Jesus Christ's epic Sermon on the Mount, with its calls for peacemaking, helping the poor and working for justice, could well be compared to a modern political campaign speech in front of the multitudes in a modern stadium.
Now a Gilbert church is launching a Jesus for President campaign and will conduct a two-month effort starting in August - parallel to the U.S. presidential campaign - that emphasizes a familiar issue in the 2008 campaign: change.
"Advocating for Change Since 33 A.D." is the secondary theme of the campaign that Pastor Mark Connelly is launching this weekend at Superstition Springs Community Church at 4450 E. Elliot Road.
Members will be asked to put "Jesus for President" signs in their yards and wear buttons with the same appeal. And like all candidates, it will be promoted by a Web site, www.anewplatform.com.
"In the midst of political chaos and social inequality, Jesus ran a platform where people did not just lobby for change; they became change," say the organizers of the campaign, which will be launched Aug. 9 and conclude Oct. 5.
Connelly isn't saying who might have filled Jesus' Cabinet almost 2,000 years ago - perhaps Peter as vice president, Paul as secretary of state and Judas Iscariot as the treasury secretary.
Connelly says he is capitalizing on the buzz of this year's national presidential campaign by driving home the message that people should not look to politicians to remedy problems and "produce change for us."
"Things don't seem to be changing all that much depending on who is in office," Connelly said. "What if Jesus were running for president? What would be the platform that he would be running on?"
The pastor said Christ's platform can be best summed up in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapters 5 and 6.
They are the heavily quoted biblical passages of the talk Jesus gave on a mountainside, beginning with the eight "beatitudes" - "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven ..."
The Sermon on the Mount has been called the "Charter of Christianity."
While planning a late summer sermon series, the church's staff looked to a book, "Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals" by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, which targets Christian skeptics and calls for them to immerse themselves in the world's struggles to transform the planet as well as themselves.
"While we are not necessarily following what the book is about, we were inspired to take that direction," said Brian Kaufman, the church's communications director.
Sermons for four weekend services spread across nine weeks discuss new kinds of "issues, peacemaking, purity and righteousness."
Superstition Springs Community Church, founded in 1995, puts a heavy emphasis on social justice issues, Kaufman said.
One target is sex trafficking in Arizona, Fiji and Africa.
"Ending human trafficking is one of our biggest ministries," Connelly said.
They work to rescue teens, especially girls, from sex trades, then settle them in safe environments, he said.
One project includes developing a 43-acre village for girls in Fiji. Another center in either India or Jamaica is being explored.
Moreover, the church, which draws about 2,000 worshipers each weekend, has adopted an African village with 900 children who are AIDS orphans.
"We provide food, water, schools, community centers and shelters for these kids - and give them a second chance," Connelly said. Ministries also include supporting transitional housing for the Valley's homeless women and children.
The Jesus for President campaign, Connelly said, will stress that "we have to politically embody those changes and become the changes that we desire to see in our communities and our nation."
Lasting change, he said, "emerges from the hearts of the people who have been transformed, rather than just seeking people to legislate for us."