The day after the election, Lisa Sharon Harper nearly gave up the name “evangelical.”
That’s because 81 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump for president, a candidate she described as “representing all of the things Jesus stood against — lust for money, sex, and power.” And their vote propelled the Republican nominee to victory.
In a letter signed by 49 evangelicals from Texas and around the country, the Christian leaders said officials have a “moral obligation” to stop the execution, which is scheduled for Aug. 24.
A SELF-PROCLAIMED “ordinary radical” from eastern Tennessee, Shane Claiborne is a founding member of the New Monasticism movement, which encourages a life of simplicity, nonviolence, community, and prayer. In 1997, along with fellow passionate friends from Eastern University, Shane co-founded The Simple Way—an intentional Christian community in inner-city North Philadelphia. His books include Jesus for President, Red Letter Revolution, Common Prayer, and Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers. He’s been featured in films such as Another World is Possible and Ordinary Radicals. His forthcoming book, Executing Grace, calls Christians to advocate for the abolishment of the death penalty.
Shane’s first book, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, quickly became a foundational text for many young, social justice-minded Christians. Now, 10 years later, he’s updating the world about what this revolution looks like today. Claiborne spoke with Sojourners editor-in-chief Jim Wallis by phone in November about what’s new—and what’s not—in his lifelong vocation to be part of the Jesus revolution.
Jim Wallis: This is the 10th anniversary of the publication of Irresistible Revolution, and you’ve just released an updated edition. What new insights can we expect in this version?
Shane Claiborne: After 20 years of living in North Philly, there are things you look back on and you think, wow, that looks different from what I thought it would. So it’s been a surprise and a gift to get to tweak the book a little bit. I wrote notes in the margins throughout the book. Some of them are fun and some of them are to be a little bit more accurate. Then I did a whole section of frequently asked questions. Those run the gambit of “How come you got married?” to “What do you do with ISIS?” I added an appendix, too, about the tradition of civil disobedience in the church. It was fun!
“The irresistible revolution,” you said in the first edition of the book, “isn’t just about going to heaven when you die, but bringing heaven down as you live. ... The revolution we are talking about begins inside each of us and extends to the ends of the earth.” Has that changed? No, I don’t think that has changed at all. What does change are the ways we live that out. When we started The Simple Way 20 years ago, there was the sense that everybody needs to leave everything behind and just live on the streets. What we’ve seen the Spirit doing is much more dynamic and spectacular than that—people are living out unique vocations. We have lawyers, doctors, plumbers, gardeners, or urban farmers—folks who are using their gifts for seeking first the kingdom of God and interrupting the patterns of injustice.
National Geographic magazine recently named Mary, the mother of Jesus, “the most powerful woman in the world” as an appraisal of her ongoing influence and popularity. But do Mary’s words and example have a prayer of being heard and effecting change in this time of war?
Indeed, this is war. America has effectively been engaged in continuous warfare since the weeks after September 11, 2001. In a few decades we’ll learn what happens when whole generations of people grow up and take charge of a society that has waged war their entire lives.
Attempts to tone down the descriptions we use for warfare or the way we conceptualize the present conflict don’t change anything. No end is in sight. Others turn up the rhetoric: after the San Bernardino shooting, at least one presidential candidate insisted the USA now finds itself in “the next world war.” Another one puffed up his chest and boasted of his resolve to “carpet bomb” people. We hear this stuff so often, we’ve become numb to its magnitude.
Only 15 women have been executed in the U.S. since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. For two death penalty cases involving women to make the news in the same week is unprecedented – but it’s happening.
One is Jodi Arias, convicted of killing her ex-boyfriend in 2008, whose sentencing trial was this week. She could face the death penalty in Arizona.
The other is a lesser-known case in Georgia — Kelly Gissendaner, convicted in a 1997 Atlanta murder plot that targeted her husband. Though sentenced to death, it is clear that with a little better legal coaching, Ms. Gissendaner could have plea-bargained for her life. That’s exactly what her husband’s killer, Gregory Owens, did. And now he’s behind bars as she counts down the hours to her death. It just doesn’t feel like your life should depend on how well you play the legal cards, but it sure seems to.
