Presiding Bishop, others begin campaign to ‘reclaim Jesus’ in US culture

By Episcopal News Service staff
Posted Mar 22, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] A group of Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders, including Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, have begun what they call a campaign to “reclaim Jesus” from those who they believe are using Christian theology for political gain.

“We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches,” say the 23 signers of the statement. “We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.”

The group says the church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ, while the government should serve the common good by protecting justice and peace, rewarding good behavior while restraining bad behavior. “When that role is undermined by political leadership, faith leaders must stand up and speak out,” the signers say, citing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. who said the church is the conscience of the state, not its master or its servant.

“Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis” offers six “affirmations” of what the group, currently 23 strong, believes, “and the resulting rejections of practices and policies by political leaders which dangerously corrode the soul of the nation and deeply threaten the public integrity of our faith.

“We pray that we, as followers of Jesus, will find the depth of faith to match the danger of our political crisis.”

In summary, the signers, in their the affirmations and rejections, said they believe:

  • Each human being is made in God’s image and likeness, and therefore, “we reject the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership.”
  • We are one body and, therefore, “we reject misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women that has been further revealed in our culture and politics, including our churches, and the oppression of any other child of God.”
  • “How we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself,” and, therefore, “we reject the language and policies of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God.”
  • “Truth is morally central to our personal and public lives,” and, therefore, “we reject the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life.”
  • Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination, and, therefore, “we reject any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule. … They raise deeper concerns about political idolatry, accompanied by false and unconstitutional notions of authority.”
  • Jesus “tells us to go into all nations making disciples,” and, therefore, “we reject ‘America first’ as a theological heresy for followers of Christ.”

The statement says in its conclusion that “our urgent need, in a time of moral and political crisis, is to recover the power of confessing our faith. Lament, repent, and then repair.”

The Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, and Curry began talking earlier this year about the need for such a statement. The signers agreed to the wording of the statement at an Ash Wednesday retreat that Curry hosted at the Episcopal Church Center in New York.

“I joined with other Christian church leaders on this confession of what faith in times like these require,” Curry said March 22 in a statement to Episcopal News Service. “When faced with social issues, our Church has not been silent and we will continue to strive for justice and peace. Our role is one of moral leadership for our nation, for our church, for ourselves.”

The “Reclaiming Jesus” message, Wallis said in a March 22 commentary on the Sojourners website, needed to be “something that would be much more than just another statement to sign and then file away.

“Rather, with a shared humble spirit, we felt called to act as elders for a time such as this and to commend our message to the churches for a process of prayer, study, reflection, and action.”

Wallis called his commentary “Reclaiming Jesus: How Confessing Faith Can Respond to a Moral and Constitutional Crisis.”

The signers have set up a website, Reclaiming Jesus, where the statement and a one-page summary can be downloaded. There is also due to be a collection of resources in addition to a five-week “civil discourse curriculum” that already has been released.

The signers currently include:

  • Bishop Carroll A. Baltimore, President and CEO, Global Alliance Interfaith Networks
  • Rev. Dr. Peter Borgdorff, Executive Director Emeritus, Christian Reformed Church in North America
  • Dr. Amos Brown, Chair, Social Justice Commission, National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.
  • Rev. Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary
  • Dr. Tony Campolo, Co-Founder, Red Letter Christians
  • Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
  • The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church
  • Rev. Dr. James Forbes, President and Founder, Healing the Nations Foundation and Preaching Professor at Union Theological Seminary
  • Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary Emeritus, Reformed Church in America
  • Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale, Senior Pastor, Ray of Hope Christian Church, Decatur, GA
  • Rev. Dr. Richard Hamm, former General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Rev. Dr. Joel C. Hunter, Faith Community Organizer and Chairman, Community Resource Network
  • Rev. Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita, The Wesleyan Church
  • Bishop Vashti McKenzie, 117th Elected and Consecrated Bishop, AME Church
  • Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., Co-Convener National African American Clergy Network
  • Dr. John Perkins, Chair Emeritus and Founding Member, Christian Community Development Association
  • Bishop Lawrence Reddick, CEO, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Fr. Richard Rohr, Founder, Center for Action and Contemplation
  • Dr. Ron Sider, President Emeritus, Evangelicals for Social Action
  • Rev. Jim Wallis, President and Founder, Sojourners
  • Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, Director, NCC Truth and Racial Justice Initiative
  • Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Convener, National African American Clergy Network; President, Skinner Leadership Institute
  • Bishop Will Willimon, Bishop, The United Methodist Church, retired, Professor of the Practice of Ministry, Duke Divinity School

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Comments (174)

  1. Andrew Poland says:

    So I guess that means that political conservatives need not apply? How sad.

