The newest wave of the Jesus Movement

By Pierre Whalon
Posted Nov 22, 2016

On November 9, I woke up in a hotel bed in New York City, after all-day meetings the day before. I had fallen asleep with the TV on. It was about 4am, and even without my glasses, I could see the huge red announcement. I soon realized that I was not dreaming…

As Bishop in Europe, I had already witnessed the Brexit vote, the rise in Germany of Alternatif für Deutschland, the extreme-right candidate taking the mayoralty of the city of Rome. Austria is poised to elect a far-right president. Poland and Hungary have new nationalist governments. Before these developments, there was the Swiss referendum to ban the construction of minarets, the tearing apart of Belgium by nationalist Flemish, and the complete turnaround of the Netherlands, from the most open country in Europe to one of the most closed. And there has been the slow but steady rise of the Front national in France, whose ideological ancestry goes back to the Vichy collaborators of the Second World War. It is worldwide.

And now this. It is no consolation that the United States of America, my homeland, the original democracy, “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” was following along, not leading. Yet.

I must confess that on that morning, in my hotel, I contemplated just finding some little town, buying a little house, and writing novels.

Such is the power of fear, that many people have felt since the election. But then I came to. No, I said to myself. I am not going to refuse to join the struggle that isn’t really new, but has risen to a whole new level of intensity.

So, no. The future belongs to God. Right onward!

We Episcopalians are being called to a new level of faithfulness in the face of renewed challenges. Will we flinch, duck our heads, cultivate our gardens? Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has made it clear that we will not. A host of declarations by, among others, the president of the House of Deputies, a multitude of my colleagues in the House of Bishops, and large numbers of rectors across the United States, have said No to fear.

As the hymn says, “We have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.”

All right. Now what?

As I noted above, this wave of deep discontent has been unfolding across Europe for some time now, and here it is now in America. Several of our churches in the U.S. have been the victims of graffiti since the election. In Paris, however, the Cathedral had already been defaced last year by people deriding our full inclusion of LGBTQ people. Security guards monitor our services. Soldiers in full combat gear guard us during our major liturgies. I was able to master my panic in New York quickly, perhaps because we have faced it together over and over since I was consecrated bishop for Europe, shortly after 9/11. Islamist terrorism, rising nationalism, anti-Semitism, attacks on synagogues and mosques, as well as churches, have been a part of our life in Europe for my entire episcopate.

There are several ways to respond, but only one is faithful, I believe. Only one can bring us peace in the midst of strife, and give us strength to do what is necessary. Bishop Curry calls it “the Jesus Movement.” He lays out three currents in the Movement’s wave, so to speak: evangelism, racial reconciliation and stewardship of creation.

What this means to me is summed up in the Beatitudes:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:1-14; NRSV)

The word translated “blessed” also can be rendered “happy.” We are blessed, meaning, God makes us flourish. We are happy, because we are being true to ourselves as followers of Jesus. And others will see what we do, and hear what we say, and thank God for us.

And some will resist, as well. Rising to the coming challenges will mean a number of things, and our experience here gives us a little taste of these.

First, the heart of the Jesus Movement is to be congregations and communities of people who welcome all. And not just welcome those who darken our doors, but to invite people in, as well. Once people have accepted the invitation, we should show them what following Jesus looks like. Those who want to follow Christ with us will also learn to invite and welcome all.

This is very difficult, of course. To invite and welcome all people means people among whom there are deep disagreements. People who voted Trump as well as those who voted Clinton, and the mass of people who chose not to vote at all. As the next administration unfolds, I think it is obvious that these disagreements will only get worse before they can get better.

Oh well. The alternative is to be flavorless salt and covered lamps, in other words, to wither away, hiding in fear.

Besides evangelism, there is racial reconciliation. What this means to me in practice is part of learning to become a people welcoming all. The Episcopal Church does not have a great track record of raising up congregations in African-American or Latino communities. That has to change, as I have been arguing for a very long time.

Many of our existing congregations need revitalizing, as well, and part of that is also becoming better at welcoming all. People have sometimes responded to my advocacy for ministry in minority communities that we should focus on building up “blended” parishes. I agree, of course: that is exactly what we have been doing here. But this also means welcoming all, starting with an interest in the cultures of other people, listening and learning from them, as well as sharing yours. We need to go beyond mere tolerance of each other.

Concerning stewardship of the creation, there are real grounds for worry that the new administration will enact policies that allow for virtually unlimited pollution, including withdrawing from the COP21 climate treaty. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion have a good record of advocating for the essential measures that the world must take in order to avoid catastrophe. The hard work is actually just beginning. There is an emerging ecumenical and interfaith consensus that Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato si, is a charter for joint efforts for change.

In particular, the document strongly influenced the enactment of the COP21 treaty, cited even by atheists as laying out the case for immediate action.

I had the privilege to address two high-level roundtables on the encyclical and the environment, one in Paris during the COP21 conference, and two weeks ago, at the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences at the Vatican. These meetings show that the Church has power to fight climate change denial (which the Pope named as a sin), and they have given me a lot of confidence that we can be part of a large coalition to halt further serious environmental degradation. The Pope has put environmental stewardship at the heart of not only social teaching, but the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church as well, tying it intimately with the poor and the economics that encourage predatory behavior by corporations.

Enough words. Time to come together and act. The Beatitudes show us the way. Our Baptismal Covenant commits us to that Way. Let us wear our safety pins, to show we are people anyone can safely talk with (it’s not anti-Trump!). If a “Muslim registry” gets passed, let’s all register ourselves. Let us continue to bring communities and police forces together to address violence against African-Americans and Latinos, and police officers as well. All lives matter, or no lives matter. All our 7,000 congregations in the U.S. can take public actions to show we demand care for the creation.

And this is but a drop in the wave of the Jesus Movement. It does not drown people, it washes us and makes us fit for the Kingdom of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s get with the flow!