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Reclaiming Jesus (May 18, 2018)

There are some days when I’m proud to be a Christian. This is one of them.

I’ve written before of times when other Christians are an embarrassment to me—

  • when they claim that members of the LGBTQ2 community are not welcome;
  • when women are not permitted to exercise leadership in churches;
  • when “Christian” leaders cozy up to Trump and others political leaders in order to gain influence and power for themselves;
  • when the same so–called leaders claim that natural disasters are God’s angry judgment on sinners;
  • when Joel Osteen refused to open the doors of his church to those trying to find a place during the flooding in Houston after Hurricane Harvey;
  • and so on. There are far too many examples to list them all here.

Bu sometimes we get it right. I am rejoicing today about the upcoming launch of a statement called “Reclaiming Jesus Declaration: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis”. (you can find it online at www.reclaimingjesus.org).

The statement will be publicly launched on Thursday, May 24 at 7 pm EDT. Church leaders and other Christians will gather at the National City Christian Church in Washington DC for a time of prayer and preaching. At 8:30 pm they will process to the White House where they will hold a silent candlelight vigil until 10 pm. More than 1,000 people are expected to take part.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners says that “the church service, the procession to the White House, and silent candlelight vigil is planned as a response to the moral and political crises at the highest levels of political leadership that are putting both the soul of the nation and the integrity of Christian faith at stake. We call upon all Christians to remember that our identity in Jesus precedes every other identity.”

The Statement is signed by 22 leaders, including Jim Wallis; Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of The Episcopal Church; James Forbes from Union Theological Seminary; Ron Sider from Evangelicals for Social Action; Bishop Will Willimon from the United Methodist Church; Tony Campolo, founder of Red Letter Christians; Richard Rohr; and Amos Brown of the National Baptist Convention. It’s a broad coalition of Christians working together in a time of crisis.

The opening two paragraphs issue a stark warning, followed by a call to action: “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. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.

“It is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else—nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography—our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. We pray that our nation will see Jesus’ words in us. ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).’”

The declaration was issued as the result of a number of concerns with both the policies of the Trump administration, and the style of governing exhibited by the current White House. It calls Trump’s “America first” policy “a heresy for followers of Christ,” and goes on to say, “while we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal.”

The strongly–worded statement speaks out against other policies on the environment, immigration, and its treatment of the poor, as well as the authoritarian political leadership of the current administration and its neglect of public service and accountability.

The statement also hits out at gender–based violence and misogyny, saying: “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.

“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. We lament when such practices seem publicly ignored, and thus privately condoned, by those in high positions of leadership. We stand for the respect, protection, and affirmation of women in our families, communities, workplaces, politics, and churches. We support the courageous truth–telling voices of women, who have helped the nation recognise these abuses. We confess sexism as a sin, requiring our repentance and resistance.”

The statement affirms the centrality of speaking truthfully. “Truth is morally central to our personal and public lives. Truth–telling is central to the prophetic biblical tradition, whose vocation includes speaking the Word of God into their societies and speaking the truth to power … Therefore, we reject the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life. Politicians, like the rest of us, are human, fallible, sinful, and mortal. But when public lying becomes so persistent that it deliberately tries to change facts for ideological, political, or personal gain, the public accountability to truth is undermined.”

It is a strong statement which calls followers of Jesus to a more faithful journey together. It concludes, “We are deeply concerned for the soul of our nation, but also for our churches and the integrity of our faith. The present crisis calls us to go deeper – deeper into our relationship to God; deeper into our relationships with each other, especially across racial, ethnic, and national lines; deeper into our relationships with the most vulnerable, who are at greatest risk … “It is time for a fresh confession of faith. Jesus is Lord. He is the light in our darkness. ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12).”

Rev. Yme Woensdregt