  2. PJ Cabbiness says:

    This is the epitome of irony. This statement is political and hypocritical. It clearly promotes a theological agenda wherein the primary driving purpose is to create a post modern, leftist, revisionist, Marxist, mythological Jesus while at the same time rejecting the true Christ as presented eternally in Scripture. The formation and presentation of the statement as submitted differs from the subject matter being condemned only in the fact that it is originating from a different point on the political spectrum.

  3. An excellent statement and long overdue. Many thanks to the leaders of churches and organizations that follow the risen Christ. Let us reclaim the Jesus of the gospels.

  4. I’m proud to see our Presiding Bishop included in this admirable list of progressive theologians and Church leaders. Bravo.

  5. Donald Caron says:

    PJ, please help me locate places in what is “presented eternally in scripture” where the propositions of this movement are shown to be opposed to the word, action and spirit of Jesus.

  6. Carl L Worrell says:

    As much as I admire and support the statements, white supremacy and misogyny are not the only issues. This current administration is a disaster when it comes to marginalized groups. I refer particularly to the LGBTQ community and the disabled community.

  7. The Rev"D Dr. Suzi Robertson says:

    I commend our spiritual leaders who have been bold enough to step forth with this very Christian statement, to which we should all subscribe. Thank you for clarifying what so many appear to have lost, and may God keep you safe and strong. May God also sustain you as we continue to work for justice and peace.

  8. Sandy Stadtfeld says:

    Love God; Love one another. No conditions. That is anything but politically divisive.

  9. Phillip Carrigan says:

    There is nothing in this statement that supports the conclusion of other of your post.

  10. Mary Mosley says:

    As Jesus says in the Gospels, we are to love God first and our neighbor as ourselves, and he always showed compassion for the poor and downtrodden. I am glad American church leaders are standing up for Him and His message today. It’s the same message Pope Francis has been sharing throughout his ministry.

  11. Gordon Fuglie says:

    Hallelujah!! This convening and solidarity is a grand Lenten blessing! Depressingly, the great majority of evangelicals have found their Baal-idol in white-privelege Trumpism and pseudo-christian nationalism. Let’s reclaim and heal our contested terrain for the loving and liberating Jesus – our heart’s truest home! Yours for the ECUSA Jesus Movement, Gordon L. Fuglie

  12. J Amato says:

    I am so glad to read this! Daily, I see more and more people turned off by Christians who are not following the teachings of Christ to love your neighbor, feed the hungry, etc.. It distresses me that the unloving, judgmental image of Christianity is being loudly proclaimed. His message is lost in this political maelstrom. I fear we may lose a generation to this skewed image.

  13. Bob Adair says:

    Full disclosure…….I’m not religious – at all. I have however read the book, and am relieved that powerful people in the Christian denominations are really trying to do what Jesus taught. The hypocrisy of the hard right christian conservatives is maddening, and hard to debate from outside their circle. These people are a breath of fresh air

  14. Vicki Gray says:

    As someone who has served in Germany, is steeped in European history, and trying hard to follow Jesus, I have often felt this past year that this is our Niemoeller moment. Thank you for bringing the Confessing Church to America in our time of peril. I pray that this time it is not too late.

  15. Charles Reynolds says:

    PJ: What was the intent of “post modern, leftist, revisionist, Marxist, mythological”? Was it your intent to label yourself as a pre-modern, rightist, reactionary capitalist who believes in the traditional Jesus? Is it possible that Jesus could love both of us?

  16. Jim Wiant says:

    A politically conservative Christian should have no problem with this statement. How could a Christian be for “white nationalism”, “misogyny”, mistreatment of the oppressed, lying and authoritarian rule?

  17. Mary Spence says:

    I’m very thankful to see this strong statement from leaders in so many churches, encouraging faithfulness to Jesus and the use of a process of prayer, study, reflection and action.

  18. Susan Salisbury says:

    The implication is that our current president, who has appointed more women to actually powerful positions than almost any president in history, is a misogynist. ( Sara Sanders, Kelly Anne Conway, the new CIA Director). He clearly isn’t. But facts are apparently no longer relevant. It appears that progressivism has replaced Jesus Christ as the center of spiritual belief in Episcopal leadership.

