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Welcome to the search for America. Here you'll find an increasing set of interviews and thoughts as we collect clues to the American Identity. Hope it helps make you feel closer to people.

A Disciple of Justice in Jackson

A Disciple of Justice in Jackson

Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Katie has very fond memories of her childhood. She has an older and a younger sibling, the former living in Nashville and the younger in New Orleans. She went to Jackson Preparatory School, one of the well-known private schools in the suburbs of Jackson.

Some of my favorite memories were with my community. I was really involved with my church, and I remember going over to my friends houses from church, playing outside and running around on the streets. On the weekends, we would just pile into my parents’ Suburban and drive around Jackson. Sometimes we would get on the Natchez Trace, an old trading route that runs along the Mississippi River, riding along with the windows down while listening to NPR. I feel like Garrison Keillor narrated a lot of my childhood.

Raised in a Methodist Christian family, Katie talked about how family and community were really important to her growing up.

There’s this statistic that people like to throw out: Mississippi is the most charitable state in the country. Giving back to our communities, whether that be through community service projects at our school or service work we did through our church, those were things that our parents stressed to us. Like the Bible says, ‘To Whom much is given, much is expected.’

The Church has always been a big part of Katie's life. She was baptized at the Galloway United Methodist Church in downtown Jackson, the same church her parents got married in. She remembers spending a lot of free time there, whether that be practicing with her church choir or getting involved with some of the church's youth programs. It instilled within her a passion to serve others through the outlet of the church: a career as a Methodist Minister.

My Church community has obviously been hugely impactful in forming my life, and has also influenced my vocation. When I was 14, I felt that God was calling me to ministry and to social justice. There’s a passage in the Old Testament that says, ‘what does God require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.’ So, I started the process of exploring what I could do to serve God, the Church, my community, as a career. At my Church, there was always at least one female pastor on staff. So it wasn’t weird to me, as a young woman, to think ‘oh, maybe I should be a pastor.’

Despite living a comfortable life with her family and community, Katie recognizes that not everyone in Jackson had the same privilege. Jackson is a sharply segregated city with an underfunded public education system, resulting in public schools with disproportionately higher underpriveldged minority populations. In contrast, wealthier, often white families can afford to send their children to elite private schools like Jackson Prep or Jackson Academy.

I know this city has a history. For me, and my upper-middle class white privilege, it was nice. I know plenty of folks who lived just a couple of blocks away from where I lived, were zoned to a different school and have completely different experiences in terms of quality of life based on economic and racial status.

But this wasn't something that Katie was always aware of. It was through her courses and experiences at Millsaps College, what she playfully calls "the liberal bastion of higher education in the state of Mississippi," where she learned more about the history of racial politics, civil rights and institutional racism.

The one experience I remember in particular that tremendously changed my perception of the city I was born and raised in was during a summer where I was interning with my church’s youth ministry. We took a civil rights tour in Jackson with a retired Methodist clergyman named Edwin King, a strong civil rights advocate in Jackson. We were taking a tour of the city, and he was showing us different buildings, mentioning “oh yeah we took college students here to stage sit-ins to force integration.”

Her experiences in college forced her to expand her understanding of social justice past her own church community to those neighboring her's as well. Her experiences learning about other communities redefined the term "social justice" for her, and equipped her with a new resolve to help those who are underserved.

Just the experience of going to college and having my worldview dramatically expanded, realizing it’s just not about old me in this little old world, it’s also about the teenage girl five blocks over that way who might already have two kids. It might be about the twelve immigrant families living in the three-bedroom house, because that’s all they can afford. They might be limited on where they send their kids, and they might be limited in calling 911 if they’re robbed because they’re worried ICE is going to come and deport them. It really broadened my worldview.

For Katie, understanding Jackson's past and expanding her worldview were not the only big change that came from college. Early on in her undergraduate education, she came out as Lesbian to her close friends, then to select family members, and eventually, publicly. While she admits it was a difficult process opening up to her conservative parents, Katie believes she has known of her sexuality for a long time.

Looking back at it, I knew I was gay when I was four years old. I didn’t tell another human being till I was in college. For nearly 20 years, I lived a repressed, closeted lifestyle because it seemed that good Christian girls don’t do that. I remember the one openly gay kid in high school get the hell beat out of him, and I thought to myself, I don’t want that. So I pretended to have a crush on Jonathan Taylor Thomas. But you can only lie to yourself and others for so long.

I also spoke to Katie at length about reconciling her Christian values and teachings with her own sexuality. She believes the belief that the teachings of the bible and homosexuality are compatible. The notion that Christianity is anti-LGBTQ+, according to Katie, is purported by people who take the Bible as the literal word of God as opposed to a fluid text, translated from a multitude of languages and transformed over time.

This is the multimillion dollar question that the denomination is wrestling right now. Can we as Christians reconcile the complexities of human sexuality with scripture? There are a handful of passages in the Bible that we say speak to homosexuality. But you got to remember, the Bible wasn’t written in English — it was translated from Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Aramic. The Bible that sits in the pews on Sunday morning did not get printed off from God’s word processor. Homosexuality, as we know today, is a relatively recent term. When the Bible talks about homosexuality as a sin, people take the term at face value without looking at its context. The word “homosexual” didn’t exist then. When we think about the action that would have been considered the sin there, from how I understand scripture, it’s not speaking to loving consensual adults of the same gender. I feel that those New Testament passages are speaking about pederasty — having an older, adult male taking on a younger boy in a sexual relationship. So it’s that exhaustive work, of sitting down with folks, telling explaining to them that while their pastor has told them that the Bible is the literal word of God, it’s a lot more complex than that. And a lot of people just don’t want to hear that. They don’t want to have their faith and value systems questioned.

Despite the fault lines that may exist between her and other Americans, Katie still reaffirms her belief in an America that comes together in the face of adversity, in the name of faith and community.

When I think of America, I think of how we, as a community and a nation, responded to 9/11. I was 12, almost 13 at the time, and that’s when I learned about the United Way and the American Red Cross. I’ll always remember driving by the local blood bank when we went home, and remember seeing the line out of the door every day, people rolling up their sleeves, ready to donate blood for the victims of the attack. I can still see that unity through adversity, I see that after Hurricane Katrina. Seeing after years afterwards, community groups and church groups would come here specifically to participate in demolition and rebuilding. At our best, we as Americans are people who care for another and care for our communities. But at our worst, we circle the wagons and are only concerned with taking care of me and my own.
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