Jerry Falwell Jr, Shane Claiborne & Politics of Jesus

February 2, 2018

Jerry Falwell Jr, Shane Claiborne & Politics of Jesus

Is it possible to talk about Jesus too much in politics? Is “What Would Jesus Do” politically relevant? Frequent rhetoric from Religious Right and Religious Left beg the question.

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., a prominent Evangelical supporter of President Trump and son of one of the Religious Right’s founders, provoked controversy with this recent tweet:

Jesus said love our neighbors as ourselves but never told Caesar how to run Rome-he never said Roman soldiers should turn the other cheek in battle or that Caesar should allow all the barbarians to be Roman citizens or that Caesar should tax the rich to help poor. That’s our job.

Falwell then added:

All the clowns commenting on my tweet below with their bowels in an uproar can relax b/c the other side of the coin is Jesus never told Caesar he shouldn’t tax the rich to help the poor either. You can be a good Christian whether you vote conservative or liberal!

Evangelical Left activist Shane Claiborne, who’s been trolling Falwell many months with his challenge to debate whether Jesus would support Trump, tweeted responsively:

Honestly, this is some of the worst theology I’ve ever heard. And this heresy is from the president of the largest Christian university in the world.

And then:

Not only is this “bad” theology… it is also deadly theology. Similar ideology was used to justify apartheid and to excuse Hitler… this notion that sin is personal but rulers are immune to it.

Plus:

The idea that Caesar or a Roman soldier… or anyone… is exempt from God’s command to love our enemy, care for the poor, or welcome the stranger is heresy. Jesus said we will ALL be asked how we cared for “the least of these.” (Mt.25)

Evangelical Left author and pastor Brian Zahnd tweeted supportively with Claiborne:

It’s truly amazing. And there’s a part of me that feels sorry for @JerryFalwellJr and those who share his views. I’m convinced they believe what they say, but it only serves to show how far from Jesus people baptized in religious nationalism can be. We need to send missionaries.

And Claiborne is apparently mulling a Religious Left protest in Falwell’s Lynchburg:

If we were to organize a #LynchburgRevival where there was preaching, worship and prophetic action… that challenged the toxic evangelicalism of @JerryFalwellJr… would you come?

In 2008 Claiborne wrote a book Jesus for President, which I reviewed here, which was a neo-Anabaptist polemic likening America to Ancient Rome, Babylon and the Third Reich. Ostensibly faithful followers of Jesus abjure “empire” and its violence while also demanding the empire universally feed, cloth, medicate, and award automatic citizenship. This perspective is largely based on the teachings of the late modernist Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, who reinterpreted the Cross primarily to signify rejection of all violence and power instead of atonement from sin.

Claiborne and other Christian activists of the Left like accusingly to ask “Whom would Jesus bomb?” “Whom would Jesus deport?” “Whom would Jesus execute?” “Would Jesus open carry?” “Would Jesus support Trump?”

The answer to these questions is nobody and no, but not for the reasons Claiborne et al offer. Jesus during His earthly walk of several years was a prophet, preacher, healer, and above all Savior of humanity. He didn’t marry, have children, own property (apparently), work for wages (at least presumably not after leaving his earthly father’s carpentry shop), or do a lot of what ordinary people are called to do. He had a special calling, the most unique ever in history, which He fulfilled wondrously, and which He still fulfills.

Jesus during His relatively brief ministry didn’t make political statements, about which Falwell was correct, nor would He have taken up arms, about which Claiborne is correct, because these exercises of earthly power, while not wrong of themselves in the right circumstances, weren’t His calling.

But Falwell perhaps is similar to Claiborne, at least in these tweets, in projecting too much onto the earthly ministry of Jesus. The Christian faith has many principles, based on the Scriptures that include but are not confined to the Gospels, along with two millennia of church tradition, that should guide our understanding of politics, without typically offering dogmatic specific policy instruction in contemporary times. Claiborne should agree with Falwell that Christians can sincerely operate within different political perspectives. It also should be pondered that Christian faith by itself doesn’t necessarily guarantee compelling political insight. Wonderful saints can be politically clueless.

Claiborne as a lay political activist believes he serves Jesus by organizing demonstrations and sometimes getting arrested in acts of civil disobedience on behalf of causes of the Left. Falwell, as a layman and college president, believes he does so with his pro-Republican pronouncements. Maybe each, with different understandings of Jesus, has very different callings that serve wider providential purposes.

It’s important to remember that Christians understand Jesus not just as the earthly prophet, healer and preacher Who was crucified but also as the Risen Savior and Second Person of the Trinity, present before the foundation of the universe, Who rules and will rule forever. This understanding precludes pigeonholing Him into our earthly political categories of the moment. Instead of emphatically claiming Him for our causes, and confidently asking “What Would Jesus Do,” we can bow before Him reverently and struggle modestly to understand His will on earth, asking what He might have us do.


