Shane Claiborne Addresses the Closing Plenary
Shane Claiborne addresses the Closing Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA. The Closing Plenary was sponsored by The Fetzer Institute.
It’s been a great week. I have the privilege of working with a group, a movement, called Red Letter Christians and we get our name from the Bibles that have the words of Jesus highlighted in red. We like to say we’re trying to live as if Jesus meant the stuff.
It’s said Gandhi was asked about Christianity and Mahatma Gandhi said “I love Jesus.” I just wish the Christians acted more like him.
We want a version of Christianity that looks like Jesus again, that loves like Jesus, that creates good trouble like Jesus. And for too long Christians have been better at worshiping Jesus than following Jesus. We’ve promised people life after death, while people are asking if there is life before death. We’ve used our faith too often as a ticket into heaven and an excuse to ignore the hurting world we’re living in. So it’s time for a spiritual and theological renewal in this land.
You know I grew up in the Evangelical Church and we love our guns. Christians are the biggest gun owners in America, the biggest champions of guns, and yet Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers. So I was invited here this week with one kind of particular role, which was to bring a bunch of chopped-up guns. Many of you took the hammer. We brought pieces, over 500 pieces, of chopped-up guns and we’ve been turning them into art and garden tools. This cross that I’m wearing is made out of a barrel of a gun and of course we are inspired by that vision of the prophets Micah and Isaiah who talk of beating swords and the plows and spears into pruning hooks.
The great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel has kind of opened up my imagination about the prophets. And he says, “Sometimes we think of the biblical prophets as if they were fortune tellers trying to predict the future.” And he says, “But that’s not it. The prophets weren’t fortune tellers. The prophets were truth-tellers. And they weren’t trying to predict the future. They were trying to change the future by waking us up in the present and saying it doesn’t have to be this way.”
When you look at that scripture that talks about beating swords into plows and spears into pruning hooks, it ends by saying nation will not rise up against nation. People will learn violence no more, but what’s so beautiful is this vision of the future doesn’t begin from the top down, but from the bottom up. The peace that the prophets speak of doesn’t begin with the kings and the presidents and the politicians. It begins with the prophetic people of God who have had enough, and it’s the prophets who lead the politicians to peace.
Change comes from the bottom up.
Those prophets that said the people began to beat their swords in the plows. They had had enough, and they turned metal that was crafted to kill into metal that was crafted to cultivate life. And it’s a declaration that all things can be made new.
This shovel that I have, many of you, hundreds of you have touched this shovel this week, and it’s made out of a gun. I tell my Evangelical friends this is what a gun looks like when it gets born again. And what we’ve been saying this week is that metal can get born again and so can people.
Someone who is killed is more than the worst thing that they’ve ever done and God can transform all things and make all things new. So we’re dedicating this plow that many of you have touched to the Parliament and we’re declaring that we are a part of a movement that is about the transformation of the world.
All of our religions have been distorted and perverted and manipulated to justify hatred and violence, to camouflage hatred. As one of my mentors said, “all you have to do is twist the cross and you get a swastika.” And we’ve seen that done over and over. But we’re here today as Martin Luther Keegan said 50 years ago, he said, “These are extreme times that we’re living in and the question isn’t whether or not we will be extremists. But what kind of extremists will we be? Will we be extremists for hatred or extremists for love? And the world is seeing enough religious extremists for hatred.”
And I think the world is longing to see people of faith who are extremists for love. It’s been a gift to be here. Thank you so much.