Jesus for President: An Ecumenical Campaign

I wrote a report for the office of Interchurch Relations (MCUSA) on our district’s sponsorship of the Jesus for President campaign stop in North Carolina. You can read part of it below.

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The Jesus for President campaign came to Raleigh, N.C. on July 22nd. Chris Haw, Shane Claiborne, and their crew took the stage at 7pm. People started filling the seats at 6:30, anticipating the acclaimed campaign. For two and a half hours, Shane and Chris spoke about Jesus and politics to an attentive crowd. Although our Mennonite district took the lead role in bringing them to town, we were a marginal presence. With no money spent on advertising, we drew around 650 people to a midweek event. Duane Beck, pastor of Raleigh Mennonite Church, had the idea of inviting the Jesus for President tour to make a stop in our area.

The district pastors (including myself) enthusiastically approved. With the support of our Eastern Carolina District of the Mennonite Church, we explored our ecumenical networks to form a coalition of sponsors. Pastor Spencer Bradford of Durham Mennonite Church approached the North Carolina Council of Churches, which gladly agreed to help sponsor the event. Since our Mennonite churches have small worship spaces, Duane Beck found a partnership with First Baptist Church in downtown Raleigh which agreed to host the campaign. Though the Mennonites did most of the legwork, various churches came together to bring the Jesus for President crew to town.

People of different Christian traditions came to hear Chris Haw and Shane Claiborne preach the gospel of Christ’s peace. In many respects, the evening felt like an evangelistic crusade. One member of my congregation even said that it reminded her of the Campus Crusade rallies she attended as a youth. People from all generations filled the chairs, then overflowed into every available space on the floor and along the walls: white haired folks with canes, young people with pierced noses and tattoos, and toddlers crawling around all of them… a chaos of peoples.

If Chris and Shane are radicals, apparently being radical is no longer reserved for naive and utopian youth. Apparently the wise and mature still have an anti-establishmentarian streak. Although our host church was a black Baptist congregation, the sea of faces was predominately white. But who can blame our African-American sisters and brothers for not showing up? The black church in the South has it’s own sense of radical politics and creative political witness.

Chris and Shane described their presentation as an attempt to exercise our political imaginations. They retold the story of Scripture showing how God is at work creating a new people who don’t easily fit into the established categories of American politics–neither Democrat nor Republican. Although Jim Wallis (and the Sojo machine) uses this same point to justify evangelicals who want to vote for Democrats, Chris and Shane take a more radical route…

(Follow the link to the full report: Interchurch Relations, MCUSA)

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