Episcopal Church leader Michael Curry, Sojourners founder Jim Wallis and a group of left-leaning church leaders are calling for Christians nationwide to pray, fast, and apply Lenten spiritual practices to prepare for a "constitutional crisis."
Wallis, joined by Curry, a supporter of same-sex marriage, and about 20 other leaders — who wrote the “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis” declaration launched last year against racism, misogyny, xenophobia and the immorality of political leaders — issued the new call in time for Lent.
In early January, the informal circle of “Reclaiming Jesus” elders — many of whom are leaders of churches and denominations or are former heads of churches — gathered for a retreat in Washington, D.C., for a time of discernment.
During this time, a document published in mid-February titled “A Call to Prayer, Fasting, and Action” was conceived to encourage Christians to "apply Lenten spiritual practices to our lives and to the dangers facing our democracy."
“There was a real sense among elders that we could be headed toward a constitutional crisis,” Wallis, the founder the progressive evangelical social justice organization Sojourners and critic of President Donald Trump, told The Christian Post in a phone interview.
“If there were executive overreaches or oversteps, we decided that the best response would be a prayer to begin with and fast. The timing became Lent for that, which is always a traditional time for fasting and repentance and almsgiving.”
The new call states that just as Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national “day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer” in 1863 at the height of the Civil War, the elders believe that they are witnessing a “national crisis” and are calling for “prayer, fasting, humility, and repentance.”
“[W]e are calling for national prayer and fasting ... through the season of Lent,” the document reads. “We call upon church leaders, pastors, and local congregations to respond to the ongoing devastation that so many people face. We also call upon church leaders to stand up to the misuse and abuse of political power, in the protection of the constitutional checks and balances of government and the common good.”
The elders make clear that they want prayers for those affected by the “unconscionable” government shutdown earlier this year, those facing poverty and hunger, as well as immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally and fear deportation. The elders also seek prayer for those who endure racial divisiveness and parents who “fear for their children of color.”
“We call on clergy to pray and preach the gospel message and lead their churches to serve as the conscience of the nation,” the statement reads. “We call on clergy to foster dialogue that builds unity. We call on clergy to offer prayers that our political leaders will make decisions not for their self-interest but for what is right for our nation and those whom Jesus called ‘the least of these.’”
Curry and Wallis, who were instrumental in forming the elder group for their first meeting on Ash Wednesday 2018, are joined in the new call by other Christian leaders who have been critical of the Trump administration.
Signatories of the new call include: Tony Campolo, co-founder of Red Letter Christians; Amos Brown, chair of the National Baptist Convention’s Social Justice Commission; former megachurch pastor and Obama adviser Joel Hunter; Richard Hamm, former president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); and Ron Sider, the president emeritus of Evangelicals for Social Action.
Also included is Barbara Williams Skinner, president of Skinner Leadership Institute who formerly served on the White House Council for Faith-Based and Public Partnerships during the Obama administration.
Wallis believes that the new call to prayer and fasting was timed well.
Shortly after the new call was released in mid-February, Trump announced a national state of emergency to access billions of dollars without Congressional approval to allow the federal government to build additional barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Additionally, Wallis says, Special Counsel Robert Mueller could release his long-awaited report into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election sometime during Lent.
“There is a liturgical timing for us,” Wallis said. “One of the ways we thought to prepare was to do prayer and fasting. I think a number of us [elders] don’t want to be caught up in the responses of left or right. If there was a constitutional crisis of some kind, it would be very controversial, very political, very partisan.”
Wallis explained that the new call for prayer and fasting is about making sure churches send out “followers of Jesus” rather than political partisans during a moral political crisis.
“What is the defense of the common good, defense of the most vulnerable, the defense of our constitutional checks and balances?” Wallis asked.
Wallis was asked to explain what would constitute a “constitutional crisis.”
“When people perceive that our checks and balances are not being respected,” Wallis contended. “Like under Nixon, the Saturday Night Massacre. He fired all the people who weren’t performing the way he thought best. A number of people feel that around [Trump’s] calling for a state of emergency for the border wall.”
“It is things like that. For example, the Mueller report. I am being very attentive to the Mueller report because it is going on now for two years. … If the Mueller report was blocked somehow or wasn’t able to be read by the public, there could be a strong response to that,” Wallis continued. “Or, if the report is transparent and it shows what they found and there was something that was really egregious that many people in a bipartisan fashion thought was a serious abuse of executive power.”
If those hypotheticals occur with the release of the Mueller report, Wallis argues that many Americans would perceive there to be a “constitutional crisis.”
“There will be a lot of partisan response. From the faith base, I would rather see us respond as Jesus followers rather than Democrats and Republicans,” he said.
Wallis added that testimony given by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen before Congress last month implicates Trump in a number of criminal behaviors.
“There are so many of them that if another president of the past had done one or two of those things, there would be an enormous potential outcry,” Wallis said. “When you do so many on a continual basis, it is almost overwhelming and numbing. People get distracted by the number of things and it normalizes this behavior. From what Cohen said and what has been said before, there are criminal laws that have politically been broken that point to the president's behavior.”
When it comes to the possibility of Trump’s impeachment, Wallis thinks it is wiser to wait to see what information is made public when the Mueller report is released.
If some “constitutional crisis” were to occur — as a result of the Mueller report or some other cause — the “Reclaiming Jesus” elders would likely decide over the conference call to what the next steps of action will be.
“I can imagine candlelight vigils and services all over the country if it was perceived that we were in a national crisis,” Wallis said.
Last May, the Reclaiming Jesus elders and hundreds of other Christians gathered in Washington, D.C. for a church service followed by a procession from the National City Church to the White House for a candlelight vigil.