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


Comments (172)

  1. mike geibel says:

    Mr. Fuglie:
    You’re right, I should not have said Ms. Clinton hates white men–that was unkind.

    But she did say in her campaign: . . . half of Donald Trump’s supporters belong in “a basket of deplorables” which she described as consisting of “the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic – you name it.”  I understood she was talking about white men in particular.

    As to corrupt–why were emails deleted and cell phones destroyed?

    The Democrats have Ms .Clinton to thank for the election of Donald Trump. If we want to kick out Donald Trump, let’s pray less devise and more moderate Democrats run for office. I’ve voted across party lines many times.

  2. B Higgins says:

    The references to communism as a nature of Jesus are disturbing. Jesus was apolitical. Period. He worked among all people showing love and compassion for all. As referenced in my earlier post. This statement is divisive by nature. That is proven by the comments on this thread. It is a destructive position that will lead to a path of failure.

  3. Jerry Egel says:

    I was hoping with the first bullet would have issued a statement such as “….therefore we reject unconditional use of abortion to take what God has created in our nation on many fronts, including….”. I guess it’s too difficult to face the truth. Seems like Progressive Liberalism is the now new religion.

  4. Ted Gemberling says:

    John Miller, thank you so much for your thoughtful response to Andrew, which show real sensitivity to hat he is going through. I did not.

    I think conservatives who object to this statement need to recognize the timing. This is a special time. Churches didn’t make such a statement during the administrations of Bush or Reagan. They would not have done so if Romney had been elected in 2012. So why now? (To be continued.)

  5. Ted Gemberling says:

    I have to make these posts short because my phone keeps putting me back in my Yahoo inbox.

    My answer to that question is that the Republican Party has gone crazy. I am serious here. Trump would not have been nominated if you he party we’re in a normal state. You need to realize hat for all his criticism of big government, Reagan was an optimist. The best example off this is he signed the EMTALA law in 1986, which mandated hospitals had to give care to people whether or not they could pay. He was optimistic that our capitalistic health care system could take care of everybody to some extent. And the law makes perfect sense: do we really want to be a society where people collapse on the street and we pick up their bodies and throw them away?

  6. Ted Gemberling says:

    So what changed? Reagan was optimistic, too optimistic sometimes. Of course making hospitals treat people with no money drives up the cost for he rest of us. All Obamacare did was spread the cost more evenly over the citizenry.

    The point I’m trying to get to is that I believe few rank and file Republicans really believe in the optimistic ideas of Reagan anymore, particularly the idea that cutting taxes on the rich will benefit everyone and not drive up our debt.

  7. Ted Gemberling says:

    There was always a certain amount of nativism in the Republican message. As early as Goldwater and Nixon you can see part of the appeal of the party is about, “protecting like you and me against those people.” I think with the loss of optimism, the party:s message has become nothing but that. If many Republicans had believed in the ideas of Reagan and Bush, Bush III or Rubio would have been nominated.

  8. Ted Gemberling says:

    Of course I meant to say “protecting people like you and me” there. I’m sorry if I confused people.

    Mike emphasized immigration a great deal, and I wanted to say I agree mostly with him. I want to be compassionate to people around the world, but many of our own citizens are hurting. We need to raise the national minimum wage, and we can hardly do that if people can always hire someone under the table for less.

    I’m off my soapbox now! Thanks for considering these things.

  9. Mary Barrett says:

    Andrew and Mike,
    I hope you find the church you are looking for. There are a lot of good Christians out there, we just have a lot of variety. It has sometimes been hard for me to fit in any organized church, but at 62, I actually think things are better at some churches. Keep looking and praying.

  10. Anne Hollis says:

    I remember in 2016 Michael Curry was backing the person in the Supreme Court case in which a transgender student was pushing to make all public schools and places allow both biological sexes to use whichever bathrooms they chose. Just because I don’t believe this is a good idea, but still believe we should all love each other and no one should be bullied- all equal under the law, does this mean I , as a conservative, will eventually be kicked out of my church? My Episcopal church that I’ve been a part of since I was a child? Are these leaders advocating excommunication of conservative leaning church goers? I don’t understand!

  11. Hap Connors says:

    Thank you to these faith leaders who are putting Christ back into Christianity.

  12. mike geibel says:

    To Mary, thank you for your kind thoughts. I have found a non-denominational church were I now go home after services uplifted and inspired. I wish you the best at your chosen Church–we are all Christians looking for peace and reconciliation in a better World.

