Pledging Allegiance

In his 2006 book, The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne urged us to be careful what we pray for, because God may call us to live it out—often in profound ways. A new generation of Christians was called to action by the testimony of this ordinary radical, social activist, and founding member of the Simple Way community in Phila­delphia. “We need more of the prophetic imagination that can interrupt violence and oppression,” he wrote.

Jesus for Presi­dent: Poli­tics for Ordi­nary Radicals, by Clai­borne and Chris Haw, is evidence of that imagination, and that prophetic message still rings true. Their call—that as Christians we are to be politically and socially engaged, with Christ as our central “candidate”—is relevant for readers of all ages and denominations.

It’s easy during an emotionally charged election season to draw sharp party lines. Claiborne and Haw—who with his wife, Cassie, belongs to an intentional community in Camden, New Jersey—call us to rise above the divisive politics and embrace our shared history and future. “Being born again radically dissolves affection for national borders,” they write. “Maybe it’s time for Christians all over the world to lay down the flags of their nations and together raise the banner of God. The Christian icon is not the Stars and Stripes but a cross-flag, and its emblem is not a donkey, an elephant, or an eagle but a slaughtered lamb.”

Claiborne and Haw tackle many of the tough issues that so often direct evangelical voters. Rather than insist all Christians identify with a common perspective on marriage equality and abortion rights, for example, we would be better served “to create communities in the church in which people can find intimacy and love rather than split congregations over issues.”

Engaging politics, they remind us, means living out those beliefs we shout in debates, the polls, and the pews. If we want to see fewer abortions, we “better be ready to take in some teen moms and adopt some unwanted babies.” If we seek to create a new culture, we better stop approving those “holy bombs” launched by so-called “godly” presidents. And “if we are to be relevant to the world we live in, we must be relevant nonconformists.” We need new celebrations, language, rituals, heroes, liturgy, eyes, and holidays. Some of these new rituals can be as simple as making the clothes, food, and other things we need, as Claiborne and his community members have tried to do.

Readers will en­counter a compelling layout—a scrapbook-style hodgepodge of photos, maps, quotes, and drawings sprinkled throughout the pages. Chico Fajardo-Heflin’s art portrays brokenness, beauty, and love in a way that causes scripture to come alive. The book’s opening montage contains comforting Sunday school-style im­ages; the next page carries a photo of the carnage of war, which forces us to confront the inadequacy of Sunday school answers when faced with the reality of death, pain, and destruction.

At times like these, when our faith in kings, presidents, and the church is at an all-time low, the last thing we should do, say the authors, is to disengage from politics. Instead, when it comes to voting for candidates, we need to tap into more of that prophetic imagination, even when “voting may be little more than attempting to lessen the impact of the empire.”

Cara Boekeloo is editorial resources assistant at Sojourners.

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