“Reclaim Jesus” was the prominent theme at an event I attended featuring the Rev. Jim Wallis on September 25 in the heart of Washington, D.C. At National City Christian Church (a Christian Church, Disciples of Christ congregation), Wallis kicked off a twenty-city tour for the promotion of his new book, Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus (available from HarperOne).
The event was hosted jointly by the progressive Sojourners Magazine and a local coffee shop and events venue called Busboys and Poets. The coffee shop provided the emcee; Sojourners provided its founder and editor, Wallis; and the Episcopal Church provided Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who responded with praise for the book after Wallis spoke.
Perhaps the most incendiary comment all night came from Wallis, who announced, “Trump is not the anti-Christ. He is too small. But what he runs – the politics – that’s anti-Christ.” Acknowledging its inflammatory nature, Wallis explained that what he specifically meant are those who are anti-immigration and anti-universal healthcare. Later in the talk, he added anti-gun control and climate change deniers. Those who support these political platform planks are, according to Wallis, part of the “anti-Christ.”
Wallis declared he was not speaking politically. Yet, his magazine is left-leaning on many public policy issues. His supporters lean left on most policy issues.
While all three speakers, the Busboys and Poets emcee, Wallis, and Curry, mentioned the need to “reclaim Jesus,” nobody delineated what that actually meant. The assumption appeared to be a reclamation from supposed right white nationalists, for the Social Gospel. The goal was laid out in a song before Wallis’ talk, wherein the artist sang about the need to focus on justice as “the prize.”
Curry focused on the theological, rather than the political. He was a charismatic speaker and made many points I agree with wholeheartedly. Jesus did say to help the poor, the widow, and the oppressed. But Curry’s exclusive focus on the Social Gospel–isolating God’s love and mercy from obedience and sacrifice–is problematic. Matthew chapter 25 is literally Gospel truth; it is absolutely true all the time. Helping the stranger is a God-given commandment. In Matthew chapter 28: 19-20, the instruction to “make disciples of all nations… teach them to observe all that I have commanded you,” is just as true.
Curry’s statement, “All the Bible is about love, and if it’s not about love, it’s not about God,” made me raise an eyebrow. That is true; God is love. Affirming everyone without regard for the state of their soul, however, is not love. Love wants to see souls saved, to be destined for eternal life. We are not meant for this world. We are meant for eternal life. Souls must be more important to the church than social justice, no matter how chaotic our societal problems.
Social justice is an admirable, and necessary, thing for Christians to strive. However, when the desire for justice outstrips the need to save souls–as the concept seemed to do here–that’s where a problem lies. I was supportive of all their broad brushstrokes: an end to racism, an end to sexism, loving all your neighbors as yourself. I drew the line at the Church’s call to go out and follow Matthew 25 with the apparent exclusion of Matthew 28: 19-20.
Another popular phrase of the night, besides “reclaim Jesus,” was “coming back to Christ.” None of the three speakers ever mentioned when we were with Christ. Were we ever with Christ? Was it when southern ministers explicitly supported slavery? Or when WASPs implicitly supported Prohibition statutes oppressing poor people of all races? Or when Martin Luther King, Jr.’s cries to the moderate whites to stand with the Civil Rights movement fell on deaf ears?
The night’s ultimate irony came during the final song. After excoriating those who supported “taking away food stamps,” doing nothing about “lead in water,” and “taking away [the] children” by calling them “anti-Christ,” the vocalist sang the old Christian hymn “Give Me that Old Time Religion.” The old-time religion that supported slavery? Jim Crow laws? That’s the song with which you want to end this event about coming back to Christ?
My point is that we cannot come back to Christ because we were never there. Only in eternity will the evils of the world be annihilated. While the aims of the Social Gospel are admirable, equality, prosperity, and love for all, the Bible is more than love and acceptance. God calls us to obey His commandments, and one of His most famous, and essential, commandments, is to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Saving souls for Christ is the Church’s primary exhortation.