Advise Everyone... Endorse No One
As we pass the half-way point of our Jesus for President tour, we remember Jesus' admonition that we be "as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves." There is a lot of momentum around our little campaign of political misfits - from some of the mainstream media and from the dozen cities where we've had thousands of folks come together to plot goodness. And with the momentum comes temptation.
We've been courted by candidates who want an endorsement... or who at least would like us to be "advisers." At first I thought advising a candidate was a subtle euphemism for endorsing them, but I have come to think that there is an important distinction to make between "endorsing" and "advising." I want to be an adviser to every politico that asks, and an endorser of no one but Jesus. Chris and I just joked that he could become an official advisor for Obama, and I'd take McCain just to make sure folks know that we are not partisan. We do take seriously the opportunity to dialogue with political candidates, or anyone else for that matter, especially as many people seem to be rethinking politics as usual. As for the presidential candidates, we're not sure how our counsel will go over, since it may begin with advising those seeking office to melt down the weapons of our arsenal and transform them into things that bring life to the suffering masses of this planet--"beating swords into plows" as the prophets say. But we'll see if anyone takes us up on the offer.
Chris and I end the 2-hour JFP presentation with these words:
We will not be endorsing any candidates. Rather, we will invite them to endorse the political manifesto of our Commander-in-Chief and to join the peculiar upside-down Kingdom that blesses the poor and the peacemakers...
Our central allegience is to God's Kingdom, and we invite everything else in the world to align itself with the norms of that upside-down Kingdom. That is what we endorse, and we stand behind everything and everyone that moves us closer to that - the coming of God's Kingdom "on earth as it is in heaven." And we get in the way of everything that contradicts and works against God's Kingdom - interrupting injustice with grace.
In post-Religious Right America, we want to learn from the mistakes of the generation before us (so we don't repeat them) - one of which was telling Christians who to vote for. Rather than spoon-feeding people answers, we hope to stir up the right questions - and trust that the Spirit will lead us as we "work out our salvation with fear and trembling." One of the places the religious right went wrong was telling people what to do rather than inviting them to think for themselves, with the help of the Spirit of God (in fact, it even seems a real lack of faith to to coerce or convince people to do exactly what we want them to... as if the Spirit is not at work in them). That's where Jesus shines - he stirs up questions and tells stories that unveil truth, rather than drafting a careful declaration or endorsement that's going to solve everything wrong in the world.
Folks come out of our JFP shows with all kinds of ideas churning. Some have shared that they are inspired to start an adoption agency to try and decrease the number of abortions. U.S. soldiers have said they are becoming conscientious objectors or are seeking discharge. Some folks have said they are going to organize for one of the candidates, and others have said they are going to write in "Jesus" on Nov. 4. To all of it we say, "Yes!" Thank God the Spirit is at work, and is renewing minds and imaginations in the Church, so that we might follow the command of Romans: "Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."
Reporters often ask folks leaving our presentations funny questions like: "Young evangelicals are the swing vote in this election... has this evening affected how you are going to vote in November?" I heard one person say beautifully, "That's the wrong question... the real question is how can we become the change we want to see in the world TODAY and not just hope that every four years we can elect politicians to change the world for us." May it be so. May we continue to become the change we want to see in the Church and in the world. Enough donkeys and elephants - Long live the Lamb.
Shane Claiborne is the author of Jesus for President, a Red Letter Christian, and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia.