This story is not about voting for Jesus this November. He is often a popular write-in, but he won’t be on the ballot and I’m not sure what would even happen if he won. This story is about a movement that makes liberal-leaning Christians sound a lot likely socially minded Jews. It focuses on the message of Shane Claiborne, owner of a mean set of dreadlocks and co-author of “Jesus for President.”
“This whole project is about the political imagination of what it means to follow after Jesus,” Claiborne said. “The language of Jesus as Lord and savior is just as radical as it would be to say ‘Jesus as our commander in chief’ today.”
Young evangelicals represent an important swing-voting bloc. They’re not a lock for Republicans as their parents were. Their feet are firmly planted on issues dear to both parties. Traditional family values are, as they have been in the past, an important issue.
But these voters say views on abortion and homosexuality won’t define them in November. The environment and social justice are moving to the forefront of their discussions.
Back on stage Claiborne takes the crowd through a multimedia presentation.
“With the respectability and the power of the church comes the temptation to prostitute our identity for every political agenda.”
Controversially, he quotes Harry S. Truman and Adolph Hitler, saying each used Christianity to support their ideologies.
The speech is fiery at times, pensive at others. It emphasizes caring for the poor and the downtrodden.
He talks about war and the environment. He also talks about how Jesus stood up to the Roman Empire, a message he believes is relevant to the United States now.
“For many of us, Caesar has colonized our imagination, our landscape and our ideology,” he says while a picture of Mount Rushmore flashes behind him. On the screen “Vandalism” pops up in black letters.
Trading lines back and forth from a script with Haw, they save the most wrath for Christians who they say have missed the point of the cross.
“We’ve profaned the blood at the foot of the cross and turned it into Kool-Aid and marketed it all over the world. We’ll make an art and a business out of taking the Lord’s name in vain,” Claiborne says as images of Christ on the cross and the American flag flash behind him.
They endorse no candidate and make no effort to sway the voters for one party or another.
Yada, yada, yada—the evangelical vote will matter this fall.
Let’s, however, not kid ourselves: Claiborne and his fellow travelers are not in the mainstream of American evangelicalism. This is not a bad thing. It’s just something that should be noted in a CNN story that provides little context. Indeed, social and environmental awareness are increasingly important to younger evangelicals, and emergent-church types. And many share the sentiment that Christianity has been abused for political means. But Claiborne is a radical, nonetheless; in fact, that is the subtitle of his book. The worthy question is whether he represents the vanguard of the Christian future. Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer.
(Team Jesus for President will be in California July 11-13, but won’t make it farther south than Ventura. Here Sam Barrington shares his experience listening to Claiborne, “a great prophetic voice,” in Michigan.)