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. Fr Christopher Stainbrook says:

    I don’t see the names of any Roman Catholic leaders on this list…

  2. Suzanne McLarnon says:

    My heart has been so grieved all year. Thank you all for this. We have to make the true church visible.

  3. Amanda J Smith says:

    I hope this fine list will add many more women.

  4. william dailey says:

    In my earlier comment I should have disclosed that I am a theological heretic. Those who made me this should have shown more respect for church members who are raising a family, getting started in their lives, who work hard and sacrifice more than a little to place their hard earned cash in the offering plate each Sunday, to pay in part , YOUR SALARIES. What have we done to be treated thus. We raise our families, serve our country, protect our towns and appreciate the blessings of Freedom handed down to us at great sacrifice..
    To basically excommunicate us is shameful. The edict closes admonishing us to “Lament, repent, and then repair.” I for one am not putting on that hair shirt to assuage your misguided opinions.
    Having laid my feelings on the line I would ask that the radical proclamation of heresy be withdrawn. If this is not done I would ask, respectfully, that the proclamation be repeated so there is no misunderstanding on this matter in the future. At that point decisions can be made about our future in a christian community.

  5. B Higgins says:

    This statement is temporary. Based on the sixth principle, it purports to a specific political interest rather than any biblical principle. Notwithstanding the facts regarding the validity of the claims of the failed political opposition, any such statement puts in question the entirety of the proclamation as well as the motives of the drafters and signers. The notion of a necessity for discourse fully separates the Church from the people of this great country. Discourse against who? The body of this Church is a cross section of all Americans. If all are accepted as they come in the door, then those who serve on a corporate board are equal in standing to those organizing the food pantry to serve the homeless. It’s likely, in many cases, they are one and the same. The parable of the Good Samaritan should be consulted again. This proclamation has nothing to do with love. It is about hating the good neighbors all around you. It is paranoia in a thin veil. As it reads, it is not healthy for the congregants, and it is not healthy for the Church.

  6. Margaret Capozzolo says:

    I am surprised by some of the comments that follow this article. As I read it, none of the bullet points are in conflict with anything I as a Catholic Christian have been raised to believe is part and parcel of being a Christian. Why does anyone see them as being radical or anti-conservative. If they seem to go against the current political climate, that is not the fault of the tenets proposed but rather the fault of those in power who seem to oppose those principles, e.g. the stated principle that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives. Any argument there? I’m sorry but I don’t understand what there is for a conscientious conservative Christian to be upset about in this statement.

  7. Charles Dalmas says:

    I love it when people say that Marxist Christ is mythical. Actually, Christ is, in Scripture, the epitome of socialist/Marxist. He throws the moneylenders out of the temple. He even tells his followers to pay their taxes. You know, all that, “Render unto Caesar,” stuff, right? He says those who abase themselves will be exalted and that those who exalt themselves will be abased. The love of money is the root of all evil, and that’s capitalism in a nutshell. Also, who is the Bible’s ultimate capitalist? Judas, that’s who. You know, the dude who sold out the boss for 30 pieces of silver?

  8. Charles Dalmas says:

    Also, I find it interesting that the man who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance preached that Christ was a socialist. Hah. When I tell conservatives that, they usually blow their tops and call me a liar until I provide valid citations about Francis Bellamy being an anticaptialist. The conservative members of the church through him out of the priesthood. Yet, conservatives say the Pledge with great reverence.

    The deal is simple. Christ was a socialist. That whole bit about “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” and also “loving others as Christ himself loved the Disciples” are firmly communal concepts.

  9. mike geibel says:

    Dear Andrew Poland:

    Your post was accurate, sad and reflective of my own disillusionment with Episcopal Church. Today’s Church is not the Episcopal Church where I was raised and baptized, where in my youth I was an acolyte, a member of the boy’s choir, a member of the Church Boy Scout Troop, and where later I was married, my children were baptized, I served on the Vestry and all persons of whatever political party were welcome. Those days are gone forever, and so am I.

    Church leaders are fooling no one with what is nothing more than a “We hate Trump” manifesto that reads like an abstract proclamation from a partisan, religious cult. The TEC leadership finds evil in anything or anyone who disagrees with their official anti-Trump, anti-capitalism and anti-America agenda, and uses trigger words like racism and social justice in an effort to justify their own anti-white, anti-male bigotry. I’m not a Trump fan, and like you consider myself fiscally conservative, pro-enforcement of laws, but socially liberal. Fortunately, I have found a small, growing church with an inspiring pastor who asks that we leave our cellphones, umbrellas and politics at the door. Many others also have left the Church to find new places of worship, or sadly have stopped going to church altogether.

    Whenever an activist priest or Bishop shows up in the news, scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find a dying Church. For a Church that markets itself as inclusive, the Episcopal Church’s politicking has not made very many converts.

    I question whether the leadership can “reclaim Jesus back into US Culture” when it is they, not Jesus, who have abandoned the mission. Politicians come and go, and Trump will end up a footnote in history. Hysterical over-reaction to his personality flaws renders the TEC blind to the most serious issue posed by our younger citizens: “Does God exist and is the message of Christ real?” The ranks of “nones” and non-believers is growing, not because of Trump, but because progressives and Church leaders declare the importance of “me, the victim” and believe that identity politics is more important than hard work and merit. The TEC spends its time and capital on preaching no guns, no cars, no genders, no borders, and demanding abstract “social justice” so that everyone will be equally poor and equally unhappy.

