Featured image: The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and stewardship of creation, and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry belt out the Lord’s Prayer in front of the White House on May 24. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service
by the Rev. Philip Major
Major is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Downtown Syracuse and participated in a May 24th prayer vigil organized by the Reclaiming Jesus movement.
On Ash Wednesday, 2018 a small group of national religious leaders, including Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, met to begin the long, complicated task of reclaiming the use of the name of Jesus as part of our political discourse. One of the results of their meeting was a letter addressed to the people of America, entitled ‘Reclaiming Jesus’. Last Thursday evening, May 24th, hundreds of people of faith participated in a candlelight procession and prayer vigil in front of the White House led by the authors of ‘Reclaiming Jesus’. We gathered to express two concerns:
The soul of our nation has become increasingly threatened in the last several years.
While some people on the political and religious right have made this argument for many decades, it was often made in ways that seemed in direct contradiction to the primary values expressed in the Gospels of the New Testament, such as:
- Prioritizing the needs and participation of the poor and those who had been considered of lower status or honor, such as women, children and widows.
- Radical hospitality for the foreigner, the stranger and for those who had been excluded.
- Servant leadership.
- A model of ethics based on love rather than on the rigid legalism espoused by the religious authorities.
For the past 40 years you and I have watched people use the name of Jesus in order to oppress those with less status and power. This use of the name of Christ as a tool of oppression has been cruel, manipulative and confusing for many of our people.
During the last several years the distortion of the Christian message has accelerated. In the words of the authors of ‘Reclaiming Jesus’: We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership. Increased use of lying, fear-mongering, hostility toward foreigners and careless disregard for those in greatest need have brought our nation to a crisis point.
The results of the misuse of the message and scriptures of the Jesus movement are seen most clearly in our young adults; even though most young adults agree strongly with the ideals expressed in the Gospels, most young adults don’t consider the Christian Church to be a place that witnesses the Gospel message of love, forgiveness and inclusion. We are involved in a great, generational struggle to reclaim the name and values of Jesus and to bring those values to bear in the life of our nation.
This struggle for integrity of Christianity was our second concern as we gathered last Thursday night:
We are deeply concerned for the soul of our nation, but also for our churches and the integrity of our faith.
This is strange and complicated terrain for us to navigate. Martin Luther King, Jr. worked to overcome the passivity expressed by many church leaders and members in the 1950s and 60s. The task for our generation is even more difficult; we are called to counteract false, oppressive uses of Christian scriptures in our churches and in the public arena. The main part of the struggle for Civil Rights for all Americans required more than 20 years of effort. Similarly, we will be working for decades to bring the message of God’s love, revealed in the words and life of Christ, as one of the guiding principles for our common political life.
Our situation is serious, so it was most fitting that our public actions last Thursday included a worship service, a silent procession through the streets of our nation’s capital and solemn prayers in front of the White House. I was inspired by the words and the unity that were on display, but I also understand that we are just at the beginning of many years of work. If we are to succeed we must understand It is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else…our identity in Christ precedes every other identity.
I encourage you to read the full text of the Ash Wednesday letter at reclaimingjesus.org. I also encourage you to not give up the hope God has given us for this time. Remember Paul’s words to the churches in Rome: “In hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” Remember that when we act in the Spirit of God’s love our strength comes from the one who gives all strength.
Presiding Bishop co-leads service, candlelight public witness to the White House (Episcopal News Service)
Bible Study, Civil Discourse Curriculum and other resources available from reclaimingjesus.org