There was the following passage in Maureen Dowd’s article titled, “The spies who didn’t love her” in The New York Times (March 11, 2014).

Barack Obama, … vowing to clean up the excesses and Constitutional corrosion of W. and Cheney, will now have to clean up the excesses and Constitutional corrosion in his own administration. And he’d better get out from between two ferns and get in between the warring Congressional Democrats and administration officials … because it looks as if the C.I.A. is continuing to run amok to cover up what happened in the years W. and Vice encouraged it to run amok.

Langley needs a come-to-Jesus moment — pronto.


As I was unfamiliar with the meaning of the word, “come-to-Jesus moment,” I checked CED, OED, and Merriam Webster. None of them carries this word.

However, the online English-Japanese / Japanese-English dictionary site Weblio provides the definition of “come-to-Jesus” as:

  1. to experience or display a conversion or recommitment to Christianity or to undergo a related ritual, especially public confession of one’s sins or weaknesses.
  2. to become committed or display commitment to a cause.

And Dictjuggler defines it as ‘unwilling / reluctant (to do),’ e.g., a come-to-Jesus meeting.

I understand Langley is the CIA headquarters. But what does “Langley needs a come-to-Jesus moment” exactly mean? Does it mean simply a ‘trial’ or ‘investigation’?

Is “come-to-Jesus” (moment / meeting / stage) a popular phrase? Can I say “I feel like come-to-Jesus meeting to present the annual sales plan to management for their review?”

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    I've only recently heard the phrase. I think it has lots of meanings depending on the speaker. The meaning I've heard was not a conversion but a (possibly forced) confession of loyalty or faith.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 12, 2014 at 23:14
  • I would understand this to mean 'Come over to my side, be converted to my cause'. I've more often heard 'Come to Daddy' which you might say, eg if you were completing a difficult puzzle or game and you were making the final move that meant you won.
    – Mynamite
    Commented Mar 12, 2014 at 23:19
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    I always thought of it as meaning a day a reckoning. A moment when you must discuss/bring out all the dirty items for the world to see. A moment when decisions will be made based on your acts. But I could be wrong...
    – JSanchez
    Commented Mar 12, 2014 at 23:30
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    For the "Can I say" question... "No". Much of Maureen Dowd's fancy language is like that (as we see from many of Yoichi's questions). Do not try to use it yourself.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 13:16
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    re: "Can I say . . . ?" Yes, given: a) you don't mind invoking a religious image b) you only invoke it once per person per "lifetime" (e.g. career). It's not just let's have a chat, it's let's have a chat that will change how you see the world.
    – Jack Ryan
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 16:56

6 Answers 6


Come-to-Jesus means, in a general sense, to come to or return to core principles.

It comes from making a commitment or conversion to Christianity.

In both instances, a come-to-Jesus moment may include a public display where one shows that they have accepted their need to change.

When you face the figurative come-to-Jesus moment in your life (at work for example), you face the error in your ways. (You accept the fact that you have erred. A typical expression in common with the literal and figurative expression would be that you have strayed). Once you have recognized your error you then make a commitment to return to core principles.

In your example about the CIA* running amok, it means they have strayed from their defined behavior. A come-to-Jesus moment should bring them back to the fold or change their behavior to be more compliant with what is expected of them.

As to whether its a common or popular phrase, I would say it's well known in the U.S. and used occasionally in private communications. It's one of those phrases where, when you hear it or read it, if you don't already know what it means, you may still have a fairly good sense of what it means without asking. With religion being such a charged topic here, I wouldn't expect to hear it coming from our news networks (written or broadcast) unless they were quoting someone. It's an informal expression, so you'll hear it in informal dialog or see it in informal writing. You may see it within quotation marks in anything formal.

(*The CIA is referred to as "Langley" because their headquarters is in Langley, Virginia.)

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    I think your answer is mostly good, only I disagree that it is always about a return to core principles. It's just as likely about changing the sinful nature of someone. Bringing backsliders back into the fold is a common use of the phrase (in its native pastures), but not the only or even most common one.
    – djeikyb
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 8:58
  • Does Langley refer to the CIA or to the entire military-industrial complex in the same region? Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 13:27
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    I think the piece of historical context missing for most people might be the revival meetings during the second great awakening. I think That was the origin of the call to "Come to Jesus." Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 14:05
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    +1 - Great answer overall, but I agree with @djeikyb - it'd be even better if it had a bit on it sometimes meaning more of "make the big, hard call together and accept the repercussions" It's not always about someone going to their core principles, as much as being reminded what yours (or the organizations) are, and being asked to decide to be "with us" or "against us". Didn't want to over-edit you by adding it myself, but think it would add to your (already great) answer.
    – Jaydles
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 16:21

It means a reckoning such as when an employee is not meeting their assigned goals, they might be called into their supervisor's office for a "come-to-Jesus" meeting where they will be judged on their actions.