    To Ted, I think we probably agree more than we disagree. But the efforts by media pundits to psychoanalyze why conservatives or Republicans went for Trump is based upon misguided stereotyping of people into identity boxes based upon their party affiliation, region of residence, their religion, or the color of their skin. I have a simpler view. The leadership of the Democratic Party went alt-left, and the leadership of the Republican Party went “weak,” leaving people frustrated and angry. Many people of both parties simply reject political correctness as a religion or political platform, reject the “open borders, one world order” agenda of the left, and are concerned about the direction the country was headed. Trump was a hand grenade thrown at the leadership of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

    1. Gordon Fuglie says:

      Mr. Geibel, you mischaracterized Democrats by accusing them of an “open borders” policy. In truth, they support a path to citizenship within legal procedures. Under POTUS Obama, deportations rose to record levels, and illegal immigration began to recede. The only exceptions were from El Salvador and Honduras where violent criminal gangs have threatened ordinary life, causing their citizens to flee for a better life in the US. Similarly with Syria. In all cases, applicants go through a rigorous vetting process on the path to US citizenship.

      How do you define “political correctness?” What is it?

  13. Janet Clere says:

    Maybe others were invited, but didn’t want to join in! After all, there are a few really big differences in the ways we interpret the the precepts that Jesus put forth in the New Testament! Today is Palm Sunday: first we praised Him, then we called for His scourging and crucifixion, and, finally, we built a Church around Him that encircles the world!! We are called to Him and willingly embrace Him. We try to live as He commands (all in a nutshell in Mark 12:30-31 and Matthew 28:19-20), but often fall to other ideologies (money, politics, “causes”) until something or someone strikes our heart and brings us back to the fold. This paper isn’t perfect. I also felt a shift into a political stance. But it is a beginning, and maybe, as more become involved, it can be improved upon in a PRAYERFUL CHRIST-LIKE WAY!!

  14. Kenneth E Bordner, Rev. says:

    I am gladdened to see this clear and bold statement and to add my assent. It’s hard for me to understand objections to the inclusive and generous attitude expressed in the statement. We are indeed at an exciting turning point in the history of the relationships among spirituality, religion, and politics

  15. Donald Caron says:

    Mike, you are probably right about the spirit of the nation that shaped the election. What our religious leaders seem to be saying Is that there is an alternative agenda that was enunciated by Jesus. They want Americans to hear this alternative agenda and give some consideration to its possibilities for changing this country and this world. It is not a “ me/us first” agenda, and it will not be accomplished without a change of heart that can embrace the idea that I might have to give up something so that someone else might be better off.

  16. John says:

    It saddens me that the Episcopal Church would use Jesus to justify individual’s personal hatred for Donald Trump.

  17. Priscilla Maumus says:

    As an Episcopalian, I am proud of all these faith leaders for standing up for true Christian values and calling out the behaviors of relgious and political leaders who claim to be Christian but either behave in ways contrary to the example of Jesus or conspicuously look the other way when others do.

  18. mike geibel says:

    Dear Mr. Fuglie:
    This comment section is not about me and it is not about you. Your obsession is tiresome. You chose not to respond to my questions to you so let’s make this my last response:

    I define “political correctness” as a belief that language and practices which could offend personal or political sensibilities should be eliminated through vilification and censorship of policies, actions and language deemed to offend a a particular group of people in society. Used properly, it can have positive results, but it has been carried to the absurd.

    Insisting on referring to “human kind” instead of “mankind.” Eliminating the use of masculine pronouns. In public and mixed company, you must say “Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas,” and “Merry Christmas Cards” are offensive to persons of other religions.

    Using the term “white privilege” as a form of institutionalized racism instead of using the term “racism” to mean prejudices and bigotry held by individuals, and the use of “white supremacy” to refer to American society as a whole, rather than limiting its use to fringe groups like the Aryan Nations, Neo-Nazis and the KKK.

    As for laws and actions calling for political correctness, Governor Brown in my state of California signed a bill into law which will allow students to use whatever bathrooms and showers that they choose “consistent with his or her gender identity.” The Education Code was amended to read: “Transgendered students in California will now have the right to use whichever bathrooms they prefer and join either the boys’ or girls’ sports teams, . . .” In San Francisco, authorities have installed small plastic “privacy screens” on library computers so that homeless men can continue to exercise their Constitutional “right” to watch pornography at the public library, hoping that children will not see it.

    Politically incorrect speech is viewed as hurtful, and if you dare cross the line, even inadvertently, then you are labeled with such vile, insulting names such as “racist, homophobe, islamaphobe, misogynist, sexist, etc.”

