The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church is meeting in Chaska, MN. These are the Presiding Bishops’s opening remarks
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
June 8, 2016
I really believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ matters, and that its presentation by the Episcopal Church matters, profoundly and critically, in these times in which we’re living. Let me show you what I mean.
Someone recently asked me, “All right, what’s this Jesus Movement talk really about?” The question and conversation pushed me to step back and ask, “What’s really going on here? What’s this about?”
The Jesus Movement language is a metaphor, an image. Images, metaphors, Marilou’s forms of symbolic speech are a way of helping you get at some more deep and sometimes complex things in accessible and memorable ways. This Jesus Movement isn’t a 21st-Century invention or a Michael Curry rhetorical concoction. We’re really talking about going forward as a church by going back to our deepest roots as disciples of Jesus Christ. And in the run we will find our true strength, vitality, and integrity for faithful, authentic and effective witness to the way of Jesus in our time.
Canon Chuck Robertson recently turned me on to a book that was titled The Jesus Movement and its Expansion. Now it’s not about what you might think. The author is a New Testament scholar who’s looking back at early Christian origins. New Testament scholars and others who look at early Christian origins refer to the Christian movement in its beginnings as “The Jesus Movement.” Rodney Stark, who is a sociologist of religion and who has done a lot of work on the historical sociology of early Christian origins and the expansion and growth of Christianity, has one book in particular with the suggestive title, The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion. It’s not an adaptation of Christian triumphalism but a description of the evolution of the Jesus Movement into the Church and Christendom. So when we use the phrase The Jesus Movement, we’re actually pointing back to the earliest days of Jesus’ teaching and his followers following in his way and footsteps in the power of the spirit. And in our context this image reflects a call to return to our deepest and most authentic roots as the Jesus Movement in the 21st century.
That’s what we’re really talking about. We’re really talking about reclaiming the heritage of the Acts of the Apostles. The heritage of the movement of people who were profoundly convicted by this Jesus of Nazareth because this dude really did have something to say and really did help folks get closer to God and each other. That this Jesus of Nazareth really mattered and matters. The first followers of the way of Jesus really believed, often in spite of themselves. They weren’t the most happy group of fisher-folk before the Lord came down like the hymn says – peaceful fishermen, yeah, peaceful! I mean, they had conflicts, too.
I was with the folk in the Diocese of New Hampshire earlier this week. At one point in our conversation I said that the first council of the Church, the Council of Jerusalem (Acts of the Apostles 15) that’s what we call it, was indeed the first council of the Church, but it was also, if we want to be real, a church fight! That’s really what it was, or more precisely, what occasioned it. A church fight! But the result of that church fight was that the community found a way to identify what was really essential in the Christian faith and matters that are important but not core essential.
In making that determination, they made a decision that affects probably most of the people sitting in this room today. They made a decision that Gentiles could and should be included in the Way of Jesus if they were willing to follow the Way of Jesus in his Spirit that other things and requirements that were laid on folk were not necessarily essential. I haven’t had my DNA tested, but I don’t think I’m Jewish. I think I descend from Gentile stock. Again, I could be in for a surprise, but I doubt it. That means I’m standing here today because of that decision to include people like Michael Curry. That Jesus was bigger than any of our religious or tribal conditions and affiliations and that the Way of Jesus creates room and space for all who truly seek.
I say all of that because I really do think that for us as The Episcopal Church that the Way of Jesus of Nazareth really is who we are, it’s who our baptism calls us to be anyway. The final bow of holy Baptism is the promise to follow and obey Jesus Lord. The core of the baptismal covenant is pointing both to our belief in the Triune God and how we live out our relationship with God by following the way of Jesus in our lives. That’s the core. We are followers of Jesus of Nazareth, people who seek to love and serve in His spirit and in His way. That’s not rhetorical flourish. That, I think is Christian witness, and that Christian witness is particularly needed in our time.
We are really living, at least in our political season but I think it’s reflective of where we are as a culture, in the midst of some real and deep polarizations. We’re in an atmosphere where bigotry, rank bigotry, is often enshrined in laws – this is Jim Crow stuff again – and articulated in the public sphere as if it is legitimate discourse. That’s a problem. And I’m not making a Republican or Democrat statement. This has nothing to do with partisanship now. This has to do with citizenship.
And so we need a witness that is a Christian counter-narrative because very often Christianity is seen as being complicit in that voice. We need a witness to a way of being Christian – see, this is where evangelism does matter by this Church, and racial reconciliation does matter by this Church – a witness by a church like The Episcopal Church to a way of being Christian that is not complicit in the culture, but committed to following Jesus, and looking like Jesus of Nazareth, loving and caring, and serving in the way that we see Jesus doing it in the New Testament. That is a counter-narrative to a narrative of narrowness, of bigotry and polarization. I believe that this Church and people in this Church can bear that witness. Episcopalians who are Republicans and Episcopalians who are Democrats. The via media. The sensible center. That’s who we are. And so, the Jesus Movement embodied in The Episcopal Church and in Episcopalians in our time has profound cultural significance and may well have global significance as well.
That is the commitment our General Convention made last year when we said, or when the Spirit said through us, that the work of evangelism and racial reconciliation is the central work we are called to do in this mission moment in which we live.
Opening Remarks (excerpts from a transcription)