    If the mission is to spread the Good News, the loss of 35,000 members in 2016 alone (and counting) tells me the Episcopal Church has earned the grade of “F” on the most important mission of the Church.

  10. B. Willard says:

    This is a beautiful declaration. We must strive to love one another.

  11. Larry Waters says:

    I agree that racism, actually bigotry but racism “sounds better”, is to be abhorred. However, the statement seems to be attacking people who are white [actually a “color” not a race as we all know]. What is white nationalism anyway??? I thought that the EC adhered to the principle that all people are equal in God’s eyes; now it seems that the cause de jour is to blame “white people” for horrors perpetrated by people in the past, some of whom were white; some of whom were “black”. I hope that the EC reverts to treating people equally, no matter their race; presently, however, it seems that white folks are out favor in the EC!

  12. Hugh Grefe says:

    While I understand, and even expect that politically conservative people may find this a difficult statement to accept, I hope that all who read it will consider it’s message deeply. So often we hear today of a “war on Christianity” or on “Christmas” or in some other way we are encouraged to fear others and to believe that “they” are attacking Christians. Unfortunately, many of those making such claims are politicized public leaders of religious bodies who clearly are advancing a secular agenda. I welcome this statement of reclaiming Jesus; it is not a statement that attacks, but instead challenges and invites. I agree that the church can and should be the “conscience of the state, not its master nor its servant.” I am troubled that there is no explicit mention of others who often are marginalized: LGBTQ folks and those with disabilities come to mind immediately.

  13. Ted Gemberling says:

    Andrew Poland, I think you’re confused. You have an idealized non-political vision of the church that probably never existed. You want the church to be a “refuge from Trump and Pelosi.” Somehow you think the church could take care of the needy without the government. This reminds of an anecdote I heard a few years ago. Someone saw a presentation on the work of a social service organization in West Alabama. Someone in the audience said “it’s great that you’re able to do all that good and you’re not part of the government.” The speaker responded, “well, 90 percent of our funding comes from the government.”

    I think you need to ask yourself how committed you really are to helping the needy. I think your libertarian fantasies are more important to you.

  14. Leo Schuman says:

    It speaks volumes that the most divisive issue in modern Christianity – the equal dignity of LGBTQ people – is completely ignored by this statement.

  15. Ted Gemberling says:

    Mike Geibel, notice the statement says nothing about accepting homosexuality as a good lifestyle. The authors realized they had to avoid that topic so they could bring evangelicals like Jim Wallis into the group. See my response to Andrew as well.

    I know that you and Andrew didn’t talk about homosexuality. You both said you were socially liberal. But exactly what is unbiblical about those six points?

  16. Scott Ball says:

    I searched for the leaders of denominations other than Presiding Bishop Curry the Episcopal Church and found none.

  17. Kenneth Knapp says:

    It sounds to me like they are merely imitating the Christian Right in trying to use Christian theology for political gain.

  18. Charles. K. Roberts says:

    I welcome this statement of unity in the authentic Christian mission but cringed at reading that the signatories are “reclaiming Jesus.”

    He never was taken from us and has never left our side.

  19. Jennifer Newbold says:

    With all due respect, I observe in these comments that we have quickly divided ourselves between the “in” and the “out,” those who say “I belong in this camp,”and those who say “what about me?” It is our nature. But don’t we see? What are we so afraid of? There are no walls or fences in this statement. Jesus does not exclude anyone; we are the ones who create the walls and fences.

    Your humble servant, JLN

  20. Tom Suydam says:

    I think it is overall a wonderful statement and I certainly support it as far as it goes. Its just that this time, the omission of LGBTQI really glared. And I’m tired of giving human institutions a pass by not speaking up. I say I have had two coming outs: one in terms of my sexuality and the other in terms of my faith. I know too, too many LGBTQI people who are deeply cynical about God and Jesus, in my mind justifiably so given their repeated condemnation and exclusion by “followers” of Jesus. The exclusion in the statement does not help bring them any closer. If we truly want to reclaim Jesus, we cannot limit the scope of his love.

  21. Lynn Hade says:

    Editors: is PJ Crabbiness a real person? Looks like we’ve been trolled.

    1. mfschjonberg says:

      PJ Cabbiness is real.

  22. Which Jesus are you proposing to represent – the “son of man” who lived in Galilee, a prophet who preached and demonstrated God’s love, compassion and grace OR Jesus “the son of God” whom the christian church introduced in the 4th century?

  23. Lynn Hade says:

    And now I will stand up for the statement itself. Andrew Poland, being a ‘lifelong Episcopalian,’ looking back fondly at youthful service as an altar boy, choir member, scout, etc, does not mean that one is a life long follower of Jesus. Sorry, but as a clergy person, I have to call that for what it is: idolatry. Worshipping the form of Christian worship rather than the author of our salvation. You may well have served on vestry and celebrated significant life events in the church, but where is the place of our Baptismal Covenant in your life? I, for one, am glad that we are returning to the centrality of Jesus as the teacher of love, mercy and justice for the marginalized. Any deep reading of the whole of Scripture reveals that picture of God. Why be a Christian at all if the central teachings of Jesus are not also our central faith claims?

  24. Did anyone pay attention to Andrew Poland’s post?

  25. Drew says:

    “…and the oppression of any other child of God.” I don’t enjoy nitpicking but why is the LGBT+ community continually neglected from dialogue. I understand the above comment was like a blanket statement for us, but that’s not good enough. Why can’t these leaders mention us by name? Perhaps maybe some of the signers don’t share the same concern for all of the oppressed minorities?

Comments are closed.