Reclaiming Jesus event brings its message to the White House
WASHINGTON — An ebullient church service on May 24 intended to “reclaim the integrity of faith during political and moral crisis” segued into a silent candlelight procession through the capital city’s downtown streets before ending in prayer and song about 90 minutes later opposite the White House.
There, more than 1,000 people held up candles, simultaneously prayed aloud in multiple languages — a modern-day Pentecost — and listened to leaders of many faiths read the proclamations of “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis” just outside the building’s wrought iron fence.
The declaration contains six principles, including statements decrying racial bigotry, attacks on immigrants and refugees, authoritarianism, sexual violence, the normalization of lying in political life, and ethnic nationalism.
The church service that began the evening featured more than a dozen leaders from evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, and African-American churches, including Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation; Jim Wallis, president and founder of Sojourners; theologian Walter Brueggemann; and the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, among others.
The 23 faith leaders who signed the declaration met several times before this culminating event, beginning with a retreat on Ash Wednesday when they formulated a response to what they called the country’s “growing political amorality.”
The leaders wrote the declaration at Easter and released it this past week, at Pentecost, giving it a “liturgical arc, not political timing,” Wallis told NCR prior to the service, as the religious leaders dined in a quiet room just steps away from the gathering crowd.
Rohr, dressed in casual clothes before donning his Franciscan robe to address the congregation, expressed the concerns that led him, at the urging of Wallis and Curry, to join the Reclaiming Jesus effort.
“We Catholics, we have such magnificent social teaching on paper,” he said. “It’s one of the least preached things from the pulpit in the ordinary parish, and I think the evidence is, although no one would knock it publicly, the bishops and preachers don’t tend to really be invested in it.”
Referencing the other faith leaders present, Rohr added, “These churches, representing so many denominations, have often told me that we have the most coherent argued position, and yet the corner church in town knows nothing about it. It’s amazing there could be such a split between teaching and practice. But I think we’re afraid of the division it will bring. No one likes to get hate letters on Monday morning after your Sunday sermon.”
Once the time for the service arrived, Rohr and the other faith leaders filed into the church, to the sounds of gospel tunes sung by the Howard University Gospel Choir. Each speaker fired the assembly up more than the last.
Often a serious figure, Wallis joked from the pulpit that the favorite question he’d received before the event was “do we need to bring our own candles?” The answer was clearly no.
“The Gospel shines like a light in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it,” Wallis said. “It’s a dark time, but we have enough candles for all of you.”
Calling this a “Pentecostal moment,” Curry, possibly best known to a global audience for his role in the recent British royal wedding, whipped the crowd into a fervor with calls to “love your neighbor, love the neighbor you like and the neighbor you don’t like,” he said, gesturing with animation and speaking with a rising cadence.
“Love the neighbor you agree with and the neighbor you don’t agree with, love your democrat neighbor, love your republican neighbor, your black neighbor, your white neighbor,” Curry continued.
The rest was lost as the congregation rose to its feet and applauded wildly.
________________________________________________________This news, published by the National Catholic Recorder, reports on the inter-denominational Church Service, followed by a Procession to a Vigil outside the White House in Washington last Thursday evening (24 May 2018), that was the culmination of meetings between the leaders of the Episcopal, Roman Catholic and many other Christian Churches – to proclaim the place of Jesus in society in the United States of America.
Among the speakers were theologians Father Richard Rohr, a prominent Roman Catholic Franciscan; Walter Brueggemann, theologian, and – after his very public preaching at the Royal Wedding in Windsor last Saturday – the Most Revd. Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church (TEC)
Those present obviously experienced a Pentecostal movement of the Holy Spirit – something the Church worldwide needs at this moment, and which the United States of America could do with at this time in its history and under the distinctly idiosyncratic rule of President Trump. One wonders whether he was in residence at the White House at the time of this expression of Christian concern, and whether he appreciated the prayers that were being offered up for the political and social stability of America and the world?
“Come, Holy Spirit, re-kindle within your faithful the fire of your love. Amen”
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand