Jim Wallis: A Theology of Public Discipleship

Posted By on August 21, 2019

– I begin by saying everybody
needs somebody to admire. You never get too old to
need somebody to admire. Hope you’re listening Jim. (Jim laughing) Everybody needs somebody to
look up to over the long term, as a person who we can respect, a person who sets a
path that we can follow, kind of a anchor points in our lives, you know what I mean? For me Jim Wallis has
been that kind of person since my seminary days in the early 1980s. That’s 35 years. At the beginning I was a fanboy, you know, just, he was Jim Wallis, and
I was a person in seminary. And over the years I’ve had the privilege to eventually become his friend. In the session description
we hear some about his roles. Many of you already know
that he is the founder and the president of Sojourners, which is described here as a non-profit faith based organization, network, and movement whose mission statement calls for putting faith into
action for social justice. Sojourners is a remarkably
sturdy, faithful expression of a justice
oriented Christian vision that has been doing the
same thing in remarkably changing context for well
over four decades now. So, Jim Wallis is the founder
and president of Sojourners. He’s the editor and chief
of their really quite spectacular magazine and online presence. He is a very gifted book writer. I began, I think it was
Call to Conversion for me. And then from there
forward a book will come out from Jim’s pin that
will surface and will make a big impact and then
there’ll be another one. The most recent one is
America’s Original Sin, Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a new America, which everyone should read for sure. Jim Wallis is an activist who is often present in those places in
which a Christian witness, a moral witness is needed, and has often paid the
price for that activism. He’s a very compelling media personality. You might say doing public theology and public ethics on television, and in print, and around the world. So, all of that is there. But here’s the one last
thing I would like to say before I let him speak with you. Jim Wallis was there before
the Christian right was there. Jim Wallis was there before Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson became household names. And no matter what they were doing Jim Wallis kept doing what he was doing. And his integrity and
steadiness and creativity has inspired millions of
people, including myself, to have somebody that you don’t
have to be disappointed in is a gift. And so, for this person
who is born a faithful counter witness to what often passes for Christian witness in
this country, I am grateful. I wanted in my presidential
year to have the American Academy of Religion Community have an opportunity to
engage with Jim Wallis. And so, would you join me
in welcoming Jim Wallis. (audience applauding) – Thank you David for
those very kind words. Clearly we have a mutual
admiration society here, David and I do for many years. I feel very blessed and humble
to be here at this place given what you all do, learn and teach the meaning of religion, of faith to students in this country and around the world. That’s what you do. So I really feel blessed to be here. I can’t think of anything
that’s more important at this time than what you do, or as my scriptures say, at a time such as this. The title I was given was a
Theology of Public Discipleship. The topic is daunting,
especially in these days. But I have been trying to
figure it out for a long time, and I’m glad to be here with
you to help figure it out. So, during the time that
Sojourners was just starting I would go to visit one
of my elders, Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic
Worker who may be about to be sainted we are told. She was kind of going out
as we were just coming into this conversation about this relationship between faith and public life. And I remember visiting
Mary House where she lived on the lower east side of Manhattan. And there was this building right near the Catholic Worker house. It had this wonderful graffiti. It’s gone now, but here’s what it said. It’s an alleged conversation
between a reporter and Mahatma Gandhi. It says, reporter, Mr.
Gandhi, what do you think about western civilization. Gandhi, I think it would be a good idea. (audience laughing) So, I could see reporters
today asking questions of young people like this. Reporter, what do you think
of Christians following Jesus? Millennial, I think it
would be a good idea. Now, conversion is the big
question in my evangelical tradition where I come
from, and David does too. My first conversion
was when a Sunday night revival preacher pointed his finder, it felt like, right at me and said, if Jesus came back tonight
your mommy and daddy would be taken to heaven
and you would be left all by yourself. It got my attention. I realized at six I had a five
year old sister to support. (audience laughing) So, I asked my mom how
to fix this ’cause she was good at fixing stuff. She told me to ignore
all that scary stuff, but that God loved me, and she said, wants you to be his child. Sounded good, so I signed up. But my second conversion,
evangelicals have many, was more important. Now I’m 15 or 16, so
I’m starting to listen to my city, my hometown of Detroit, reading the papers, hearing the news, having conversations with people. And something seemed
very big and very wrong but nobody would talk about it in my White church, my White
school, my White world. I was asking why we as White Christians, White Americans seem to be living in a very different way
from Black Americans and Black Christians just
a few miles or blocks away. And all of my questions
got answers like this, you’re too young to ask those questions. When you’ll get older you’ll understand. Or, we don’t know why it’s that way, but it’s always been that way. The only honest answer I got was this, if you keep asking those questions son, you’re gonna get into trouble. And that proved to be true. So, I always tell young people today to trust your questions and follow them to wherever they take you. Trust your questions and
follow them to wherever they take you. And that I believe is central
to our role as teachers, vocation scholars, that we have to listen carefully to our students questions. Provoke the deepest questions. And then help them to
follow the questions to the answers that could be
for them, life changing. That’s part of I believe our vocation. And to not getting any answers
in my White church world I went into what was called
then the inner city of Detroit. I searched and found Black
churches and Black Christians who I’d heard about,
but I had never met any. I took jobs in the city
alongside young Black men and older Black men. I was saving for college
and they were working very low income jobs to
support their families. And as I got to know them I realized that while we had all been born
in the same city of Detroit we had grown up in literally
different countries. And everyday going back
and forth to Black Detroit to White Detroit began to change my, as we say, worldview and
my ideas about faith. After one of those trips
an elder in my home White Plymouth brethren
church took me aside and said, Son, you have to understand Christianity has nothing
to do with racism. That’s political. That’s political and
our faith is personal. That’s what he said. That was the moment in my head and heart that I left. And they were sad, they
were happy I should say, to see me leave. It was ironic that it was
for me being converted out of the church that began the process a pathway of leading me back to faith and the vocation for the rest of my life. So, I didn’t have words
for the elder back then, but I do now. God is personal, but never private. God is personal, but never private. So, how do we interpret our personal faith in public life, that’s
what I have been trying to figure out and put into
action all these years. That elder gave me the
sense of my vocation without realizing it. It brought me back, it’s too
long a story to tell today, but it did involve going
back to the New Testament after years of organizing in
the movements of my generation against racism, poverty, and war. In those movements I felt
like I found my vocation. But I didn’t have adequate
foundations for that vocation. So I went back to the New Testament. When I got to Matthew five
and six I read the sermon on the mount that I had
never ever heard a sermon on in my home church. And I saw it was meant to turn the world literally upside down. But it was Matthew 25 it
was that really drew me in and changed my life. I call it the it was me passage. It was me. I was hungry. I was thirsty. I was naked. I was sick. I was a stranger. I was in prison, and you
weren’t there for me. Lord, when do we see you hungry, and sick, and naked, stranger, sick, and in prison. Had we known it was you
we would have at least formed a social action
committee, something. And he said, whatever
you didn’t do to them, or did to them, you did to me. The ones he called, the least of these. He said, as I read it, I’ll
know how much you love me by how you treat them. I had never seen anything that radical in the authors I was reading at the time, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, and Carl Marx. And I’ve learned ever sense
the best way for Christians to respond to a crisis always
is to go back to Jesus, which we almost never do. So, earlier this year a diverse
group of Christian elders, we call it elders ’cause we’re old, Bishop Michael Curry, and Byram Skinner, lots of us decided on
a Ash Wednesday retreat along the tergical process to release a declaration called reclaiming Jesus, a confession of faith in a time of crisis. We put the declaration
and one of my amazing 25 year old filmmakers at Sojourners made a video out of it,
and it’s now been seen by five million people. Particular a new generation of believers and those who’ve left this church that wanted to talk about Jesus again. So, I’m gonna just use a
little bit of that language to frame our talk today. It says we are living through
perilous and polarizing times as a nation with a dangerous crisis of moral and political
leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of
faith are both at stake. It’s time to be followers of
Jesus before anything else. Interesting, these are all, you’d call them Christian
leaders by intent, but they decided they
didn’t want to be called that in this declaration, Christians, but rather, followers of Jesus. ‘Cause I wanna say,
when politics undermines our theology we much
examine that politics. Quoted the Reverend Dr.
Martin Luther King Junior when he said, the church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state. The church is meant to be
the conscience of the state. The question we face is this, who is Jesus Christ for us today. And as most of you know
that’s the question Dietrich Bonhoeffer said was
always the most important question for Christians to ask. So, we can do all our
historical work and analogies, but it goes back to that
question that Bonhoeffer said we should always ask. Who is those who say they’re Christians, Jesus Christ for us today. I was literally on a tarmac
waiting to come and hear David’s speech when they told
us there was a ground stop ’cause of weather in Denver. So, I didn’t hear all
that you said last night, which I was really hoping to. But maybe this is a
bit of a one, two punch in some ways because
there is some critical information from a PRRI
2018 American Value Survey, which said White evangelicals, just out, are the only religious group with more than
half, 54% believing that the U.S. becoming a majority
of minorities in racial diversity by 2014 is a negative thing, the only population in the country. 2/3 of all Americans say
this is a good thing. White evangelicals are
the only religious group with a majority, 51% favoring
a law preventing refugees from entering the country. Only 37% of the country supports that. The result in the way the
country now views White evangelicals, and White
Christians in general has been therefore devastating
to the integrity of faith in this country. And it’s caused great
confusion around the world. So, as Wes Granberg-Michaelson’s
new excellent book, Future Faith, lays out
who the global church, how the church is now
routed in the global south, and how Christianity
worldwide and in the U.S. is less White and less
western than it has ever been, and how those trends are now just, not just continuing,
but galloping forward. In the face of that changes
the fearful reaction White evangelicals to
a more diverse nation is both tragic and lamentable because the most, let’s
remember, the most diverse human community on the
planet is the body of Christ. The most diverse human
community is the body of Christ. Now this is a broader evangelical, broader than just
evangelical White Catholics, White mainline, it’s not quite as bad but almost the same. And just to say, we did a gathering for a bunch of younger evangelicals, or as they would say,
evangelicals adjacent, you know why they say that. Recently a majority of
evangelicals of color, young, and a majority of women. And the text they went
to right off the bat was Luke four when Jesus
announced the meaning of the word evangelical,
when he did his calling, his first gig, his Nazareth manifesto, the spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed
me to bring good news, and the word there as you know is evangel. That’s the word, evangel,
good news to the poor. That was the text they all gravitated to and they agreed as a group of evangelicals that any gospel that isn’t
good news to the poor is simply not the gospel of Jesus Christ. When the operative in the
phrase White Christian is not Christian, but White, we are in grave theological
and spiritual danger. That is the primary
issue we must deal with if we care about the integrity
of faith in our time. I think it’s not just
the president and his evangelical chaplains court
who must deal with this, but I would say some of
my friends on the left and in the Democratic
party who are increasingly secular, who often exclude,
or don’t want to talk to faith voices, and I just
want to say this about that. I have fought religious
fundamentalism my entire life. But the secular fundamentalism
that now controls much of the left and too
much of the Democratic party is also as irrational,
decisive, and dangerous as what I fought for all these years. That’s a longer conversation
that we should have. So, very quickly I’d
like to say let’s respond to this moment, not
just with our politics, which of course is important, as many of us did in
the last couple weeks, but also with questions that
Jesus either asked or prompted, questions he asked or
prompted that I think go to the heart of our crisis today, and could in fact bring us back and deeper to something better. They’re very simple. I’ll just briefly comment on each one in our limited time together. In whose image are we made, number one. What is truth, number two. Who is my neighbor, number three. Who is the greatest, number four. And what is Jesus final
test of discipleship. They’re claiming Jesus confession, which you can find at claimingjesus.org, has six declarations. I’ll just read a snippet
from each of these. One, we believe each human being is made in God’s image and likeness. Racial bigotry is a brutal
denial of the image of God. Therefore we reject the
resurgence of White nationalism. In our nation on many fronts, including the highest
levels of political power, we reject White supremacy
and commit ourselves to the dismantling of the systems and the structures that perpetuate White
preference and advantage. Genesis one, at the beginning they say, 26, 27, then God said,
despite all the noise you hear on the news everyday about race, then God said, let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness and let them have dominion. We would say stewardship,
over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, over the cattle, over all the wild animals of the earth, over evangelical creeping thing
that creeps upon the earth. But then when some people
decide to start to have dominion over the other people,
not share it together over the creation to take
care of, tend the garden. When we have dominion over others, that is nothing less
than a sin against the original purpose of God, overthrowing God’s
intention at the beginning. And it has to be named that way because imago dei, well, let’s put it this way,
and it was Christians. I’m a Christian. It was White Christians,
British and American who knew we couldn’t
do to indigenous people and kidnapped Africans, what we were doing for our greed. We couldn’t do it to them if we accepted, or knew, we couldn’t do it to people made in the image of God. So, we said they’re not. And we threw away imago dei. That’s what we did. We threw away imago
dei and took their land and labor and lives away from them. This isn’t just old history. On the streets of Ferguson one night a young activist waled, waled with me. I still feel like I’m
treated as 3/5 of a person. It says, contemporary as our systems of mass incarceration,
policing, economics, education, and all the rest. So this racial dehumanization
of people of color was our original sin that
Brian Stevens says so well, slavery never ended it just evolved. And while many of us have said that and have been criticized for
saying too much about race, all the data now suggests, voting data, election evidence confirms
that White racial attitudes and fears were indeed
central to the motivations of voters in the 2016 elections. So, in the president’s
final argument during his midterm season of caravans, criminals, unqualified, unequipped, black
gubernatorial candidates, and would you believe
small pox and leprosy. Who does the raising of
the term leprosy appeal to? Those Christians who know the Bible. That strategy led to one of distrust, division, fear, and hatred. And I would say this, Donald Trump revealed
to me over the election that if racism is America’s original sin, Donald Trump has become the chief tempter of America’s original sin. Sin can be repentant, but it can be tempted. And now we are seeing the sin deliberately, strategically tempted. One more thing I’ll just
say is Raphael Warnock invited me to the prayer at Ebenezer the night before the election, asked me to speak on systemic racism. And what I ended up, I’m not sure why, but what I ended up
googling that Sunday night was Beelzebub, evil, the evil
one, the tempter, the devil. And I saw three names,
descriptions coming back, the accuser, the slanderer,
and the father of lies. That’s what I found. Now we have political strategies
based on the descriptions of the one who is the tempter. And violence comes from the fruit. It is the fruit of that
poisonous political tree, separating kids from their parents. By the way, I love stories
of Texas evangelical Republican women driving
into their mega churches, and at the anger of their husbands and their mega church
pastors had the wrong bumper sticker on their own cars for a different candidate
and justified themselves by saying that we believe
that babies at the border are as important as babies in the womb. (audience applauding) So Trump isn’t the cause,
but he’s the tempter now. He’s the consequence. He’s a symptom of our
racial illness and sin. President Lincoln once said this, leaders should appeal
to our better angels. That’s what he said in
his first inaugural. Donald Trump is deliberately appealing to our worst demons. And they’re right below the surface. So, what we’re engaged in, and my friends on the
left don’t quite get this. We’re engaged now in
really a spiritual battle, a spiritual battle
between angels and demons, and we have both angels and demons. Or, as I talk to someone
in a conference in California of course last week, we’re engaged now in spiritual warfare. He said, what an interesting
idea to put those two words together spiritual warfare. He had never heard them before. So, voter suppression,
which we have now see documented in Georgia,
Florida, many other places. The suppression of a single
vote is not just a partisan tactic, it’s the denial
of the image of God. And we have to speak to
it in that kind of way. So, how do we as teachers of religion help our students to see what’s at stake here. And let me say a final word
about this issue of racism. American still has a choice to make. A choice that it is still
not definitively made. Will America be a racist
nation going forward. Will our country continue
to have a White preference, or will it ultimately see
our diversity as the gift God intended, and not the threat
the tempters make us fear. Some people like to say what we’re seeing is the last gasp, or death
knell of White supremacy. You’ve heard that. I hope that’s true. But this could be just another double down against racial equity and justice as we have see again and again ang again. There is always a new Jim Crow. Doubling down over and over again, that’s the choice we must make, whether White people of faith in America really are people of faith more
