George Luke catches up with Shane Claiborne,
founding partner of The Simple Way, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in Kensington, North Philadelphia.
His ministry experience is varied, from a ten-week stint alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta, to a year spent serving a wealthy mega-congregation.
He recently spent three weeks in Baghdad with the Iraq Peace Team.
At Greenbelt, George Luke caught up with him.
What have you been talking about here at Greenbelt this year?
I'm mostly looking forward to connecting with old friends. Greenbelt's kinda like a big family reunion – one that's always open to new family members.
I've been on a 12-city tour of the UK with the Rend Collective, so this was just kind of a bonus as we were already here; we got to pop in for a day. But I will be sharing this afternoon just a little bit.
At the heart of what we'll be talking about, I think, is that over the past few decades, almost all of our Christianity has been focused on what we believe, and the doctrines of our faith. And those things, I think, are very important.
But at the end of the day, one of our great challenges in the Church right now is not just right thinking but right living. Doctrines, as important as they are, are hard things to love. I think that our Gospel spreads best through fascination and through love and through grace.
So that's what we're talking about: what Christianity looks like, and how we recapture some of the practices of our faith.
I was talking to one of my Catholic friends about that, because a lot of Catholic folks have focused on the lifestyle and the social teachings.
My friend was saying, 'Evangelicals – you guys are focused on your doctrines and Pauline teachings and all that stuff.' I asked him, 'what do you see as the difference?' and he said, 'the difference is, you guys come out with great preachers and televangelists and the Prosperity Gospel, and we turn out Mother Theresas!'
You could argue that Mother Theresa's not all there is – there are priests who've done pretty terrible things – but in the end, I think what we want is good doctrine and good practice. We'll be talking about that today.
On the subject of the 'Prosperity Gospel' – what’s your take on it, and do you think its influence is growing?
The 'Prosperity Gospel' has, I think, monopolised a lot of the airwaves of Christian TV and radio over the past few decades.
But in the end, I think that there are a lot of people who see the very apparent contradiction in it and the gospel that Jesus preached, which was to love our neighbour as ourselves; to give our possessions to the poor, to care for those who are hurting.
I think there's a radical shift happening in the Evangelical church in the US. There's a hunger, I think, that comes from the younger generation that realises that the world that we’re growing up in is very fragile, and that the average North American is consuming the same amount as 500 people in Africa.
And that we're living in a pattern which, if we keep living in it, we'd need five more planets to sustain it. They're asking questions like 'Is our world ever going to be safe and stable as long as masses of people live in poverty while a handful of people live how they wish, and CEOs are making 400 times what their workers make?’
The internet has shrunk the world in a lot of ways, and so it matters to young people that folks are dying because they don't have a mosquito net that costs $3.
And so I'm very optimistic that people want a Christianity that looks like Jesus again and that takes the words of Jesus seriously – and that echoes the prayer of Jesus, which is, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’
And so this vision of living simply so that others can simply live, I think is really magnetic. There's a lot of suspicion for Wall Street. And I think that's a good thing, because people are now thinking, 'I'm not sure God's dream looks like the American Dream!' and I think that's a really great place to be.
Something else that’s monopolised a lot of the airwaves of American Christian TV and radio in recent times is partisan politics. As leader of a non-partisan group, how do you deal with that – and with party politics generally, seeing that you’ll be voting for a new President next year?
Just because we're non-partisan, it doesn't mean we're non-political. I think Jesus' language of the Kingdom is loaded with political dimensions and social dimensions.
We Christians should be very peculiar in our politics and in where we put our hope. A lot of the time, I think of political engagement as damage control; that we're not putting our hope in a candidate or a party, but that we are trying to decrease the damage that is being done by the principalities and powers in the world.
So I think in that way, we also have a sense that our politic don't happen one day every few years when we vote, but that they happen every single day.
To pledge allegiance to Christ as saviour in the early Church – to say 'Jesus is Lord' – was to say Caesar was not. It was to proclaim a different allegiance, a different politic, every day of our lives.
So when people ask me, 'Do you vote?' I say, 'Yes – every day!' and I think that what we do on that one Election Day is also important, but it's not of ultimate significance any more than every other day; how we live and how we do our lives.
One of the tragedies of American politics is that it's riddled with theology. George Bush said that the values of America are the light of the world, and the darkness will not overcome it.
There's a Bible verse that's almost like that, but it's not America that's the light of the world – it's Jesus. It’s really important to remember that! And then Barack Obama said on the David Letterman Show, 'America is the last best hope on Earth.’ Again, I’m not so sure about that!
At the end of the day, the old hymn 'My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness' is a beautiful one, because our hope is not in any candidate or party – and the light of the world burns a whole lot brighter than the Republicans or the Democrats.
But let me say one more thing: I do think that the conversation that happens around the elections... the catalyst for it might be the election, but it's really important for Christians to talk about things like immigration, and healthcare, and the plight of the homeless and of poverty, and the growing number of women and children in America that are homeless.
So if the election is one spark that can ignite that conversation, then that's fantastic. And I think that we need healthy dialogue around these issues. And we may not all agree on exactly how to combat them, but maybe we can agree that Jesus cares about the most vulnerable people on this planet, deeply and sociably.
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