The Galilean candidate

"We've found the hope of the planet ... and it's not Obama or McCain or even America, but Christ in the body of the church." — Shane Claiborne, co-author of Jesus for President.

Shane Claiborne believes in change, but he doesn't endorse Barack Obama. He's not a John McCain man, either.

Claiborne also is not big on America's military-industrial complex, conspicuous consumption or the suburbs. He doesn't care for the intertwining of church and state: Christians should be Christians across borders, he thinks, not Christian-Americans who think that respect for God intersects with their respect for the country's ability to push around others.

Claiborne, raised in East Tennessee and now living in Philadelphia, has a different idea for Christians: His latest book, written with Chris Haw, is called Jesus for President. He'll discuss the book at Asbury College in Wilmore on Election Day.

Either you find the book witty, or you're a more earnest type of churchgoer who says that of course Jesus for president is a swell idea, but then who's going to fret about economic meltdown and universal health care? The man from Galilee wasn't exactly a policy wonk.

Claiborne, a dreadlocked inner-city resident who also wrote 2006's The Irresistible Revolution: Living Life as an Ordinary Radical, is an adherent of New Monasticism, which is more about how Christianity walks the walk and less about suburban churches in which worship is an isolated, once-a-week affair like getting an eternal-life shopper's card punched. The movement includes the Communality group in Lexington.

Claiborne, 33, is probably not the man you want to invite to spur cash pledges for your sprawling suburban church's building fund or to hype the traditional Christmas cantata. Jesus for President cites approvingly the church that once celebrated the holiday season by spreading its sanctuary with manure — which it thought better illustrated the Christmas message of an impoverished, homeless child born in harsh surroundings: "What a funny thing that we celebrate the homeless son of God, the baby refugee, by buying stuff every year," Claiborne says.

His book says that was a memorable Christmas at the manure-coated church. Assume it was.

e_SDLqAs the 2004 presidential election campaign heated up, we wrestled with the question of voting — whether to vote, whom to vote for, how much significance to give the act of voting — while everyone from Fox News to MTV's Rock the Vote seemed to assume that voting was the most significant act of one's life ... But as the debates between Kerry and Bush raged on, it became apparent that both believed in the redeeming effects of violence. ... Christian politics (like the Sermon on the Mount) not only are alien to the requirements of becoming president but are detestable and would be laughed out of the debate (if not worse)." — excerpt from Jesus For President.

"What we do on Nov. 4 is important," Claiborne says, but just as important is how we live in the days before and after the presidential election.

Claiborne says his group asks everyone, endorses no one. In fact, one of the book's most scathing passages is reserved for 2004 Democratic candidate John Kerry and his promise to out-hawk the Republicans on military matters. Christians should be Christians first, he thinks: "We have our alignment, our allegiance, and we won't settle for anything short of that."

Says Claiborne: "We do call out bad theology, and it's everywhere." An example is the idea of "peace through strength."

Claiborne suggests a different hierarchical pattern: God first, then neighbor, with "country" and "self" further down the list.

e_SDLqPeople sometimes ask if we are scared of the inner city. We say that we are more scared of the suburbs. Our Jesus warns that we can fear those things which can hurt our bodies or those things which can destroy our souls, but we should be far more fearful of the latter. Those are the subtle demons of suburbia. As Shane's mother says, 'Perhaps there is no more dangerous place for a Christian to be than in safety and comfort, detached from the suffering of others.'" — from Jesus for President

Why does the Claiborne message seem radical?

He lives in a Christian community in a low-income Philadelphia neighborhood, and Claiborne attributes his changing life-view — he was once a Bush-Quayle supporter — to the city's sorrier sights.

"They say politics are shaped by what you see out the window," Claiborne says.

He saw: a girl dying of an asthma attack, a suicidal man who wondered whether his sexual orientation was a disgrace to God, a pregnant 14-year-old.

Claiborne says what his group does is not just protesting, it's protestifying: protesting one thing while testifying for and celebrating another. His group doesn't want to guilt Wall Street, he says, but to point out that Christians should want a more even economic playing field in which executives aren't making 400 times what their workers are. They reason: Isn't that what giving to each his needed "daily bread" should be about?

It is not always an easy sell: The Jesus for President idea challenges as much as inspires.

"What monasticism has done in church history is, it has been a renewal within the church," Claiborne says. "The church needs that sort of discontent. I call it the spiritual gift of frustration."

The 12 marks of 'New Monasticism'

1. Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.

2. Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.

3. Hospitality to the stranger.

4. Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.

5. Humble submission to Christ's body, the church.

6. Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.

7. Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.

8. Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.

9. Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.

10. Care for the plot of God's Earth given to us along with support of our local economies.

11. Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.

12. Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.