I've been doing a lot of work recently around the death penalty and restorative justice.
I know it’s not a big deal in the UK, 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.
Does pushing against the death penalty and being anti-guns ostracise you from a lot of traditional evangelicals in the US?
Pushing against the death penalty and being anti-guns doesn’t really ostracise you. But what’s in question here 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!
Some evangelicals are supporting Donald Trump. Do you think people who have previously used the term ‘evangelical’ are having 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 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. So the support of Donald Trump is evidence of some reactionary backlash. White supremacy rises up a lot of times in reaction to that. It happened in the civil rights movement. 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. It’s very fragile! But it’s a really exciting moment because there’s a public lament and public truth-telling. So I think this could be the beginning of some really incredible moments for us.
What does the American Church need to do?
The American Church needs to focus on Jesus again. When we lose track of Jesus, we end up talking 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 gospel of Donald Trump and the gospel the Kardashians are preaching [are] very different messages from the gospel of Jesus.
Shane Claiborne is a leading figure in the new monasticism movement. His latest book, Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why it’s Killing Us (HarperCollins) will be published this summer.
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