The definition according Jargondatabase.com:

"Come To Jesus Meeting"

"A time when a polite ultimatum is given, generally followed by a less polite ultimatum, then a threat. Drug and alcohol "interventions" are often referred to as "Come to Jesus Meetings"."

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    @JackRyan, despite Jesus' "judge not, lest ye be judged" legacy, every "come to Jesus" meeting I've attended has been just that...a judgment. Ironic, huh? And the ultimatum thing...I suppose if the terms of the ultimatum are not followed through with, there could be more than one. (Like how our parents used to threaten us..."this time I MEAN it!") lol! Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 13:18

Think Billy Graham Crusade. Charles Finney. Revivalism. Altar calls. Saul becoming the apostle Paul. Nathan confronting King David about Bathsheba.

A "come to Jesus moment" is about God, or a human rep, exhorting an ardent sinner to repentance. In the case of revivals and altar calls, the exhortation is strong on pathos. A key part of the "come to Jesus moment" is God's divine power working to convince the sinner to repent, even if revivalists are mostly in the free-will camp.

In your example, the CIA is the unrepentant sinner, and the author wants Obama to take the role of Prophet/Preacher, leading the CIA out of their sin.

I don't think the phrase is exceptionally popular, but I suspect it's well known. If you use it, consider your audience; mind that the phrase is rooted in evangelical christianity (and often charismatic). It's about conversion to an abramhamic religion; a huge, life-altering deal. It's not uncommon to hear it outside its native religious context.

I don't think your sales example works. Maybe if your sales team was performing poorly, or the managers were acting horrible, you might call a "come to Jesus" meeting to sort the offending party, with the implication that they reform or "resign". I usually expect to hear the phrase used hyperbolically, or tinged with irony (see: the incidental insinuation that the POTUS is a god ordained prophet might be funny to several classes of people religious and not).

For more on its roots, check out this ngram chart. You see it peaks around the time of the third great awakening. Granted, there is no data prior to 1800.

  • This is the best answer because it involves contrition, repentance and a prophet-king leading you out of sin.
    – mcgyver5
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 14:30
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    "..the phrase is rooted in charismatic christianity" More properly, in evangelistic Christianity (the original, not the modern) as the phrase in that context and the practice is quite old and widespread, whereas the charismatic movement is much more recent and specific. Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 16:00
  • +1 Saul becomes Paul. On that note, I think King David was Old Testament and therefore not the best example of someone who "came to Jesus" ;-)
    – Jack Ryan
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 17:03
  • @JackRyan haha, yeah, that one is more concept, less specifically jesus. though maybe it's justified by the trinity idea. one of abram's mysterious strangers is said to be christ, in some christian theologies.
    – djeikyb
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 20:03

In this case the phrase "come-to-Jesus moment" is equivalent to saying "confess your sins". (In my view this seems to derive from evangelical Christianity where at a point in the service the minister will call for those who wish to "come to Jesus" to come forward to the altar to pray and be received into the church). In this case the author is trying to say that the CIA (headquartered in Langley, VA) needs to admit what they've been doing vis-a-vis hacking of intelligence committee computers, destruction of documents, illegal spying, etc.


"Come to Jesus" is a more picturesque way of saying "get religion." In either case, it means coming around to do the right thing.


I think the answers so far miss a critical bit of context. In the evangelical Christian movement there are frequently large meetings known as "revivals" where some out-of-town preacher comes in (often into a large tent or a rented stadium) and preaches a real "Bible-thumper" sermon, pulling all the levers, using all the cliches one was taught as a child, raising emotions to a fever pitch.

At the end of such a sermon there is a "call" for people to come forward and "confess their sins" or something of that nature, and typically (depending on the preacher and the type of audience) 5-10% of the audience will walk forward. (Note that these people are not being "converted", as the vast majority are already dyed-in-the-wool Christians -- they're just being "re-energized" or "re-dedicated" or some such.) This walking forward at the end of the revival is "coming to Jesus". And the whole revival meeting is thus a "come to Jesus meeting".

Thus, a "come to Jesus meeting" is one where the big cheese "preaches" a "sermon" of sorts, exhorting the "masses" to be better managers, employees, spies, whatever. And having a "come to Jesus moment" is being emotionally moved by such a display, or having some reaction that is metaphorically similar.

(It also bears mentioning that such "moments" tend to wear off pretty rapidly, since it's seldom that there has been a fundamental change in the thought process of the listener.)

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