Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne: A Conversation About Politics

Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo. Photo courtesy of the authors.

Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo. Photo courtesy of the authors.

TONY CAMPOLO: Shane, I have a question to ask that may make you squirm a little bit. From hearing you talk and reading your books, you often seem to suggest that Christians not participate in the political process, and that political activism is somewhat futile. Have I understood your position correctly?

SHANE CLAIBORNE: The question for me is not are we political, but how are we political? We need to be politically engaged, but peculiar in how we engage. Jesus and the early Christians had a marvelous political imagination. They turned all the presumptions and ideas of power and blessing upside down.

The early Christians felt a deep collision with the empire in which they lived, and with politics as usual. They carelessly crossed party lines and built subversive friendships. And we should do that too. To be nonpartisan doesn’t mean we’re nonpolitical. We should refuse to get sucked into political camps and insist on pulling the best out of all of them. That’s what Jesus did—challenge the worst of each camp and pull out the best of each. That’s why we see Essenes, Zealots, Herodians, Pharisees, and Sadducees all following Jesus and even joining his movement. But they had to become new creations. They had to let go of some things. Jesus challenged the tax-collecting system of Rome and the sword of the Zealots.

So to answer the question, I engage with local politics because it affects people I love. And I engage in national politics because it affects people I love.

Governments can do lots of things, but there are a lot of things they cannot do. A government can pass good laws, but no law can change a human heart. Only God can do that. A government can provide good housing, but folks can have a house without having a home. We can keep people breathing with good health care, but they still may not really be alive. The work of community, love, reconciliation, restoration is the work we cannot leave up to politicians. This is the work we are all called to do. We can’t wait on politicians to change the world. We can’t wait on governments to legislate love. And we don’t let policies define how we treat people; how we treat people shapes our policies.

TONY CAMPOLO: So you are not calling for noninvolvement in politics. Instead, you are warning Christians not to put their trust totally in political powers. You are calling them to exercise an ongoing involvement with the political process, to constantly speak truth to power in those places where power seems to be asserting itself in ways that are contrary to the will of God.