    1. Gordon Fuglie says:

      Susan Salisbury: Having attended one of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Canon Stephanie Spellars traveling “Jesus Movement” revivals, I can tell you that you are mistaken that they have displaced Jesus from the center of “spiritual belief.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

      What is happening nationally is a major shift in direction of Christianity and this includes on many fronts a renewed orthodoxy — but an orthodoxy addressing 21st century situations. For example, Evangelicalism is riven with the rise of nationalism and white cultural identity – neither are Gospel values and are heresies. As for the Episcopal church, my sense is that a new generation of leaders will supplant the too-secularized and aging 20th century leadership (adios, John Shelby Spong!) Stay with Jesus and join with others to labor with Jesus to heal our broken world.

  19. Andrew Poland says:

    It saddens me greatly that Church leadership has decided to become divisive in such a way. I am a person of faith. I also tend to be economically conservative and socially liberal. What this says to me explicitly is that there is no place left for me in the Episcopal Church. I am 29 years old. I do not go to Church to hear what others think about this politician or the other. I go to Church to learn about and worship God.

    Before any Church starts telling me how to vote or spend my money, perhaps I ought see their example. The Church used to be the safety net for the homeless, the alone, the fringe, and all others in trouble. If your parents kicked you out of your house, you could go sleep on a church pew. If the bank took your house, the congregation would find a way to temporarily shelter you. Then the government came along and relieved us of the burden of that joy. Now we want “social justice”, but the last time I looked my church’s doors stay locked pretty regularly.

    I went through some horrible things lately. My church knew about it. After I started having a hard time showing up to church, I didn’t even get a phone call. All I can think is that supporting or shepherding your actual parishioners and other local people in need just isn’t as sexy a photo-op as hooking up with the Social Justice Movement. That’s not to trash my individual parish. I can totally understand that finding a way to reach out to people you know are hurting is difficult. That’s why our Church’s focus should be on training people how to do that.

    As a “Conservative” christian, I do not like the current political climate. I think people are mean. I think all of this has become unnecessarily fever-pitched and shrill. I think most of our elected officials are shameful. I think it is even more shameful and heretical to take an entire church and point it in the direction of a specific political movement. The great thing about being an Episcopalian is that we are catholic and not particularly evangelical. We are universal. Or rather, we were. Apparently politically conservative leaning people are no longer welcome.

    The thing that really sucks, is that I don’t know where else to go. I was born in this church. I agree with many of the socially progressive ideas (women in the priesthood, acceptance of the LGBTQ community), but in terms of churchmanship and the general direction that we are heading, it breaks my heart. My church is no longer the same as my mother’s, or my grandmother’s. My church would hate those churches today. That’s really heartbreakingly sad.

    The messed up part about all of this is that I think the initial feint was to try to make it look like this was going to be non-political and neutral. That’s lying directly to our faces. That’s sinful and wrong. If the church was going hard-right, I’d be just as upset. The facts wouldn’t be changed that the actual work of the church is not being done. There are still many on the fringes and many in the flock who suffer who are being ignored at a parish level all the way up to bishops and primates. You’re not courting my generation. You are pushing us away. Church is supposed to be a sanctuary away from Trump and Pelosi and their blow-hard crap. To see that not only do we not have that sanctuary anymore, but our actual needs are second to that is a profound rejection.

    Just my two cents that no one of any importance will read. I guess I should start thinking where else I can go. Shucks.

  20. william dailey says:

    Amazing! The God that made America great has been abandoned. America First as a belief and movement is no longer considered worthy of pursuit. America has been and is the destination of people around the globe who want freedom and a better life but that is completely ignored. I believe the Church fully understands the importance of America in the world and wants no part of it. All the platitudes in the statement cannot hide that fact. Perhaps the accomplishments of America will be appreciated and celebrated by the Church but the denial of American greatness in the statement makes me wonder when that will ever occur.

  21. Donald Heacock says:

    If the real Jesus stepped out of the Bible this Holy crowd would have him arrested an tried Crucified ASAP. Are they not High Priests & Sanhidren of liberal Christianity. Look who is not there? Any Orothodox. Where are the.Cardinal Dolan Franklin Graham. You get the Picture

  22. Jim Newman says:

    Under the law the Church should now register as a PAC ( Political Action Committee).
    Or, at the very least, the socialist wing of the Democratic Party. In time only the most radical progressives will be left in the pews….SAD.

  23. Joe McCauley says:

    I notice the absence of any mention of LGBTQ+ persons

  24. Timothy West says:

    I had to read the list twice to find the “Roman Catholic leaders” and finally found Fr. Rohr. Good luck with this mission. I fear the battle is already hopelessly tilted. The adversaries have been fighting the battle for years with no strategic advantage in sight.

  25. Fr Christopher Stainbrook says:

    I don’t see any Roman Catholic leaders on this list….

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