Modern-Day Saints: Christian Leaders Who Are Changing the World in Our Communities, Churches, Seminaries and Country

11/01/2016 11:32 pm ET Updated Apr 12, 2017

Some of us are experiencing a Halloween hangover today - either the result of an intense sugar rush (and subsequent crash), a long night of trick-or-treating, or too much fun at a Halloween party. Maybe you’re experiencing all three! Our reward for having made it through Halloween? All Saints Day, the day when Western Christianity celebrates the lives of the saints – those living and passed. Tomorrow, on All Souls Day, we’ll remember the dead.

Who are the saints of the church?

If you Google “Christian leaders in America,” you’ll find a host of responses with titles like “Most famous Christian leaders,” “Top Christian leaders,” Most Influential…,” “Most Famous…,” Richest…,” “Most Fit…” etc.

While I recognize a lot of names on these lists, many of these leaders do not represent my own interpretation of the gospel, and most hold very different views on important social issues. Franklin Graham, Joel Olsten and Jerry Farwell Jr., are all near the top of almost every list, but they each represent only one perspective of the Christian faith.

While these “famous” leaders certainly don’t represent the diversity that is American Christianity, because they are the most publicized, many people assume that their views are the views of Christianity and Christians. Whether I’m at dinner talking with my kids, or visiting with college students, or chatting with AmeriCorps members completing a year of service, I find many young people assume that these leaders define what Christian Leadership is and can be. For most, it’s a real turnoff.

In the loud noise of the Internet, I want to offer a different perspective of what Christian Leadership can look like.

Below is a list of some of the Top Christian Leaders I’ve been blessed to work with in the past year. They include activists and filmmakers, pastors and professors, students and festival planers, writers and preachers, parents and politicians. They are leaders who are changing the world through grace, love, and acceptance, and through the courageous engagement and radical hospitality that [also] define the Christian Faith.

Sr. Katherine “Sissy” Corr, SND, (Trinity Washington University) is a sister with Notre Dame Demur, who for years served as the Director of Notre Dame Mission Volunteer, the largest faith based service organization partnering with AmeriCorps.

Abby Mohaupt, (Illinois Wesleyan University, McCormick Theological Seminary) is currently working on her PhD at Drew University. Her previous work includes serving as a chaplain for migrant farming communities in California’s agricultural areas. She has also been leading the charge for her denomination (Presbyterian Church, USA) to care for the earth and championed the cause of divestment of fossil fuels

Julian DeShazier (Morehouse College, University of Chicago Divinity School) leads the University Church in Hyde Park, Chicago. A busy center of activity, University Church hosts a bakery, a music school, a tutoring program, and houses a refugee. DeShazier was a major leader in securing the first level-one trauma center on Chicago’s Southside. which is a busy center of activity the hosts a bakery, a music school, a tutoring program, and a refugee who lives in the building and a leading voice in securing a Level One Trauma Hospital. DeShazier is also an Emmy-winning hip hop artist and performs under the name JKwest.

Elizabeth Chun Hye Lee (Williams College, Regent College, University of Oxford) is the Executive for Economic and Environmental Justice for the United Methodist Women. Prior to her current position, she served as Director of Young Adult Mission Services, where she worked to rebuild and expand Generation Transformation – the young adult service program sponsored by the United Methodist Church.

Javier Viera (Florida Southern College, Duke Divinity School) serves as Dean of Drew Theological School. Viera is leader with global vision, energy, and passion. His energy and integrity are providing hope and possibility for the renewal of theological education. Javier contends that "ours is a moment in history ripe for creativity, ingenuity and daring…Having the opportunity to build upon Drew’s international legacy is something that energizes me and builds upon my prior professional experience.”

Shonda Jones (Texas Christian University, Brite Divinity School) is the Associate Dean of Admissions and Student Services at Wake Forest Divinity School where she has served as a national leader in opening theological education to a more diverse and inclusive population of young adults.

Claudio Carvalhaes (Methodist University of Sao Paulo, Independent Presbyterian Seminary) is a professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and serves as a prophetic voice in the pulpit, in the classroom, and the public square.

Bill Golderer, founded Broad Street Ministry in 2005 as an alternative worshiping community that welcomed not only those from the margins of Christianity, but also those at the margins of society. In 2015, Golderer partnered with Steven Cook and Mike Solomonov to found Rooster Soup Co., a food experience that gives back to the needy. Most recently, Golderer put his career on the line when he ran for congress.

Vanna Fox (Western Carolina University, American Baptist Seminary of the West) the Senior Vice-President Wild Goose, runs an annual music festival that brings together thousands of people – many of whom have felt abandoned by their home Christian communities – for preaching, camping, fellowship, and spiritual renewal.

Karen Hernandez-Granzen (Cerritos College, McCormick Theological Seminary) is the senior pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Trenton, NJ. Westminster supports an award-winning tutoring program, and also hosts an intentional living community for young adults who are serving the city through programs like AmeriCorps.

Charlotte Collins (Oberlin College, Yale Divinity School) currently serves as the associate director of the Pace Center, Princeton University’s center for community engagement and service learning. Collins previously lead an AmeriCorps program in Bridgeport, Massachusetts.

Shannon Daley-Harris (Brown University, Wesley Theological Seminary) served as Director of Religious Affairs at the Children's Defense Fund, where she launched the Children's Sabbath, which highlights issues of childhood poverty at thousands of worship communities during the third week of October. She now leads the Procter Institute for Child Advocacy Ministries every year at Haley Farm in Tennessee. Daley-Harris recently published a book, Hope for the Future: Answering God's Call to Justice for our Children.

Macky Alston (Columbia University, Union Theological Seminary) is the founding director of Auburn Media and an and award-winning documentary filmmaker. His films focus on issues of social justice issues, including the Church’s inclusion of LGBTQ+ leaders.

Christian Rice (Ursinus College, Harvard Divinity School) brings passion, conviction and humor to his work at the intersection of faith and civic engagement. As the leader of Campus Civic Engagement Initiatives and the Director of the Bonner Scholars program at Ursinus, he has built upon the legacy of service that defines the campus and deeply impacts the school culture, the students, and the community. Christian also teaches in Ursinus’ department of philosophy and religious studies.

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