  19. Randi Sanders says:

    Sadly, many commenters are judging and condemning this initiative before it gets off the ground. Please open your hearts and minds and allow God to work through each and every one of us. Remember Isaiah 55:8. While the article does not explicitly say so, it may be that other Christian leaders will yet sign on.
    Fr. Stainbrook, please note that Fr. Richard Rohr is a Roman Catholic and a signatory.
    Andrew Polland, it pains me that you feel so alienated from your parish and – from the sound of things – are likely to turn completely away from the faith community rather than seek another congregation. May the Spirit guide you to a place of peace.

  20. This is incomplete. There is no mention of full inclusion and social justice for LGBT children of God. I am disappointed, but not surprised. The list of names clued me in before I even read the affirmations. Plus the title and trust of this post is misleading (or blind) in the assertion that it is a new thing, “begin campaign” to reclaim…as if this is not something that faithful leaders have been doing for a very long time in and outside of America. United Church of Christ comes to mind in case you need a place to look for folks who have been doing this work and affirming these things (and more) for a long time.

  21. In the full statement, which presumably all the previous commentators have read, is this paragraph:

    II. WE BELIEVE we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class (Galatians 3:28). The body of Christ, where those great human divisions are to be overcome, is meant to be an example for the rest of society. When we fail to overcome these oppressive obstacles, and even perpetuate them, we have failed in our vocation to the world—to proclaim and live the reconciling gospel of Christ.
    My guess is that the term Identity is intended to cover orientation, rather than attempting to list all the abbreviations currently in use for the ever-broadening variety of orientations and gender identities.

  22. PJ Cabbiness says:

    Mike Geibel. Thank you once again for your excellent, thoughtful and accurate analysis.

  23. Ted Gemberling says:

    John and Kimberly,
    Keep in mind that the document does call for a compassionate society. In a compassionate society, LGBT people will be treated with consideration even if churches don’t necessarily affirm their lifestyle. I think they had to narrow the scope of the statement some in order to bring as many churches in as possible.

    Notice it also says nothing about abortion. A number of commenters have pointed that out. I would argue that the pro-life movement was originally a humanitarian thing. Pro-life leaders like Francis Schaeffer in the 70’s would have favored using public funds to support mothers and their children. But in an odd way, the Roe vs. Wade decision created an opportunity for Republicans. By making abortion rights a judicial matter, it took them out of the realm of legislative compromise. Libertarian Republicans could now vote for candidates like Ronald Reagan because they figured Roe vs. Wade would protect women’s right to choose. If you doubt this, let me say I know a Republican who looks at it exactly that way. Of course the libertarian Republicans would have no interest in supporting mothers and children. I think some of the evangelicals who signed onto this statement would recognize that as a serious contradiction. It doesn’t make sense to make women have children if they have no way of taking care of them. If you’re not offering support, you are only being self-righteous in saying, “I’m better than you. You weren’t careful, and now you have to have a baby.”

  24. Donald Heacock says:

    Farther Richard Rohr is a Priest in the order of Saint Francis (unless he has left the order) As a member of the order he owns nothing, pays no taxes. He is not even a leader in his order. He can be as liberal as he wants & pays no price for his belief. This all a hate Trump rugue. I suppose Bill & Hillary are your Christ servents? Finally name me a Leader of any country in the world that went last Christmas. Having trouble try Vadamire Putin & Donald Trump. Trump even went to an Episcopal Church. Ponder that while your membership melts away.

    1. Gordon Fuglie says:

      Mr. Heacock thrusts forward all the hateful politics and pseudo-Christian grievances of the white right that put a “pornography pal” into the US Presidency. Don’t see any of the wisdom or love of Jesus in his post. Probably shouldn’t have expected it, either.

      1. Donald Heacock says:

        I voted 2 times for Bill Clinton & I was opposed to his Empeachment. Who was a real Porn President. I don’t care about your political beliefs but to put forth a progressive democratic belief system as a my religion offends me no end. I think the IRS should remove the national church exempt status & allow each church apply for exempt status

        1. Gordon Fuglie says:

          Mr. Heacock, I didn’t ask you how you voted in the past. (And Bill Clinton did not seek out pornography performers or pay them. He and his wife have been married for some 35 years. Trump is on wife #3, and counting.)

          So, I ask, what runs counter to the Gospel of Jesus in this statement and what offends you about it?: “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.’ ”

          If you don’t know what white nationalism is or does, visit the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center to review their chronicle of various news sources on white nationalism in our time.

  25. Ted Gemberling says:

    Yes, he puts attendance at a church last Christmas as the mark of a Christian. That’s setting the bar awfully low.

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