you?
The overriding passion of my life is to combat poverty, both internationally and domestically. Poverty is the worst form of oppression. It assaults the very dignity that God has given every one of us. Martin Luther King Jr. understood that the next frontier was economic justice. That's why he died in Memphis, where he was fighting for decent wages for garbage workers.
It's almost criminal that 40 years later the minimum wage is lower than it was then [adjusted for inflation]. I feel like we have had 40 years of wandering in the wilderness for economic justice for all Americans. One in eight families is living in poverty. They could be lifted out. That is a real moral imperative, and an issue that Christians should be united around.
How are Christians doing at that?
There has been a real shift in the American church, particularly among younger Christians engaging social justice. Work needs to be done equipping young leaders with tools and skills in how to engage the political world. A gap exists in the church between where opinion is and where action is. But there are lots of good signs.
More: WhiteHouse.gov/about/fellows, Sojo.net
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Previous "Who's Next" sections featured Matthew Lee Anderson, Margaret Feinberg, and Jonathan Merritt.
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