The year after [Shane] Claiborne graduated, he and five friends pooled their savings and bought a rowhouse in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, one of the city’s poorest areas, where they had already gotten to know many of the residents. They filed paperwork to become a 501(c)(3) — an “antiprofit organization,” Claiborne later wrote — and moved there in January 1998, opening their doors to everyone who needed food or clothing. They dubbed their community the Simple Way and took inspiration from long-established “intentional communities” like the Catholic Worker and Bruderhof.
I would not have given their enterprise much chance of success. They beat the odds.
It wasn’t until 1995, after the Republicans had swept the midterm elections, propelled by the release of Newt Gingrich’s conservative legislative blueprint “Contract With America,” that Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition’s director, could say his movement was “thoroughly integrated and enmeshed into the machinery of the Republican Party.” In the short term, this partnership was a boon for both the GOP and the conservative faith leaders. But it had an unintended consequence: People who came of age in the ’90s or later learned to see the GOP and evangelicalism — or even religion more broadly — as almost synonymous. Rejecting one would mean rejecting the other.
Because so many Evangelicals have sold their souls to Donald Trump, I’m especially glad that Shane Claiborne exists (though I knew about him long before Trump). At least a few for whom the Religious Right never held any charm (or perhaps lost its charm) have turned Claibornesque progressive Christian rather than leave the faith.
As for those souls of who left the faith because it was “thoroughly integrated and enmeshed into the machinery of the Republican Party,” the Ralph Reeds, conservatives and Trumpians who confounded the faith and partisanship will have to answer.
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All Christian readers could benefit from listening to the podcast The Struggle Against the Normal Life. It’s a short (11:05) detox for our toxic faux Christian environment.