Reclaiming Jesus is not a statement to sign — it’s a call to answer.
This declaration, signed by 23 “elders” across our church families, was launched at what became an extraordinary service last Thursday, the first week of the Pentecost season. We gathered at the National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C., before participating in a moving candlelight procession and vigil at the White House.
The worship service was packed beyond capacity, with more than one thousand people in the main sanctuary. Our overflow space at Luther Place, a Lutheran church next door, was also filled to overflowing, at least 700 more people gathering to watch a livestream of the service.
But we had a problem: At least three hundred attendees who couldn't fit into either sanctuary had clustered on the steps of National City Christian Church, and the outdoor speakers weren’t working. People of all ages huddled together watching the service on their phones via Facebook livestream. But then a man named Brent (who was wearing a white robe!) approached two of our staff, saying that he happened to have speakers in the trunk of his car that we could use! He dashed off, returning to set up his speakers on the top of the steps. But he didn’t know how to get the sound from the livestream to play through the speakers — until a 16-year-old teenage girl sitting nearby heard what was going on, and chimed in: “Oh, I can do that.” A few swipes later, and all of Thomas Circle could hear the powerful words of the elders and the beauty of the Howard Gospel Choir as we worshipped in preparation for our candlelight procession.
It was only the first of what felt like many miracles that night.
In addition to the roughly 2,500 people who participated in our service and the procession and vigil in person, our livestream of the service and vigil have garnered more than 100,000 combined views, and our Reclaiming Jesus video, just released a couple of weeks of ago, now has more than three million views. The six core declarations were quoted in the elder reflections to spontaneous applause, were then read again on the sidewalk outside the gates of the White House. At their second reading, the declarations were offered with prayers from the gathered Christians from around the country, who together held candles to bring the light of Christ into our present political and religious darkness.
It felt like Pentecost.
The next day, the elders answered questions from reporters and press outlets at the National Press Club, then gathered for a retreat together, reflecting on “what’s next” for Reclaiming Jesus. There was a strong sense from all of us that last week was just the beginning of a Reclaiming Jesus movement, in this time of political and religious crisis.
And sure enough, in the week following, we've seen and read a number of stories that remind us why this message of reclaiming Jesus is so important now. It is critical that Christians across the United States and around the world can participate in reclaiming Jesus, to courageously clarify what reclaiming Jesus does, and must, mean for times like these.
As President Trump continues to accuse the FBI of spying on his campaign —naming it as the “Spygate” scandaleven after Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, and even Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano debunked the spying charges — the Reclaiming Jesus declaration rejects “the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life.”
And parents of all religions and political affiliations across the country were filled with righteous anger this week over continued reporting about the Trump administration’s monstrous, inhumane policy of separating children from their parents at the southern border. Administration officials have explicitly stated that they are arresting and detaining all adults who attempt to cross the border illegally, even those who present themselves at checkpoints legally asking for asylum. Courts have ruled that most immigrant children cannot be detained in this scenario, but their parents can. Since October, hundreds of children have been forcibly separated from their parents under this policy — even children as young as 2 or 3. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has stated that parents' fear of having their children taken from them is being intentionally used as a deterrent, in the hope that fewer families will attempt to cross the border illegally as a result.
But Scripture is authoritatively clear on the obligation for Christians to treat “strangers” as we would treat Christ himself; to love our neighbors as ourselves, especially those different from us; and to take special care of vulnerable children. That a recent poll shows that white evangelicals are the least likely of any group to support the United States receiving refugees is a tragic reflection of how far from the teachings of Jesus so many white evangelical Christians have strayed.
Let’s call out these ungodly events happening every week, many emanating from the White House with the silence and complicity of white evangelical religious leaders. It is clearly time to reclaim Jesus, in the midst of those who are attempting to co-opt Jesus for political gain.
Pentecost was the beginning of a new time in the Church’s life, when Christ-followers were empowered by the Holy Spirit. May we also be given the courage to take our faith to the streets of our personal and public lives.