An impressive group of 19 American Christian leaders -- Protestant, Evangelical and Catholic; black and white -- shared a retreat together this past Ash Wednesday. I would like to use this column to offer some highlights of their published letter, "A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis." (Read the entire text online at reclaimingjesus.org.)
This ecumenical group believes now is a "perilous and polarizing" time. They speak to Christians saying, "It is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else -- nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography. ... 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 group asserts "the church's role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ. The government's role is to serve the common good by protecting justice and peace, rewarding good behavior while restraining bad behavior (Romans 13)." They open their text with the foundational claim, "Jesus is Lord."
"If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar was not -- nor any other political ruler since." The writers ask what "Jesus is Lord" means today for Christians. Their answer is six affirmations and six rejections.
Their first affirmation is that "each human being is made in God's image and likeness" (Genesis 1:26). Racial bigotry is to deny of the image of God in some of God's children.
Therefore, they reject "the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest level of political leadership." The writers commit themselves "to help dismantle the systems and structures that perpetuate white preference and advantage." To be silent is to be complicit in bigotry. They name as a "public sin" any "strategies that use racist resentments, fears, or language."
Secondly, they affirm that "in Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class" (Galatians 3:28). We are one Body.
They decry "misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women that has been further revealed in our culture and politics, including our churches."
Their third affirmation claims that how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. (Matthew 25) "If our gospel is not 'good news to the poor,' it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ" (Luke 4:18).
Thus they "deplore the growing attacks on immigrants and refugees," reminding churches "that God makes the treatment of the 'strangers' among us a test of faith" (Leviticus 19:33-34). They criticize the neglect "of low-income families and children," and "attempts to deny health care to those who most need it." They assert that is a sin to cut "services and programs for the poor while cutting taxes for the rich," reminding Christians that 2,000 verses in the Bible make us responsible for the poor.
Their fourth affirmation calls for truth. "You shall not bear false witness" (Exodus 20:16). Truth "is foundational to shared trust in society."
They condemn the "pattern of lying that is invading our political and civic life ... Consistent lying by the nation's highest leaders can change the moral expectations within a culture, the accountability for a civil society, and even the behavior of families and children."
Affirmation five: Christ's way of leadership is servanthood, not domination.
They "reject any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule" as a threat to "democracy and the common good." They contend that "dehumanizing hostility toward opponents" is replacing civility in our public discourse.
Sixth, they claim the evangelical call on behalf of the whole earth (Matthew 28:18), remembering that "the most well-known verse in the New Testament starts with 'For God so loved the world'" (John 3:16).
Therefore, these Christian leaders say "America first" is a theological heresy for Christians. They love our nation, but they reject "xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal." We are called to be stewards of the whole earth and of its resources.
Finally, these Christian leaders remind us that Jesus commanded us to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:38) They say that there are "no exceptions" to the commandment that we love our neighbors.
These Christian leaders focus their message through the Christian Gospel as a light upon what they call "perilous and polarizing times as a nation." I believe they bring wisdom that can unite Christians in a vision that transcends our divisions.
Commentary on 04/24/2018
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