Kelly Gissendaner was supposed to die Wednesday night — but there was an interruption.
There is a nonviolent uprising around immigration happening in Philadelphia and a dozen other U.S. cities. Philadelphia faith leaders announced that they will welcome immigrant families even if it is against the law. They are building a movement of "sanctuary congregations" and have dreams that the U.S. will one day be a sanctuary nation.
We join them in insisting that we must obey the laws of God over the laws of our government — and that means "welcoming the foreigner as if they were our own flesh and blood." (Exodus 22:21, Lev.19:34, etc., etc.).
Jesus says that when we welcome the stranger we welcome him. When God asks: "When I was a stranger did you welcome me?" (Mt. 25) we are not going to say: "Sorry God, Congress wouldn't let us."
We know that sometimes divine obedience can mean civil disobedience.
As St. Augustine once said: "An unjust law is no law at all."
It’s 93 degrees in Texas today. And Rev. Jeff Hood is walking 200 miles across the state. What would compel somebody to do that? He wants to end the death penalty … and he is not alone.
Rev. Jeff Hood is a Southern Baptist pastor, deeply troubled by his denomination’s stance on capital punishment. And he is troubled because he lives in the most lethal state in the U.S. Texas has had 515 executions since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 – the next state in line is Oklahoma with 111. That means Texas is responsible for 37 percent of the executions in the U.S. Jeff has been a longtime organizer and board member for the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, a movement that is gaining some serious momentum these days.
A growing number of Texans — and Americans in general — are questioning the death penalty. A recent ABC poll shows we are over the tipping point, with more than half of Americans being against the death penalty and in favor of life in prison, putting death penalty support at a new low. For some it is the racial bias – in Texas it is not uncommon for an African American to be found guilty by an all-white jury. In fact, in considering “future dangerousness,” a criteria necessary for execution in Texas, state “experts” have argued that race is a contributing factor, essentially that someone is more likely to be violent because they are black – prompting articles like the headline story in the New York Times about Duane Buck: “Condemned to Die Because He is Black.”
A year ago yesterday — March 13, 2013 — Pope Francis officially became pope. Since then he has fascinated the world.
He didn’t don the snazzy red shoes and fancy papal attire. He chose a humble apartment rather than the posh papal palace. He washed the feet of women in prison. He touched folks that others did not want to touch, like a man with a disfigured face, making headline news around the world. He has put the margins in the spotlight. He refused to condemn sexual minorities saying, “Who am I to judge?” He has let kids steal the show, allowing one little boy to wander up on stage and stand by him as he preached.
It’s the end of the year and, as always, a great time to reflect on what has happened over the past 12 months. I’ve been blessed to have so many talented and diverse writers share their voices and views alongside me on the God’s Politics blog. I want to take this opportunity to share some of my favorite posts from this past year with you, in no particular order.
We had so many great posts this year that explored the different facets of our faith. If you haven’t read them yet, make sure you look at:
What Good is a Ph.D. for reading the Bible? by Rev. Dr. Guy Nave
Five Things That Are Holding Christianity Back by Christian Piatt
10 reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained For Ministry by Eugene Cho
Women and Girls
Since the 1970s, Sojourners has been committed to resisting sexism in all its forms, while affirming the integrity and equality of women and men in the church and in the larger world. This year we’ve been even more intentional about looking at these topics through our blog and magazine.
Twenty-seven evangelical Christian leaders across Texas and the United States are calling on Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson to allow a new, fair sentencing hearing for Duane Buck. Mr. Buck is an African-American man who was condemned to death after his sentencing jury was told that he was likely to be a future danger because of his race. These evangelical Christian leaders oppose the setting of any execution date for Mr. Buck.
