Interview with Shane Claiborne on Jesus for President

Let’s clear up a few potential misconceptions about Shane Claiborne’s Jesus for President campaign: He’s not telling people to skip voting. But, he’s not endorsing any candidate. He’s not opposed to the healthcare plan that is currently before the Supreme Court. And, he preaches for greater hospitality toward immigrants.

Read our entire series, this week:
Part 1:
Why Shane Claiborne & Woody Guthrie want Jesus as President (and why Shane’s multimedia kit from Zondervan is a valuable toolbox).
Part 2 (here):
ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviews Shane about the Jesus campaign.
Part 3: David interviews Shane and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove on the need for Common Prayer.


DAVID: I’ve watched your video with young people who had some odd reactions to your message. So, let’s clear up some misconceptions. First of all: Are you telling people to give up on government and skip voting?

SHANE: No! I’m not saying: Don’t vote. I see voting as damage control. I believe that God is working in our world in many ways to restore all things. Voting in an election isn’t our messianic hope, but it is a positive step. It’s a way that we can minimize the damage that principalities and powers are having in our world. I am very careful not to limit our voice or our impact to one candidate or one issue or one vote.God certainly isn’t limited to governments, but we can expect good changes to happen within our governments. I don’t want people to say: Hey, it doesn’t matter whether you vote. People should vote.

DAVID: But you picked a song by Woody Guthrie that lampoons the whole idea that the world’s powers can save us. Why did you latch onto that song?

SHANE: (laughs) It’s a great song! U2 sang that song! We knew that song and I think it expresses what a lot of people have discovered. Two thousand years ago, it was radical to say: “Jesus is my chief!” And, today, it’s still radical. This is about where we place our hope, where we place our allegiance.

DAVID: When we publish this interview, I will include one of Bono’s comments about the song. (See video clip below.) But this division you’re making can get pretty confusing. For example, in the final portion of the video, you say that you and your friends got tired of waiting on the government to come up with a good healthcare plan. So, you set up your own for about 20,000 people.

Now, I understand that the video was shot during your 2008 campaign swing, before we had the current national healthcare plan that’s now before the Supreme Court. But help us clarify the point you’re making. We just featured an in-depth interview with N.T. Wright in which he said that Christians should support some kind of universal plan for healthcare coverage. Wright says, “To hear people standing up in your political debate and saying—‘If you are followers of Jesus, you must reject universal healthcare coverage!’—that’s unthinkable to us.” So what are you saying about healthcare?

SHANE: I’m always really clear when I talk about the Christian healthcare ministries that I’m part of. I always say that this is something we’re doing for 20,000 people, but it doesn’t solve the problem for the millions of people who lack adequate healthcare. CNN came to interview me and asked, “So are you saying your plan is the silver bullet?” A friend of mine said, “No, it’s not a silver bullet. But it might be part of the silver buckshot.”

The government certainly has a responsibility for healthcare and so does the church and so does every individual. We all have a personal responsibility for poverty. My hope is that we can agree on fundamental things and one of them is that adequate healthcare shouldn’t be a privilege that only some segments of our society can afford. A good education, a place to live and adequate healthcare are things that we advocate and that everyone should have access to. Now, what are the specific ways that can happen? I’m seeing a lot of different responses and I don’t see them at odds.

Jesus stressed that we are to care for the widows, the orphans, the dispossessed. These people are very close to God.

DAVID: But, right now, we’re seeing some candidates calling for an end to the current healthcare plan that was signed into law. In fact, the Supreme Court may do that in a vote later this year. Do you support dumping the current plan in favor of these other grassroots efforts you talk about in the video?

SHANE: No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that the millions of uninsured must have access to healthcare. The average age of a homeless person in America is about 10 years old. How do we make sure that homeless people have access to healthcare? That’s what concerns Jesus.

When we think about this issue, the elephant in the room is military spending. It’s not right to be spending $20,000 a second on militarism, while our country is going bankrupt and our schools are falling apart and people go without healthcare. It’s just absurd that we have a military budget that’s higher than the next 25 countries combined. Martin Luther King Jr. was so right in saying: Any country that spends more on militarism than on social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

As my friend Jim Wallis says: The U.S. budget is a moral document. It shows our heart and our priorities as a people. Now, that’s close to the heartbeat of our Jesus for President campaign.


Click this cover image from the Jesus for President Pack: Politics for Ordinary Radicals to visit the correct Amazon page. The official retail price is $29.99 but the Amazon price usually is less than that.DAVID: Clear up one more fuzzy point in your video. You tell the story of Americans and Mexicans gathering at some point along the U.S.-Mexico wall that we’ve built in recent years. And the two groups hold a communion service, while tossing the communion elements over the wall to share. Now, are you saying that such walls are fine, because we’re still one people even with such high boundaries in place. Or are you saying that such walls are a bad idea?

SHANE: (laughs) Well, that’s the vulnerability of teaching in parables. I hope that people realize what scripture teaches about walls. Over and over again in scripture, walls are shown as obstacles to reconciliation and obstacles to the kingdom of God. They’re built out of a sense of defensiveness and fear that is the antithesis of what Christ is all about. The great vision of Revelation describes a new Jerusalem where the gates will never be shut. When we hear the kind of language politicians are using today about strengthening our borders—that just doesn’t sound like Jesus. God is continually making outsiders into insiders. The Gospels are about radical hospitality and inclusivity and it’s amazing how quickly we forget all of that as Americans.

I think that walls are really dangerous things. I’ve seen that in the Middle East and we’ve seen it here. In some of the most horrific and shameful chapters of history there are walls, barbed wire and ghettos.


DAVID: So, with all of these dire challenges facing the U.S. and the world, are you hopeful or are you somber about our future?

SHANE: I am cautiously optimistic. I think that there is a danger in high expectations. My neighborhood in the inner city is plastered with pictures of Obama that say “Hope” on them. In a lot of ways, I think we set ourselves up for disappointment no matter whose face is on the Hope posters we hang in our communities. When you go to the Middle East, you see that most clearly. They have hope posters over there, too, but people come away concluding: We’ve been hoping and life hasn’t changed for us.

Here’s where I see real hope. I see folks all over the world and all over this country who are doing incredible experiments in building communities and making changes we all need. Gandhi said that we must be the change that we want to see in the world. I think there are tons of young Christians in particular who are reading the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. They see their faith not as a ticket out of here but as a license to engage in what’s happening in this world.

Watch U2’s Bono talk about
Woody Guthrie’s Jesus Christ as President

In this 2-minute video, recorded off TV years ago, Bono talks about U2’s interest in the original Woody Guthrie song. Although the video comes with a bit of static, the message is worth hearing. If you don’t see a video screen in your version of this story, click here to reload the story in your browser.


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Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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