Q & A with Shane Claiborne

As we move closer to the presidential election both tickets are vying for votes and promising change.

As we move closer to the presidential election both tickets are vying for votes and promising change. Shane Claiborne, a founding pastor of The Simple Way, a church in inner city Philadelphia, believes that our hope should be found in an alternative candidate, one that’s not on the ballot for 2008. In his new book, Jesus for President, coauthored with Chris Haw, Claiborne invites people of faith to reimagine what our world would be like if we embraced a different political agenda, one that looks more like the message of Jesus.

Q: Where did the idea for the book originate?

A: The whole vision for it was born out of a conversation four years ago. For a lot of us the question wasn’t are we political, but how are we political? That’s why we say this is a project to provoke the political imagination. We need to get out of the box and really think about how to embody the politics we believe. Part of what we really saw was we need to have the creativity that Jesus had when he’s interacting with the political questions of his time.

Q: The book has a unique design, what made you go that direction?

A: We know that there is enough political rhetoric out there and we wanted it to capture the imagination, we wanted it to be something poetic and not just force-feeding people political answers, because there’s enough of that out there. But we wanted to stir up the right questions and ask people to reimagine the world.

Q: Why are you so passionate about political change?

A: For me, this is such an unfolding journey. I was born in East Tennessee and in 1992 I helped organize the Bush-Quayle campaign. My political views were very formed by the world I grew up in and I think what really rocked that world was when I moved to North Philly and saw that the questions and issues are much different and much bigger than I grew up thinking they were.

Q: Should the church endorse a certain brand of politics?

A: We’re not trying to endorse a candidate, but we’re trying to get them to endorse the agenda of Jesus.

Q: What does Jesus’ political agenda look like in today’s world?

A: We’re saying that the church is not simply suggesting political alternatives but the church is an embodiment of a political alternative. Jesus wasn’t offering the world a better empire but another kingdom. That’s part of why we have so many images and stories in the book to show that. One of my she-roes is Mother Theresa, she is an icon for what it means to be pro-life but it’s not because she ran around wearing an “Abortion is Murder” shirt. She said, if you didn’t want to have your babies, you can give them to me. That has an integrity that you can not argue with.

Jesus had a political manifesto in the Sermon on the Mount and the beatitudes and the poor are at the very center of it. So if our political agenda is not good news to the poor, then it’s not the gospel of Jesus.

Q: What kind of reaction are you getting from the book?

A: There are more and more people—especially young people—that are realizing that this economy and this culture, this American dream, looks very different from the dream of God.

Q: How important is it to vote?

A: For many of us voting may simply be damage control. It may be a way to minimize the impact of principalities and powers and try to free up the kingdom of God to spread in this world. But it’s certainly not that we’re voting to put our hope and faith there. There’s a lot of talk in a lot of places about change, it’s time for change, we want change, and what we’re saying is what we do on Nov. 4 is important, but what’s just as important is how we live on Nov. 3 and Nov. 5 and voting is something we do everyday by the way we live.

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Q: I’m curious, will you be writing “Jesus” on your ballot November 4?

A: We’ll see. I’m going to try to vote for the things that look most like Jesus, but to me, I’m not willing to settle for anything short of that. Our tag line has been “Enough donkeys and elephants, long live the Lamb.”

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INTERACT:

How should we, as ministry leaders, engage in political change?

What are some obstacles for dealing with political issues in our church communities?

How has your maturity and growth as a leader effected the way you engage in political issues?

What are the key issues on Jesus’ agenda for 2008?

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