“We write to respectfully request that you support a new, fair sentencing hearing for death row prisoner Duane Buck,” the letter states. “Although opinions on the death penalty vary within each of our churches, we are strongly united in our view that no death sentence should be a product of racial discrimination, as it was in Mr. Buck’s case.”
Yesterday, I read about the 2-year old child who shot herself by accident in North Carolina over the weekend. Then I read about the horror of another school shooting in Nevada. Only hours later — shots rang out again on our block in North Philadelphia, for the second time this week. This time a bullet went through the window of one of the houses owned by our non-profit.
I was talking to a friend about my anger over the 300 lives lost in our city this year to gun violence. With the most sincere intentions, my friend said in an attempt to console me: “It’s just the way the world is.”
I’m not willing to give up that easy. It may be the way the world is today, but it doesn’t have to be the way the world is tomorrow.
Right after 9/11, I asked a kid in my neighborhood what we should do in response. His answer: “Those people did something very wrong ...” He thought pensively and continued, “But two wrongs don’t make a right.”
As Martin Luther King taught us, you cannot fight fire with fire, you only get a bigger fire. You fight fire with water. You fight violence with nonviolence. You fight hatred with love.
As a Christian, a follower of Jesus the Prince of Peace, I am deeply troubled about the possibility of a military response to the violence in Syria. Jesus consistently teaches us another way to respond to evil, a third way – neither fight nor flight. He teaches that evil can be opposed without being mirrored, oppressors resisted without being emulated, enemies neutralized without being destroyed.
I used to be a Bible study leader.
And per the undergraduate campus fellowship tradition, it kept me busy: Sunday brunch community building, Monday night small groups, Tuesday leadership meetings, and Wednesday training sessions. Discipleship, one-on-ones, social activities, all-campus worship, weekend retreats, week-long retreats, all-day retreats, evangelism workshops, work day, capture the flag, scavenger hunts, and prayer meetings.
But what I remember most vividly are Thursdays.
Every Thursday. The evening walk through campus, past bars and restaurants beginning to fill with my peers, through a door almost hidden to the unaware, flanked by a man sitting on the ground. The man is dirty and unkempt. Sometimes he’s panhandling. Sometimes he’s asleep. On one occasion, he eats, still alone, from a small bag of popcorn one of my fellow Bible study leaders had brought to him.
The man catches my attention, yet I don’t show it. I don’t ask his name, or where he goes when he doesn’t sit by the door, or how he manages to stay warm through Midwestern winters. Thursdays are obligatory for Bible study leaders, so maybe that’s why I try to ignore the man. Maybe that’s why I feel I can’t stop to ask him his name. Or maybe being a Bible study leader is just a convenient excuse to keep walking.
So every Thursday I climb the stairs behind that door, leaving the man below, allowing him to fade into the background until he is just another distant person, indistinguishable from those filling the pub across the street or sleeping on their textbooks in the library across the quad. Suddenly the band is on stage, the rhythm of worship distracts me, channeling an energy that gives way to reflection, to reverence, to calm. Every Thursday.
And then it’s over. And like all good Bible study leaders, I greet friends, practice fellowship, welcome newcomers. We leave in groups to study or socialize. I don’t notice if the man is still there when we leave.
This man has come to represent many things to me in my faith journey, and something I’ve encountered this week brings my thoughts back to him.
Afghanistan is one of the most desperate, beat up places in the world. Forbes magazine has called it the most dangerous nation on earth. Over 30 years of war have left 2 million people dead, and much of the country in chaos. But even in the most troubled places on earth, there always seems to be a little group of people who refuse to accept the world as it is and insist on building the world they dream of, a little group of people who believe despite the evidence and watch the evidence change.
A few years ago, I began to hear about a little group of young people in Afghanistan doing exactly that. Many of them had seen their loved ones, friends and family killed. They were tired of blood. Tired of war. And so they began to organize, and educate, and train themselves for peace. They studied the heroes of nonviolence, Gandhi and King. A few of them even travelled to India to learn nonviolence and community from Gandhi’s ashram. Now they have their own ashram in Kabul, where dozens of them live together and work for peace.
