Listen: Rev Jim Wallis speaks to Stephen O’Doherty on Open House. Above: Some of the Christian leaders signed onto the #ReclaimJesus declaration, including Rev Jim Wallis (centre), Rev Michael Curry (in purple robe) and Rev Dr Sharon Watkins (in white robe). Source: All images from Sojourners.
Bishop Michael Curry, famous for preaching at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, has joined forces with a diverse collection of Christian leaders to launch a Jesus-centred campaign of love.
It’s the “Reclaiming Jesus” campaign, kicked off with a candlelight rally (May 24) attended by 3000 people opposite the White House in Washington, DC.
More than 20 Christian leaders are heading it up, include social activist Jim Wallis, theologian Ron Sider, pastor and author Tony Campolo, Catholic priest and writer Richard Rohr, and racial justice leader Sharon Watkins.
That American politicians are misusing Jesus’ name for selfish, racist and divisive agendas. And that it’s time for Jesus’ followers to “take back” that name, and stand for His teachings of love, equality and unity.
The group has released a stirring video (above) declaring their beliefs. It’s all about racial and gender equality, servant leadership, caring for the poor and the refugee, and caring for other nations, not just America.
Jim Wallis, who once served on a faith advisory group for President Barrack Obama’s administration, told Open House that “Reclaiming Jesus” isn’t a political movement—it’s a faith-centred one.
“This declaration is more theological and Biblical than political,” he said. “We have these binary politics, left and right, and I want to say, ‘don’t go left, don’t go right, go deeper. Let’s get back to Jesus.
“The early Christians said ‘Jesus is Lord’, and when they did that, people heard them saying, ‘Caesar is not – no other political ruler is’. So let’s get back to the life, death and resurrection and teachings of Jesus – and what does that say for our public life.”
Where Has America Gone Off-Course?
America is more racially divided now than it has been in decades, says Wallis: not just in public life, but in the church, too. He believes evangelical Trump supporters have been blinded by a racist, white-centric worldview.
“I’ve never seen such racial division in the body of Christ in this country since maybe the civil rights movement,” he said. “Racial bigotry is an assault on the image of God. Genesis chapter one [says] we are all made in God’s image and likeness. And the continual use of racial hatred, fear, and division that this administration does, is not just a political issue for us, it’s a theological issue.”
“We have these binary politics, left and right, and I want to say, ‘don’t go left, don’t go right, go deeper. Let’s get back to Jesus.”
It’s not only racism the Reclaiming Jesus group are pushing back against. They’re also troubled by degrading attitudes to women, government-sanctioned lies, and a nationalistic “America First” policy that marginalises other skin-colours and nations.
“The body of Christ is the most diverse human community on the planet…which is why we said in our declaration that the idea of ‘America First’ is a theological heresy for the international body of Christ,” Wallis said. “I don’t believe in ‘America First’.
“We are one body. Which means the mistreatment of women, misogyny, is against the whole body of Christ. When lies are invading our public sphere, that’s a theological issue. Jesus said leadership is servanthood… so we will resist authoritarian rule in this country because we’re Christians.
“All those questions for us are theological issues, not just political ones. We’re involved in spiritual warfare now. This isn’t just an American problem. It’s around the world.”
But Isn’t an Anti-Abortion President a Win for Christianity?
Wallis, when challenged about Trump’s pro-life, anti-abortion policies, said that one specific policy isn’t enough to embody the ways of Jesus.
“I’m pro-life: but a consistent ethic of life,” he said. “We care about children after they’re born [too], not just before they’re born. And the policies of this administration are not pro-life. They may be pro-birth, but they’re not pro-life. You want a consistent ethic of life.”
“We Are Not the Religious Left”
Wallis is adamant that Reclaiming Jesus is not a political alternative to the evangelical right, but a discipleship movement, guiding believers back to the fundamentals of their faith.
“You’ve heard about the religious right in America and now you have something like that in Australia,” he said. “I don’t want to be the religious left, as opposed to the religious right. So we’re not that. We’re talking about, what does it mean to reclaim Jesus?”
He wants to provide a voice for the many American believers who are uncomfortable with party politics, but want to see change.
“A lot of Christians are saying ‘I don’t want to be that kind of Christian and just ignore what Jesus said and did, for political power’.
“Many churches are silent. They don’t support what’s going on, but they’re risk-averse. They don’t want to say anything, they’re afraid they’ll lose their jobs, [afraid of] politically divided congregations.”
Diverse Views on Same Sex Marriage
Not all the signed-up leaders in the Reclaiming Jesus movement share the same view on hot-button issues like same sex marriage. Tony Campolo and Reverend Michael Curry, for example, are both known for their public support of marriage equality.
But Wallis says that’s no reason for conservatives to write off the #ReclaimJesus movement.
“Back to Imago Dei,” he said. “We’re saying, ‘all of us are made in the image of God. This came up at our retreat. In the room we had legitimate theological differences about gay marriage and gay ordination. But everybody needs protection.
“Love our neighbours, Jesus said. So [we need to think about] how do we love and protect people while respecting different Biblical interpretations…”
“‘LGBTQ are all initials that stand for people who are beloved of God. Everybody needs to be loved, everyone is our neighbour. Love our neighbours, Jesus said. So [we need to think about] how do we love and protect people while respecting different Biblical interpretations of those kind of issues?
He said the whole aim of the movement is to unite people from diverse cultures and points of view.
“This is uniting people across a lot of boundaries and spectrums,” he said. “We’re saying, ‘that neighbour [who] is different from you, Republican, Democrat, left, right, black or white, gay or straight, they’re neighbours. And so how do we love and protect them?’
“Let’s respect our genuine differences theologically on some of these controversial issues, which the Lord will sort out over time. In the meantime we want to put Jesus first.”
The campaign is now being rolled out in many churches, with more candlelight vigils being planned, and the website, reclaimingjesus.org, provides resources for congregations to think more deeply through the issues.