Practicing Pentecost in the New Public Square | Sojourners

Practicing Pentecost in the New Public Square

Pentecost, the Christian liturgical season that begins on Sunday, May 20, is known for the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the early believers, empowering them to take their faith to the streets — to the public square in their capital city.

Many church leaders and pastors are doing just that the week of Pentecost (on Thursday, May 24) by taking our declaration of faith in a time of crisis, “Reclaiming Jesus,” to the streets of Washington, D.C. — first to worship and then to march in a candlelight procession to the White House. We invite you join us if you can, and share the live stream of the event from our Facebook page if you can’t. Together, we will offer a public witness that the church will not be silent or complicit, but faithful in this time of crisis.

A friend of mine, who is a journalist and commentator, told me about a conversation he had recently with his son. This well-read college graduate was watching the press coverage of Donald Trump’s evangelical “advisers” praise their “dream president” with absolutely uncritical adulation for their access to the White House and the current occupant’s defense of their values. This was very confusing and troubling to the young man, who wondered why they seemed to have no concerns with the words and behaviors he found completely antithetical to the values of Jesus. “Why are only the worst ones speaking,” he asked his media-savvy father, “and the better ones not speaking out” in the face of such personal and public amorality? “Why aren’t the good Christians saying anything?”

This intelligent and religiously aware young man who follows national news and politics is not seeing the voice of Christians who reject the political and moral leadership at the highest levels of political power because of their faith in the national discourse at all. It’s led him to perhaps wonder whether the “good” Christians, as he thinks of them, are too afraid of offending friends, family, or fellow churchgoers to tell the truth about what is happening to our country and to Christianity in the U.S.

To a regular reader of or Sojourners magazine, this might seem frustrating, given our longstanding commitment to providing news, commentary, and resources through the lens of faith in action for social justice. But it shouldn’t be surprising. Anyone who reads or watches mainstream media in the U.S. should know that the large number of American Christians of all backgrounds who are committed to social justice and speaking the truth to power simply don’t get even a fraction of the attention that the white evangelicals who so enthusiastically support Donald Trump get. So the quickly growing number of those who now check the “none” box under “religious affiliation” — including many young people who still believe in God but are uncomfortable associating with organized religion — can be forgiven for not knowing about a strong movement of Christian witness so different than the Trump evangelicals. That movement simply hasn’t broken through into the mainstream media’s narrative since the election. The same can be said of many Christians in churches where the pastors are afraid to speak because of the increasingly polarized political divisions in their congregations.

But that is about to change. In the season of Pentecost, a growing number of courageous church voices are inviting you to help change that national narrative, by joining us in Washington and/or taking your faith to what has become the new public square — our Facebook, Twitter, and other social media newsfeeds. Yes, it will make people — perhaps your friends, family, and members of your churches — uncomfortable; but it is what this time necessitates. If we are going to have the conversations we need to have — in churches, seminaries, and colleges — to discern the meaning of faith in a time such as this, this public witness is necessary. Our social media feeds are now the doors upon which we nail our theses and declare what we believe, and therefore what we reject. Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., and so many other women and men of faith said in their times of crisis, “Here I stand; I can do no other.” We need to be the cloud of witnesses again now in times like these. We will literally put the six theses of Reclaiming Jesus on the gates of the White House on the night of May 24 — and we invite you to do the same on the doors in your public spheres of influence. The time has come.

Politically, I honestly think that things are likely going to get worse before they get better, which is why is it so important now to make ourselves clear — biblically and theologically and not just politically in partisan ways. If we don’t take a stand, if we don’t reclaim Jesus in the midst of our current crisis, American Christianity may be known as the religion that enabled our country’s descent into normalizing racial bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, lying, and autocracy. We can’t control the words or actions of those in political power, or those in religion who have become their chaplains. But we can control what we do, what we believe, how we pray, how we speak, and how we act, and where we do it. And it will be the manner in which we exercise our faith at this moment that will impact the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith, which are both now at stake.

This Pentecost, take your faith to the streets of Washington or to the streets of social media. Here are ways you can join us, and say publicly that you are reclaiming Jesus from those who would co-opt his name:

  • Share the link to on your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts. This website contains the text that forms the basis for our confession of what we believe and what we therefore reject in this time of crisis. Explain in your post why it resonates for you.
  • Share the event page for our May 24 candlelight vigil on your Facebook page, and mark yourself as “going” to the event even if you can’t physically be there. You can tune in for the live stream, and share it with others as we together make our public declaration.

Now is the time. Join us.

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