than they are White people. What is truth? This was Pilot’s question. Pilot and Jesus were
having a debate, right, you remember the story. They’re having a debate about his identity and the truth. And Pilot realizes he’s losing the debate, so he famously asked, what is truth, then washes his hands of the
discussion and kills Jesus. We’ve heard that truth
is being manipulated, managed, deliberately undermined. We’ve heard that, and
we’ve heard about fake news and all the rest. But I want us to just
that the problem with this president is not the
record number of times he has lied. It goes much deeper than that. He’s trying to get us to Pilot’s question, where we won’t even believe
anymore there is truth, or we can’t find it, or
the alternative facts and fake news and all the rest. He wants to undermine the
very notion of there being truth, so we can throw up our hands and say, oh, how can we ever find. This is deeper than lying. This is undermining the
whole nature of truth itself. And the elders said, we believe truth is morally central to our
personal and public lives. Jesus promises, you’ll know the truth, and what happens. The truth will set you free. Jesus is connecting truth
and freedom and saying if you don’t know the truth
you will no longer be free. This is what autocrats mostly want. So, how does that concern us as scholars and teachers of religion about
how we lift up the truth, how we speak to the existence of truth, the importance of truth, how
to understand the difference in mistakes and lies and falsehood. How do we teach our students. I hear this question from
students all the times. How do I know the truth? The Jesus asked, I love this one. Who is my neighbor. So, a young inquisitor
comes to Jesus and says, what must I do to inherit eternal life. And Jesus says simply,
love God and your neighbor in all of our faith traditions. I was at the World Parliament of Religions just last week. They told me they had 246 religions there and they all mostly agreed with that, love God and your neighbor. Well, this inquisitor, a young lawyer, by the way, I know this
was a Washington lawyer. He has that tone of voice that I know so well. Just who is my neighbor, meant to diminish and limit the scope of
who the neighbor is. So, Jesus tells the story
of the good Samaritan, which everybody knows whether
their religious or not. But the heart of Jesus message here is not I’m going to one who stopped, didn’t go to a meeting, he helped the man who was in trouble. He used his time, changed his schedule, used his resources, risked himself, that’s what I’m looking for here, service and helping people. That’s not the message. That’s all good. Jesus is for all those things. The message is your neighbor is the one who’s different than you. So, the good Samaritans
weren’t thought to be good in Jesus day among the Judians of his time. They were a mixed race. They were caught foreigners. They weren’t liked. He chose someone from another tribe who was helping from a
different tribe than his as his example of what it
means to love your neighbor. Who your neighbor is is
perhaps the most central Jesus question in our
political conversation in America today. Who is our neighbor? Who is your neighbor? What does that mean? Gustavo Gutierrez puts it so well. He says, who is my neighbor? The neighbor was the
Samaritan who approached the wounded man and made him his neighbor. The neighbor is not he
who I find in my path, but rather he in whose
path I place myself, he whom I approach and actively seek. You ask me a little to
speak about my own history all these years. Here’s what I’ve learned. My life has more been
changed than anything else, my life, my worldview and
my faith more than anything else by being in places I
was never supposed to be and meeting people I was never
supposed to meet or know, or certainly become friends with. I had to go outside the
path of my childhood, and my church, and my
history to find the people who would finally change my life. And later I learned changed
the notion that Jesus meant who is my neighbor. Our segregation residentially,
racially, culturally, our racial geography is not accidental. It’s done by policy. It shapes who the churches
are I see all the time. It’s not accidentally,
it’s done by policy. So, if we aren’t willing
to violate those boundaries of our geography we’ll never
understand what Jesus means by who is my neighbor. How do we as teachers help
students not just have new ideas, but wander
outside their pathways, their normal pathways,
interact with people and ideas and experiences that are
fundamentally different than their own geography outside the path. That’s what will change
us, the test of loving our neighbor, those outside
our path is not merely defined by who’s in your neighborhood or at the water cooler. It’s how do we find and
make neighbors of people who are deliberately,
systemically, ideologically, pushed outside of our path. So, that is implications for teaching and learning about faith. And as the declarations said, we believe Jesus, this is the elders, when he tells us to go into
