During the month of December, I’ve been doing a series of blogs on Christian individuals and groups that have worked for social justice causes. Ken Poland recently wrote a wonderful blog about the importance of social justice in the Christian religion. I wrote about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement, the United Methodist Women, and Jesse Jackson and the Michigan pastors who supported the unions in their fight against the Right-To-Work legislation in Michigan. My last blog for this month will be on Shane Claiborne and The Simple Way movement that he is a member of. I first read of Claiborne and The Simple Way in the book Divine Rebels: American Christian Activists For Social Justice by Deena Guzder. Shane Claiborne is a Christian activist who moved to Kensington, Philadelphia to help found a community of Christians called The Simple Way to live among the poor and to serve the poor and the marginalized in the neighborhoods and to fight for social justice causes.
Shane Claiborne grew up as a typical Evangelical Christian. While he was at college, however, he participated with a group of his classmates in a protest to prevent homeless squatters from getting kicked out of an abandoned cathedral at the inner city of Philadelphia. His exposure to these homeless people led Claiborne to reevaluate his conception of Christianity and this led Claiborne worked alongside Mother Teresa during a 10-week term in Calcutta. He spent 3 weeks in Baghdad with the Iraq Peace Team (a project of Voices in the Wilderness and Christian Peacemaker Teams), where he took daily trips to sites where there had been bombings, visited hospitals and families, and attended worship services during the war.
All of these experiences led him to develop a radical Christian philosophy of living and working with the poor, fighting nonviolently for social justice causes, and creating a community of like-minded Christians to shed a light to their neighbors of God’s love. Among his intellectual influences were Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Soren Kierkegaard, Dorothy Day, and Tony Campolo. While he was in college, Claiborne had studied sociology at Eastern College with Tony Campolo, the founder of a movement called the Red Letter Christians, which focuses on Jesus’s social teachings.
To make his ideas into concrete form, Shane helped to found The Simple Way, a faith community in inner city Philadelphia. Inspired by Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker communities and Houses of Hospitality, The Simple Way community has given out free school supplies to the poorer children in the neighborhood, created community gardens to provide fresh fruit and vegatables for poor families, built parks for children to play in, provides a hospitality house for visitors to stay in, and has a residency program to bring highly educated and skilled people to share their expertise to help improve the lives of the residents of inner city Philadelphia. They have also organized performing arts programs for local children, provided homework help for struggling students, provided donated clothes to the homeless, renovated abandoned houses, and nonviolently protested police brutality. This is all in keeping with the Simple Way philosophy of building community through relationships with the people they are trying to help.
In their website is a description of the social justice philiosophy of The Simple Way:
We acknowledge with sorrow the brokenness of the world at personal, national, and international levels, and we seek justice, reconciliation and transformation in all arenas of life. In these politically, economically, socially, and religiously decaying times, justice is needed to bring hope, wisdom, and grace. We also realize that the evils of poverty and oppression exist on two levels, the individual and the structural, and we work for justice in both facets
We believe that there is enough. Those with plenty can meet the needs of the poor, if s/he who can gather much will not gather too much (2 Cor. 8:13-15). We believe that the Kingdom of God is free of poverty and oppression. We echo and attempt to live out Christ’s prayer that the “Kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We believe that begins now, with Jesus’ followers, and continues throughout eternity.
Shane Claiborne has written several books that help delineate his attempts to live out a radical Christan life of service. Among the books that Shane Claiborne has written or co-written with collaborators are The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, Becoming The Answer To Our Prayers, Follow Me to Freedom: Leading As an Ordinary Radical, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, and Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said?.
The Simple Way community has tried to keep in the spirit of Jesus’s love of social justice. All of these Christians that I have written about in December, The Simple Way community, The United Methodist Women, the Detroit pastors, and the Catholic Workers are emulating Jesus’s love of social justice. This love of social justice is found in the spirit of Luke 4:16-21:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Youtube videos on Shane Claiborne explaining his concept of The Simple Way communities
A youtube video of The Simple Way community growing gardens in the North Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington to address hunger and malnutrition in the neighborhood
Youtube videos of The Simple Way giving out free school supplies to children in the area
A youtube video of The Simple Way community building a park out of an empty lot
A youtube video by Jamie Moffett of a vigil for a murdered teen who was shot Thursday Feb 4th, 2010 on the 3200 block of Potter Street in Kensington, Philadelphia. The Simple Way community helped organize the vigil for neighbors and friends