Wwjd?

By Simmons, Staci | Brookings Review, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Wwjd?


Simmons, Staci, Brookings Review


"WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?" may be the trendiest slogan among Christian youth in America. Its acronym, "WWJD?," adorns jewelry, clothing, coffee mugs, key chains, and school supplies, even a CD under the contemporary Christian music label of EMI. The original manufacturer of the inexpensive nylon bracelets that kicked off the pop-culture fashion has sold over 17 million of the bracelets alone.

This marketing boom began in 1997. Yet the WWJD? concept springs from an 1896 novel by Charles Sheldon entitled In His Steps, a book that has been translated into 45 languages and has never been out of print. It portrays an ordinary city at the turn of the century in an America replete with inner-city slums, rampant homelessness, and a complex system of social and economic hierarchy.

The respectable citizens in Sheldon's novel attend church each Sunday morning. They also ignore the social ills around them. The comfortable weekly routine of the faithful continues until, at the close of a sermon on following Jesus' example, a homeless man makes his way to the front of the congregation. Standing before the mortified congregants, many of whom had turned down his pleas for a paying job, the man asks what it means to imitate Jesus. He wonders out loud about the connection between the words preached, the hymns sung, and his own experience with those who sit before him. He speaks of the world that might be born if Christians were to live out the words they speak each Sunday morning. But before he can finish, the man collapses and dies.

So shaken are the fictional congregants and their minister that a large group pledges to live a full year asking themselves "what would Jesus do? …

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