And they have begun to build a movement: marching in the streets, planting trees, building parks as monuments of peace. They started wearing blue scarves as a symbolic reminder that there is one blue sky that connects us all, and now their little movement is catching the world’s attention. It is a movement of friends without borders.
The motto of their movement is this: “A little bit of love is stronger than all the weapons in the world.”
Jesus for President. Amish for Homeland Security. We had some good ideas for serious change in America.
As Christians, we became convinced that the issues –things like immigration and health care, and the growing disparity between the rich and the poor – these things matter to God. We see more than 2,000 verses in Scripture that talk about how we care for the poor and marginalized. And too much of the Christianity we grew up with was so heavenly minded that it was no earthly good. So the issues matter to us.
But, we were, and still are, political refugees in post-religious-right America. No party feels like home. No candidate seems to value the things we see Jesus talking about in the Sermon on the Mount. Federal budget cuts have begun to look like the antithesis of the Beatitudes, where Jesus blesses the poor and hungry rather than the rich and wealthy. You get the sense that if Mary proclaimed her famous “Magnificat” in Luke’s Gospel today — where “God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty” — she’d be accused of promoting class warfare. As one theologian said, “Our money says in God we trust … but our economy looks like the seven deadly sins.”
What would America look like if Jesus were in charge?
Last spring, I heard a terrific talk from Shane Claiborne at the Festival of Faith & Writing. Claiborne, a prominent voice in progressive Christian circles, lives in Philadelphia’s inner city, where he and the other inhabitants of the Simple Way community practice a “new monasticism.”
They value hospitality and communal living, seek to build relationships with those living in their neighborhood, and are concerned with issues around poverty and wealth, power and violence. From the descriptions I’ve read, the Simple Way practices similar values to the Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C., where I worshiped for most of my 20s. The Church of the Saviour had the unusual distinction of taking both Jesus and social justice seriously. It was a community in which I was comfortable speaking like an evangelical, while voting and approaching social issues like an Episcopalian.
Listening to Claiborne speak back in April about justice and love and how our stories illuminate God’s kingdom, I felt at home. Here was the kind of guy I used to worship with in my earnest urban-dwelling days. His message, his words, and his stories felt intimate, familiar, and inspiring.
That is, except for this one story...
This was, of course, an April Fool's Day joke...
Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis stunned critics and supporters alike Sunday as he emerged from a three-month sabbatical from the progressive Christian social justice organization and announced he had joined the tea party.
Sometimes folks ask me if I’ve spoken at any conferences that I get excited about. I’ll be speaking more than 150 times this next year in about a dozen countries — at all sorts of events from a Spanish speaking conference in Florida to an economic think-tank in DC to schools here in North Philly and 30,000 Lutherans in New Orleans.
This year is going to be a blast. I decided to make a list of a few of the events that are real highlights for me in 2012. They are each unique and innovative, and a couple are in their infancy.
Here they are…Five Great Gatherings in 2012:
12. Do something really nice – that no one knows about.
11. Spend more money on other people than I spend on myself. Love my neighbor as I love myself. And love myself as I love my neighbor.
10. Laugh often… especially at advertisements that try to convince me that I must buy more stuff in order to be happy.
You won't want to miss the great profile of our friend Shane Claiborne and the New Monastics in Huffington Post's Religion section. HuffPo's religion editor Paul Raushenbush tells the story of Shane and his brothers and sisters in The Simple Way spiritual community in Philly.
"I often say I was drafted by injustice," explains Shane Claiborne, one of the founders of The Simple Way, a Christian community located in North Philadelphia. Tall, thin, with dreadlocks and a ready smile, Shane shares with me the religious experience that changed his life.
In the late 1990s, a group of homeless families squatting in an abandoned cathedral in Philadelphia were threatened with eviction when the local diocese decided to sell the property. The homeless community hung a banner outside the cathedral that asked: "How can you worship a homeless man on Sunday and evict him on Monday?"