A New Kind of Politic: Tony and Shane

From Relevant Magazine:

TONY CAMPOLO: Shane, I have a question to ask that may make you squirm a little bit. From hearing you talk and reading your books, you often seem to suggest that Christians not participate in the political process, and that political activism is somewhat futile. Have I understood your position correctly?

SHANE CLAIBORNE: The question for me is not are we political, but how are we political? We need to be politically engaged, but peculiar in how we engage. Jesus and the early Christians had a marvelous political imagination. They turned all the presumptions and ideas of power and blessing upside down.


The early Christians felt a deep collision with the empire in which they lived, and with politics as usual. They carelessly crossed party lines and built subversive friendships. And we should do that too. To be nonpartisan doesn’t mean we’re nonpolitical. We should refuse to get sucked into political camps and insist on pulling the best out of all of them. That’s what Jesus did—challenge the worst of each camp and pull out the best of each. That’s why we see Essenes, Zealots, Herodians, Pharisees, and Sadducees all following Jesus and even joining his movement. But they had to become new creations. They had to let go of some things. Jesus challenged the tax-collecting system of Rome and the sword of the Zealots.

So to answer the question, I engage with local politics because it affects people I love. And I engage in national politics because it affects people I love.

Governments can do lots of things, but there are a lot of things they cannot do. A government can pass good laws, but no law can change a human heart. Only God can do that. A government can provide good housing, but folks can have a house without having a home. We can keep people breathing with good health care, but they still may not really be alive. The work of community, love, reconciliation, restoration is the work we cannot leave up to politicians. This is the work we are all called to do. We can’t wait on politicians to change the world. We can’t wait on governments to legislate love. And we don’t let policies define how we treat people; how we treat people shapes our policies.

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  • Right on point. Shane really hit the nail on the head in that chat

  • Mike M

    On my facebook status now. With due acknowledgement.

  • Michael Mills

    Good point from Shane.

    In 2007 I returned home from Kabul, Afghanistan where I’d worked for a year. Three things stood out when I got home. (1) The air is much clearer here in Colorado than in Kabul. (2) I could satisfy any food craving within minutes rather than weeks. And (3) the gulf between political parties had widened greatly during the twelve months I’d been gone.

    This distance between conservatives and liberals seems even wider now. When America ceases to be the dominate world power–and it appears that day is rapidly approaching–it won’t be because the liberals–or conservatives–had all the power…and, thus, took our country down the wrong path. It will be largely due to our inability to work together for the common good.

    It won’t be due to anything China does…or doesn’t do. We’re doing it to ourselves. In that regard, there’s plenty of blame for both parties.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    You are spot on Shane. Actually your point about followers of Jesus coming from many political “parties” is a mirror image of one that I have used regularly. I emphasize that Jesus does not side with any of these parties over and against the other(s). This means that he does not agree with one to condemn the other. It also points out the interesting dynamic of having more than just two polarized interest groups. Your point about his having followers from all of these backgrounds rounds out that point nicely.
    Randy Gabrielse

  • AndyM

    christians would probably find it easier to support the liberal side of politics if it wasn’t marked by an obsession with abortion.
    the bible does call for us to work hard and provide for ourselves. it also does call for neighbour care, but it is also pretty negative when it comes to killing babies.

  • Sue G

    AndyM, i was about to click away to a new topic when I read your post. I think most liberals, Christians and otherwise, think it’s not the liberals who obsess over abortion. Most of the liberals I know think abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” To the the Pro-life mind, that’s not enough, I know – but to the liberals I know, that is the same thing as “not happening much.” They don’t think about it much – except as conservatives bring it up as the topic that ends all discussion. Actually, the bible doesn’t have anything to say about abortion, although I would agree that one can infer that God who creates life and condemns killing is opposed to it. But lots of other Christians aren’t so sure, and I can’t pull out a scripture verse and club them with it, because the Bible isn’t as big on teaching about abortion as conservative Evangelical American Christians are.