Celebrating Five Years: A Conversation with Katie Thompson

Assistant Editor Olivia Schoffstall recently asked Katie Thompson, Program Director and Editor, to reflect on what Shared Justice has accomplished in the last five years.

I can’t believe Shared Justice has been around for five years now. How did it get started?

            Shared Justice's Katie Thompson

Shared Justice started as a conversation amongst college students. During the summer of 2012, a group of interns at the Center for Public Justice dreamed up a platform that would offer a new and refreshing vision for how Christian college students and young professionals could engage in politics. Later that year, I joined the CPJ staff to help bring that vision to life. As a recent college graduate who studied journalism and political science, I was in a good place to get the publication up and running.

I often joke that as a college student, I was exactly the type of student we are trying to reach today with Shared Justice. I cared about justice issues and participated in various ministries, but I was completely aloof as to what politics had to do with it. Looking back, I can see how much I have grown with Shared Justice. I hope that our readers have too.

In your own words, what is the goal of Shared Justice? How has it expanded over the years?

The Center for Public Justice has a long and rich history of equipping Christians to participate more fully in their role as citizens in the public square. But until 2012, there really hadn’t been an explicit focus on equipping the next generation with these ideas. We wanted Shared Justice to do the same thing for Christians in their twenties and thirties–especially those who are tempted to opt out of politics. We wanted to provide a framework for lifelong, sustained civic engagement. The mission of the Center for Public Justice is to equip citizens, develop leaders, and shape policy, and I truly believe we’ve been able to do all three of those things at Shared Justice.

With the creation of Shared Justice, we now had an avenue to communicate directly with Christian millennials. In the beginning we did that through regular online content at SharedJustice.org. Today, over 130 people have written for Shared Justice. We’ve covered everything from the school to prison pipeline and the opioid crisis to DACA and affordable housing. Shared Justice quickly evolved beyond the .org presence: we’ve hosted events at dozens of college campuses, spoken to hundreds of students, produced policy reports on topics like paid family leave and payday lending, had nearly a dozen interns, hired Juvenile Justice Fellows, launched a Student-Faculty Research Prize, released the book Unleashing Opportunity, and more.

Our goal is to help young people recognize that God has a good purpose for government, in addition to a host of other civil society institutions that have a unique role to play. It can be hard to feel like political engagement matters (it does!). But as Christians, we’re called to participate in this work.

What were you observing about civic engagement among millennials when SJ was founded?

When I was in college, I saw firsthand the desire of so many Christian college students to actively serve the poor and vulnerable–be it through serving their local community, or embarking on an international mission trip. There are so many faith-based organizations and ministries that welcome the energy, enthusiasm and availability of college students in serving others. Young people take seriously Scripture’s call to love our neighbors.

During my tenure as Editor for Shared Justice, however, I realized that many college students and young professionals hadn’t yet connected this call to love their neighbor with their role as citizens in a political community. Despite millennials being frequently touted as one of the most cause-driven generations, it was clear that many Christian millennials hadn’t thought about the way that government policies, systems, and structures impact the populations that they serve and care most about. So we, along with our initial group of contributors, set out to reframe the conversation, and to talk about how there is indeed a way to love our neighbors through politics.

What has surprised you about the way Shared Justice has developed over the past five years?

I’m continually amazed by the passion and growth of the Shared Justice community! For five years we’ve run a publication fueled by young people who are passionate about exploring the intersection of their faith with politics. We started with maybe three or four contributors, and today we’ve surpassed 130. Our Shared Justice community has embraced our mission and truly made it what it is.

How do you think Shared Justice will maintain its relevance in the future?

In the last year, young people have told me that engaging in politics didn’t feel optional anymore. Yet many of these same people expressed feeling “politically homeless”. Many in the Shared Justice community are hungry for a framework that equips them to thoughtfully engage as Christians in the public square. My hope is that Shared Justice will be able to continue to provide that framework for young adults, and ultimately I hope that the ideas and principles that a college student might encounter will provide the foundation they need for a lifetime of civic engagement.

What’s the easiest way to get involved with Shared Justice in the New Year?

Shared Justice is proof that that there is a generation of Christian young adults who are committed to pursuing public justice– not just sporadically, but consistently and as a lifelong calling. We’d love for more people to join this community. There are lots of ways to get involved with us: from writing, to signing up for monthly updates, to attending an event. If you are a person who is interested in the intersection of faith and politics, I’d encourage you to reach out to me at katie.thompson@cpjustice.org. I’d love to talk with you!