17 Responses to Jerry Falwell Jr, Shane Claiborne & Politics of Jesus

  1. Burton Robinson says:

    Great writing. Thanks Mark.

  2. Don Bryant says:

    I am an Evangelical Christian. My essential approach to politics has been the Natural Law tradition, a la Robbie George. I try to vote as virtuous men would vote with an access to reason. In this sense I do not vote as a Christian. I vote as a human being, trying to avoid the meme, “my Christian faith teaches me that…” The number of people who have tried to shame me into a vote with calling into question my relationship to Christ is legion. I have never done that to another person. Never.

  3. Caleb Miller says:

    You are right that Jesus ministry was utterly unique. But the NT also instructs us to follow the example of Jesus in suffering and dying for others. That Jesus wouldn’t bomb anyone is due, not only to the uniqueness of his ministry, but also to the fact that he loved everyone, even his enemies.

  4. D Brown says:

    The Beast of revelation is the unholy alliance between church and state. In Jesus’ time it was Rome and the Pharisees. In the Middle Ages it was the Church and Kings. It is the arthiest oppression in Russia, China, and North Korea, and it is the Calipate and sharia aspirations of Islamic states. The Religious right and left are both guilty of legislating their morality, and that’s why America’s founders were right.

  5. Mike Ward says:

    First I’ve heard about Claiborne in a while. I thought he had faded away. Last thing I remember out of him, he was suggesting God had protected Hitler from assassination.

    • Nope. Never said that. Ever.
      I did say that when Hitler survived the assassination attempt, HE interpreted that as God protecting him, as evidenced in the interview with his secretary in the film “Blindspot.” And he continued his mission to kill Jews with a renewed fervor and confidence. He killed with the Bible in his hand… twisted the cross into a swastika.

      I was arguing that even the failed attempt to kill him was a departure from the path of the nonviolent Jesus, the Prince of Peace… who would die but never kill. We cannot reconcile violence with the cross… where Jesus shows us what love looks like as it stares evil in the face — love is willing to die… but not to kill. He loved his enemies so much he was willing to die for them.

      As the early Christians said, “For Christ we can die… but we cannot kill.”

      • Rebecca says:

        You know so little about Hitler, that you think he was a Christian? Amazing.

      • sdb says:

        “Love is willing to die, but not to kill….”

        Ananias and Sapphira may beg to differ… along with the money changers in the temple, the first born in Egypt, the Canaanites, Achan, …

      • Gordon Hackman says:

        Hi Shane,

        Where does the claim that Hitler killed with the Bible in his hand come from? Although many atheist like to claim that Hitler was a Christian, I’m not familiar with any reliable source that backs that claim unequivocally. My understanding is that there is evidence that Hitler hated Christianity, which he viewed as an outgrowth of Judaism, and intended to wipe out the church eventually.

  6. Rebecca says:

    The neo-Ana-Baptists have been all over the web lately slandering Christians they disagree with. The Book of Titus helps Christians understand how to live and Ana-Baptists don’t follow that book at all.

  7. Caleb Miller says:

    One big difference between Neo-Anabaptists and traditional Ababaptists is that the latter renounced involvement in government or the exercise of political power as inherently opposed to the Christian.faithfulness. They also thought that unconditional love was an obligation of Christians, but not of the state, which was ordained to wield the sword, a la Romans 13.

  8. Tim Adams says:

    Shane Claiborne is the biggest Evangelical Fraud since Mike Warnke. Claiborne is a stunt man – has this loser ever had a Real Job?

  9. William says:

    What a complete waste of time and energy. Jesus Christ defies of man’s earthly, secular, and political descriptors, with, of course, the exception of those who wrote the God inspired Scriptures.

  10. Scott Amos says:

    Thank you so much for this column. I have been saying for years (and even more forcefully over the past 2 years) that we desperately need to stop politicizing the Gospel. If I start hearing a certain political viewpoint emanating from the pulpit, I reserve the right to walk out of the sanctuary – and that applies even if it’s a political viewpoint I agree with. Thankfully, the vast majority of sermons I hear don’t fall into that trap. I prefer congregations in which the people have a wide variety of political and social views. Unity in diversity.

  11. The fullness of Christ’s earthly ministry is found in this: “I do nothing but what the Father tells me…” and that by the manifesting work of the Holy Spirit in Him and upon Him in that day. He displayed how. And it’s FAR easier than we’re making it. Too much talk! WAY to much “craniality”. We think, we conclude and conclude and conclude, arguing one side or another APART from the manifesting revelation of the Holy Spirit, apart from Father’s heart. Both sides are wrong! Dead wrong so long as the argument is devoid of the revelation of the Holy Spirit! Father is on His throne, and Jesus seated at His right side. They are not here! Christ’s work is complete! Who IS here to guide us but the Holy Spirit! For life is only found in the Spirit. And today, sadly, there are few minds who yield to His direction.

  12. Dr. Ralph Hawkins says:

    Thanks for your article, Mark! As always, your articles bring clarity and insight to current events.

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