all nations making disciples. Our churches and our nations are a part of an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries. We should turn our love
and serve our world and all it’s inhabitants because therefore we reject America first
as a theological heresy for followers of Jesus. What is truth? Who is my neighbor? How about who is the
greatest, who is the greatest? Reminds me of a hat. This question question
was asked of Jesus mostly by his disciples on many occasions. And there were teachable
moments where Jesus was trying to enlighten his followers, his students about what
leadership does and doesn’t mean, including, I would say
discipleship includes leadership formation,
leadership formation. I’m having, and for a number
of years and I’ve had these unexpected, very unexpected conversations with business leaders who
are trying to figure out there crisis in their world, trying to figure out what business means ethically, morally. And it strikes me that
this question of leadership is central to all that. All of your students want
to be leaders of some kind. How do you teach them not
just what they should think, but how to be leaders. Luke 22, Jesus says,
the greatest among you must become like the youngest, the leader like the one who serves. He contrasts that to the
kings of the gentiles who lorded over them. Whose leadership does
lording and over sound like that for us today. Jesus called, I would suggest
for servant leadership. It’s not just some kind of
exoteric, extra curricular thing that we all say we admire. That notion of servant
leadership changes everything, including for those who want
to exercise their leadership for a good cause is what
the disciples thought they were doing. And many of our
politicians think that too. The teachings of Jesus on this topic are really at the root
of the ethics of what we call public service
and public interest, which is not supposed
to be a personal reward, but rather time set aside
for something you own in your traditions called the common good. Now, the contrast between
Jesus ethic of leadership and what we now see everything
out of the White House is literally overwhelming. When power becomes the goal over service, self interest over public interest, conflicts of interest
over the common good, winning and losing over
mutuality and compromise, and personal narcissism
over shared benefit, we are indeed in deep
trouble about the fabric and nature and ethos and
practice of leadership in our society. Here’s what the declaration said. We believe the Christ way of leadership is serving, not domination. We support democracy,
not because we believe in human perfection,
but because we do not. We both, we know how CS
Louis and Reinhold Niebuhr spoke directly to that. We believe in democracy, not
just because we are so good, but we are often so not. We reject therefore any
moves toward autocratic political leadership
and authoritarian rule. We believe authoritarian
political leadership is a theological danger
threatening democracy and the common good. And it says, all these church elders, we will resist. We will resist. I’ve been asked every
day since the election how I think things are going, how I think we’re gonna do. And I say this, things
are going to get worse before they get better. And our response to what’s happening now will determine how
things finally will move. It depends on whether or
not in response to a crisis we’re willing to go deeper, to go deeper. Three ways, deeper into our
faith, whatever we call faith, deeper into our faith. What are the practices, disciplines, quiet moments, silence. What are the ways that we can, not just react to all the incoming fire, I know what that’s like, and so do you. But, how do we go deeper into our faith. Two, how do we go deeper
into our relationship with each other, particular across racial and religious lines. How do we do that? How do we transgress our geography? How do we find a whole deeper
sense of who we’re close to. And finally, how to go deeper in the relationship with those who we talked about before,
and I’m gonna close with here, are called the least of these, those hold on are left
out, and left behind, who are talked about, but
often seldom not talked with. How do we go deeper into our faith, into all of our relationships
as Brian Stevens says, our proximity, our proximity to those who are marginalized and oppressed. So, I think therefore, the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel is Jesus final discipleship test. As I said at the beginning of this talk this was my conversion text. I later learned was Dorothy
Day’s conversion text too. This is what brought me back to Christ out of the movements of my time in which I was angry at
religion for what I had seen and hostile really. I talked to a group yesterday
of all the philanthropists and non-profit organizations
independent sector about the faith factor. They’re all exploring
the faith factor now. I said let’s, if we had
time to go around the room and each of us tell how we have been hurt, betrayed, violated, assaulted, by religion in our lives it
would take the rest of the day. We all know that. Let’s take a deep breath. We all know that. So, let’s accept that. That’s a given, and how we
understand the meaning of faith now going forward in each of our lives. How do we listen to each other. This is one of the critical ways. This is the challenge,
particular for people who are successful in one way or another. All people of faith or
conscious to measure our lives and measure our political decisions by the well being of those who are always most easily forgotten and invisible. The text in the gospel is
both personal and collective. All the nations, it says,
were gathered before him. They and their own
people were separated out by how they treated the least of these. Now, the Hebrew profits are utterly clear. The prophets say that a
nation’s righteousness is determined not by it’s
gross national product, not by it’s military might, not by it’s popular culture
being the enemy of the world, but the nation’s
righteousness is determined by how the poor and vulnerable are doing, how they’re fairing, how they’re
living day by day by day. The ones Jesus called the least of these are now literally being targeted. When you deploy the American
military over the holidays against those coming to seek asylum who are so fearful and
desperate they are walking thousands of miles and they’re welcomed by the U.S. military, a number
of us are working and talking and praying about how
a number of us will go to those borders perhaps
during this holiday season to welcome them in a
different kind of way. Matt 25 reminds me of my old
friend and mentor Mary Glover. Roseberger down here from
Sojourners remembers Mary Glover. We moved that Sojourners
1975 into one of the poorest and difficult, violent neighborhoods internship he city of Washington DC, and that’s where we met Mary Glover. She’s one of those people that holds neighborhoods together, like
the glue of a neighborhood. And she helped me understand
the deepest meaning of this gospel text. The was not a theologian, or
a formal biblical commentator. She was a cook in a
daycare center for kids, but she taught and showed
me the meaning of this scripture many decades ago,
not long after we moved in to one of the poorest parts of DC. After a while in that
neighborhood the needs were so practical the neighbors
and we decided to create just a Saturday morning grocery bag thing. 20 block from the White
house people needed a bag of groceries to get through the week, volunteers and their neighbors. So, we somehow we got that together and every Saturday
morning hundreds of people are lined up 20 blocks
from the White House to get a bag of groceries. Very simply, it wasn’t much at all. But after we’d gather the stuff every week we prayed and Mary Glover,
powerful Pentecostal woman of faith, would
always say the prayer. And she prayed like
someone who knew to whom she was talking. It’s clear that she and her Lord were in regular communication. I remember Mary GLover’s
prayer still very vividly. She prayed, thank you Lord
for waking me up this morning, that the walls in my room were
not the walls of my grave, and my bed was not my cooling board. I see heads nodding. Some of you can recognize that prayer. Then she’d pray this. Lord, we know that you’ll be
coming through this line today, so Lord help us to treat you well, help us to treat you well. I’ve probably read every
commentary I could find on Matthew 25, and that’s
the best one I found so far. She was able to see Jesus
and point to him in the hungry people coming to that food line. I was hungry and you
gave me something to eat. As you’ve done it to the least of these you’ve done it to me. She go that. She knew that was true. So, in this declaration by the elders, you can conclude it by saying this, we believe how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. That is a theological statement, not simply a political one. Therefore we reject the
language and policies of political leaders that
would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God. We strongly deplore the
growing attack son immigrants and refugees, and won’t accept the neglect of the well being of low
income families and children. Mary Glover has passed now. I often miss her, but I know she would
have talked about this as her post election reflection. And, she would have loved to seen the fact there’s now is a Matthew 25 movement. Southern California where I just came from the Mateo 25 Movement
is rising up to defend undocumented people, young
people who suffer racialized policing, and muslims who don’t know where they belong anymore in this country. She, Mary Glover, is one of
the founders of that movement, and she would understand that. So, these questions of Jesus
I think are foundational. (cell phone chiming) Somebody turn off their phone. These questions I would
suggest to you of Jesus are a much deeper way to get at the crisis than just doing our politics. Now, because I believe
Margaret William Skinner, as some of you know so well, and I were in a big conference
on interfaith stuff, and sent off to a workshop, and told to come out
