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Shane Claiborne: Trump is forcing Americans to rethink what it means to be evangelical

Jamie Cutteridge caught up with Christian activist and leading figure in the New Monasticism movement Shane Claiborne to talk about American evangelicalism and Donald Trump

You’ve been touring the UK. Give us an update on what has been motivating you recently and what’s coming up for you.

I go home this week – Holy Week. We’ll have our Good Friday vigils before Easter. Remembering Jesus of course, but also remembering the lives that have been lost to gun violence. We have a vigil where we remember the different places people have died and we often pray in front of the gun shops and hear from victims of gun violence. I’ve got a plough that we made out of melted guns. That’s pretty sweet - turning swords into ploughs and guns into tools.

I’ve also been doing a lot of work recently around the death penalty and restorative justice. I know it’s not a big deal here, but it’s a huge deal in the States and opens up a lot of questions about how we understand why Jesus died or was executed. I’ve worked closely with murder victims families who are against the death penalty and interviewed people who were responsible for overseeing executions and heard what it did to them. I’ve got a book called Executed Grace which comes out this summer.

Does pushing against death penalty and being anti guns ostracise you from a lot of traditional evangelicals in the USA?

Not really. It’s interesting you say ‘traditional evangelical’ because what’s in question is what we mean by ‘evangelical’. Russell Moore from the Southern Baptist Convention says he no longer feels comfortable with that label and I think he’s now going to call himself a ‘gospel Christian’. We like the language ‘red letter Christian’.

A lot of evangelical Christianity has ironically lost track of Jesus. The more you read the words of Jesus, you find yourself really baffled by what evangelicals have become known for!

There’s a young generation that could care less about labels that says ‘we love Jesus and we want to change the world’. 80% of millennial evangelicals are against the death penalty - because they can’t reconcile it with Jesus.

Every person is made in the image of God. That shapes the way that we think about abortion. But it also shapes the way we think about the death penalty and refugees. Life is previous from the womb to the tomb.

Because of what’s going on with Donald Trump and how some evangelicals are supporting him, do you think more people who have previously used the term ‘evangelical’ have a rethink?

Right after David Duke, the former head of the KKK, endorsed Trump, I said it must make us question whether Christians should be aligned with the same candidate that the KKK has endorsed!

But here’s the thing that’s important: We have a racial justice awakening happening in our country. Black lives matter. We’re truth telling about police violence and racial injustice in the criminal system. That’s the backdrop. So the support of Donald Trump is evidence of some reactionary [backclash]. White supremacy rises up a lot of times in reaction to that. It happened in the civil rights movement.

I don’t want to give Donald Trump too much credit. But I think all over our country, there’s been people who are paying attention to black and brown brothers and sisters and saying these lives matter.

We’re telling the truth about our racial history. It’s a really interesting time. Y’all need to be praying for the American experiment [laughs]. It’s very fragile! But it’s a really exciting moment because there’s a public lament and public truth telling. You can’t have reconciliation until you have truth. We really have never told the truth about a lot of our history. So I think this could be the beginning of some really incredible moments for us.

What does the American church need to do?

We have to focus on Jesus again. When we lose track of Jesus, we end up talking about a lot about things Jesus didn’t say much about. And we don’t say much about the things Jesus said a lot about.

I wrote a response to Jerry Falwell when he told students at our biggest Christian university to get permits to carry weapons. But he didn’t mention Jesus! When Donald Trump spoke at Liberty he didn’t say much about Jesus. We need to say a lot more about Jesus. Jesus actually needs to be the centre of our Christianity.

The way you live is very radical compared to most in society, isn’t it?

What we’re talking about is building a new culture where we value things differently. There’s that wonderful verse in Romans: ‘Do not conform to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’. It’s an invitation to have a new imagination where we have new values because we’ve reoriented our life around Christ.

When Jesus says ‘don’t worry about tomorrow’, it changes the way we interact with stuff and possessions. When he says ‘love your enemy’ it makes us think twice about killing them, I hope [laughs].

In order to do that we have to have community because the dominant patterns of this world are really compelling. There’s lots of other gospels out there. The gospel of Donald Trump and the gospel of the Kardashians are preaching very different messages to the gospel of Jesus. When you’re a teenager you always hear that peer pressure is a negative thing. It can be. But it can also be a really positive thing where we create a gravity toward Jesus and the values of the gospel. Where it’s not weird to sell what we have and give it to the poor, share more, not have a car and ride a bike and all these things. We have to have a group of people who are doing that together.

I don’t think everyone should become Armish, but they do understand what it means to be a counter culture. They think a lot different about violence and possessions and the Church has a lot to learn from that because we’re supposed to form a community that’s different and in the world but not of the world.

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