Moving the Christianity Away From Extremism. Can It Be Done?

Forging weapons into pickaxes to protest the violence culture

Activist Shane Claiborne believes that a form of nationalism has developed that camouflages as Christianity, but becomes an obstacle for people to meet Jesus.
Camouflaged nationalism

To be honest, I don’t think the biggest problem is secularization, but Christians,” Claiborne says and laughs.

He believes that a form of nationalism has developed that tries to camouflage itself as Christianity — but which becomes an obstacle for people to meet Jesus.

Claiborne is the leader of Red Letter Christians, which places particular emphasis on Jesus’ own words in the Gospels. In some Bible editions, these are reproduced in red font.

Describing the presentation of a Christianity he sees as harmful, Claiborne says, “Trump is more a symptom than the problem itself. He didn’t necessarily change America, but exposed America.

“Many of the cultural values that are characteristic of America stand in opposition to the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes and the fruit of the spirit. There is a collision between faith and allegiance to America. There is a struggle for power.”

Challenging the TV evangelists

From a Christian perspective, Claiborne sees the situation not only as a political crisis but also a spiritual crisis.

“But I also think there is an opportunity to take Jesus and the gospel back from the TV evangelists and from the religious extremists on the right who have monopolized the narrative and done so much damage to Christianity,” he says.

At the same time, he challenges a perception of Christian faith as a “ticket to heaven and a license to ignore the world we live in.”

“I think we are losing a lot of young people,” Claiborne says. “We promise life after death, but they ask if there is a life before death. Does God care about this world, about the environmental crisis and mass incarceration? This is not an either-or. We can believe in life after death and in life before death as well.”

Claiborne sees a task in showing that Christian faith makes a difference in this life. On a daily basis, he lives and works in the big city of Philadelphia, just a short train ride away. It has been called the poorest of the big cities in the United States.

“Nationalism and white supremacy, especially Christian nationalism” create distance from the church, he says. “The rhetoric that is used turns many people away from the church.”

Instead of the church appearing as a place of refuge, he believes many have experienced it only as a champion of law and order.

“And that pushes people away, because it doesn’t offer any hope,” he adds.

While many Christians are concerned that the U.S. is becoming more secularized, Kussman says it has always been that way.

It is one of the biggest myths that this was some kind of Christian nation,” says Kussman.

Q: Does Kussman’s ideas offer a path forward that could help reverse the trend of a shrinking church.