Ron Keener

JESUS. PRESIDENT? Embodying the change we seek in our culture.

By Ronald E.  Keener

Pastors and politicians don’t often mix well. The current election season has shown that — writ large. John Hagee said he’d never endorse another candidate when an initial endorsement of John McCain went awry. Rick Warren said he doesn’t believe pastors should endorse political candidates — even as he had Senators Obama and McCain speak in August at his church.

Warren says, “I think as a pastor my role is to pastor all the flock regardless of their political persuasion.” At the Civic Forum he said he believes in the separation of church and state, “but we do not believe in the separation of faith and politics.”

And then there’s Jesus. Would you endorse Jesus for President? Jesus running on the platform called the Sermon on the Mount. Intriguing idea, and so thought Mark Connelly, pastor of Superstitution Springs Community Church in Gilbert, AZ. []

When Connelly and his worship team were thinking six months ago about the message series for the fall, a new book had come out called Jesus for President by authors Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw (Zondervan).

The book sparked an idea with Connelly. He says the church and the book’s authors “have somewhat of a similar philosophy of ministry, in that our approach is to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

“And a big part of that is we’re not seeking to vote into office people who will produce that change for us, but instead we are trying to be that change in the world.”

One example is the nonprofit organization, Vision Abolition, which SSCC, with others, has set up to rescue girls from the sex trade industry, “building a 43-acre village in the South Pacific where they can come in and be restored and healed.” Forty-seven girls with their kids have already been rescued in less than a year. []

An impetus for the Jesus for President “campaign” came when Connelly began to feel that the congregation was becoming a church of people who love the church and like Jesus. “We wanted to flip that upside down,” he says.

“We’ve got a lot of great things going on here and a great sense of community, but as we’ve heard their testimonies it seemed like we heard a lot about the church and very little about Jesus.”

A micro-website announced the church’s Jesus for President campaign and lapel buttons and yard signs advertised the series that packed an already jammed four-services venue for the congregation.

“Advocating for change since 33 a.d.” read the yard signs and cards given members to share with friends. A direct mail piece was sent to 70,000 homes. The series ran for eight weekends during August and September.

Connelly was pleased with the media attention the campaign received, and felt the church was treated fairly and seriously.

His approach to the messages using the Sermon on the Mount text is “a new platform, a new set of issues, a new way to live.”

“Jesus was speaking in the midst of an empire and he was taking the values of that empire and turning it on its head. He’s introducing a new empire that has a new set of values, so that it’s not the rich that rule, but it’s the meek that inherit the earth, it’s not about the wealthy having all the land, it’s about those who hunger and seek for righteousness.”

Jesus took the values of the empire, he says, and introduced a new empire in the midst of the Roman Empire. But some people say that’s not feasible today?

“Right,” Connelly responds. “And if the approach is that we’re going to vote in people who will  do that, I think they’re right. I don’t think it is feasible for our elected officials to produce that kind of change.

“But it is entirely feasible for the body of Christ to become those people. That’s where the change will flow from. We’re looking to produce change in our culture, not that flows from Capitol Hill, but that flows from the hearts of the people. And that’s possible.”

Now there’s a stew of pastors and politics that mixes well — and tastes better.


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