with something everybody would agree to. So we came out with two things. One, that we’re all made in the image of God, everybody agreed. All the interfaith, we all agree. Second point, therefore
let’s start an interfaith voter protection campaign
to protect those who are being targeted to
prevent them from voting, which we saw in these midterm elections. So, we’ve begun something
called Lawyers and Callers. We put clergy in the polling
spaces with a lawyer, lawyers are thrilled about this, did it in seven key states. We’re just beginning, do
it all over the country, so the clergy can say, interfaith clergy can talk to, as we did,
a secretary of state and say, we want to help
you make sure everyone can vote fairly. And, we’re watching you. Here’s my collar. Here’s my card. We’re gonna become friends. Or, we’re gonna help you with policing. We want you to be able
to police in a good way in the community, so we’re gonna help you, but we’re watching you. And the polling places,
people stood in line for hours waiting to vote. So, now you’ve got a clergy there saying, can I be helpful, is there
something wrong here, or here’s some water, or
here’s some sandwiches, or maybe the choir’s out there to sing to help people wait to vote. It’s about putting the image
of God we said into action. All the things we say we believe
have to be put into action, or why would people believe
that we believe them. When David asked me to speak
here about my 50 years of this, that’s the heart of it. Unless we show people and tell people, and demonstrate what we
say we believe it won’t mean anything to them. And all the young people
leaving the churches, you know the nones, the figures
who, none of the aboves. By the way, I love the nones,
I love the other nuns too, ’cause when I go out and
speak at these evangelical colleges when I was a
kid all these two rows, first two rows were
always Catholic sisters in their habits. I’d say, sisters why are you here. They said, well Jim, this so
a very conservative place. I said, yeah, that’s why I came. And we’re local. Yeah I figured, but why are you here. ‘Cause somebody had to have your back. So, I had nuns for bodyguards
for many many years. (audience laughing) But, finally the nones, the other nones, most believe in God. They don’t want to affiliate with us ’cause of what we’re saying or not saying, or doing or not doing. You know that they’re drawn to, courage. They’re drawn to courage
and they want their lives to make a difference. So, why would they be interested
in any kind of religion that doesn’t make a difference. They’re not. Or when we got together for a retreat a number of very prophetic
faith leaders in Ferguson six months after Michael
Brown was shot and killed with the Black Lives
Matter movement in the room and had a retreat together, the Black Lives Matter kids
said to their older elders, many of whom are very prophetic, they said, we’re not against religion. We’re not against God. Most of us come from that, but we want to work with you. And, you can get to
people we can’t get to, but there’s one thing we wanna ask. We wanna ask what risk
are you willing to take. And one of the most
prophetic African American preachers in this country
who’s a dear friend of mine said this to the Black
Lives Matter activists. I’ve been preaching prophetically for a long time, but
from a place of comfort. I’ll never forget what you
challenged me to do tonight. What’s the risk that we’re gonna take. So, these five questions that Jesus asked are the ones he prompted,
are the ones I think we all have to answer whether
we’re Christians or not. They’re all the right questions. Whether we’re in a classroom, in a church, in a political office,
or out in the streets, people can say that Jesus
questions have nothing to do with our public life. They wanna say that,
fine, discussion is done. But most Christians and
most people of faith won’t say that. They know that isn’t true. So, then they can say
that they disagree with my or your interpretation of what Jesus meant when he asked these questions. And then we have the conversation, then we go and we have that conversation. Far more people than just
Christians want to take these questions we asked today seriously. The questions in whose image are we made, who is my neighbor, what is
truth, who is the greatest, and what about the least of these, these questions plead for our answers. They plead for our answers as teachers, as learners, as those
who want to understand, and understand, and want
others to understand the meaning of religion
and faith in the world. Those questions can lead to the occasion of
transformational change. The Sojourners vocational phrase, and I’ll finish with this,
is we want to articulate, we want to articulate that biblical vision of social justice, and we
want to put it into action. So, I’m still trying to figure
out what is the theology, public theology of
discipleship for every time and for our time right now. God help us, may that be so, because what we face right now, and I’ll say it again to close, what we face now is literally, what’s at stake now is
the soul of the nation and our integrity of faith. Can I get an amen to that. (audience applauding)

Posted by Lewis Heart

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *