By Jim Wallis. HarperOne, 2019. 320 pages. $25.99/hardcover; $17.99/paperback; $11.99/eBook.
As a founder of both the Sojourners religious community and the magazine that bears its name, Jim Wallis is known as one of the leading figures in evangelical Christianity in the United States—but, because of his peace and social justice activism, his reputation runs counter to the stereotypical view many hold of evangelicals as Moral Majority conservatives. Though he is not inclined to take political positions, he is widely regarded as a member of the Christian Left, and in recent years has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of Donald Trump’s presidency and the support mainstream evangelicals have given it.
After having seen what Trump has done with that support, Wallis writes, “I believe two things are now at stake: the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith.” The evangelical support for Trump is no longer, in his view, merely a moral compromise, but an abandonment of the core message of Christianity, the good news pronounced by Jesus.
Christ in Crisis is an expansion of “Reclaiming Jesus,” a message that Wallis and other church leaders first issued in 2018, and the crisis to which that original declaration alluded has only gotten worse since. Though Wallis carefully avoids any direct statement about whether Trump believes in the White nationalist cause, he sees that the president has become that movement’s flagbearer—making it impossible, he argues, to continue to support Trump and authentically call oneself Christian.
To make that case, Wallis addresses eight questions that he identifies as central to Jesus’s teachings, starting with the mandate to expand our definition of neighbor. “Racial bigotry is,” in this formulation, “not only an ugly political appeal to racialized anxiety, fear, and hatred, but a brutal assault on the image of God.” It is also, along with the parallel ideology of White nationalism, nothing short of sin. (He pronounces a similarly firm verdict against those prejudiced against members of the LGBTQ+ community.)
The broad contours of Wallis’s argument should be easily recognizable to Friends, particularly in its acknowledgment that to choose the way of Christianity often requires one to place oneself in opposition to the Caesars of this world and their regimes. And though Wallis may not be quite as explicit as George Fox or William Penn, it is clear he believes, as they did, that many contemporary churches have become so bogged down in the pursuit of secular power, particularly in the form of political influence, that they have lost their connection to Jesus.
(It’s worth noting that earlier this month, the publisher released the paperback version of this book under a new title: Christ in Crisis?: Reclaiming Jesus in a Time of Fear, Hate, and Violence. While the new subtitle’s specificity is welcome, that added question mark puzzlingly undercuts the urgency of Wallis’s argument, even as Trump’s role as an icon for White Christian nationalists has expanded in the last year.)
The call to purge Christianity of the systemic influence of White supremacy follows many similar calls from Black Christian leaders in the United States, and as such Christ in Crisis is to some degree less revelation than recapitulation. It is nevertheless a compelling reminder that Jesus provided all those who would be his disciples with a simple agenda, so straightforward in its mandates that it is not difficult to see when one’s actions are at odds with it—unless one chooses to be willfully ignorant.