‘Jesus for President’: Book puts old-school evangelicals on notice


The evangelical movement is trading in its cleanshaven look for dreadlocks, and starched collars and ties for hair shirts and sandals.

A new book, “Jesus for President,” by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, is yet another defining landmark in the ever-changing journey of Christian evangelicals. Dreadlocked, easygoing and outfitted with a hippie bus that runs on used vegetable oil, Claiborne and his crew are touring the country, espousing what they believe are the critical issues of the age.

“No one will probably ever start a war over used vegetable oil,” says Claiborne, in a recent article on CNN.com about his travels. Though avowedly pro-life and aligned with many of his evangelical peers on matters such as marriage and abortion, he also is against the Iraq war and takes positions on things like immigration that many evangelical leaders would find troublesome.

The pro-life agenda of many of these new evangelicals should be qualified to some degree, lest it be assumed consistent with the Republican right wing’s current platform. Yes, they are pro-life in every sense when it comes to abortion, but they are less concerned with pressing government to legislate their views, and more concerned about affecting public opinion from the inside-out.

They also are generally against the death penalty and our current military engagements in the Middle East, considering these all as consistently pro-life positions. Along with their pro-life emphasis comes a passion for conservation, touting renewable energy, lowering carbon emissions, simplifying our lives and generally reducing the impact we humans have on our planet. As another recent article in New Yorker magazine points out, this movement is dramatically changing the face of evangelical Christianity, which was once dominated by Pat Robertson, James Dobson and other conservative figures. This new breed of evangelicals does not align itself with a particular political party, and sees the importance of a person of faith’s role as one of action, more so than fighting for or against particular public policy.

“Jesus for President” is not a manifesto of hard-line ideology to which any “good” Christian must adhere, but rather it is a self-described “book to provoke the Christian political imagination.” There is a more inherent sense of trust that one who spends time with scripture and in prayer will find the passion and means they require to effect change to which they are called. There is a sense of urgency and a call to action, though the expression of that action may be widely varied.

Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, and author-speaker-activist Tony Campolo have been beating this same drum for many years. It’s not a new movement, per se, but with the disaffection of millions both with the religious and political forums, this is a hopeful breath of fresh air. It gives permission for a difference of views, but lets no one off the hook for enacting change and championing justice for Christ’s so-called “least of these.”

Could it be that Christians can be Democrats or Republicans without guilt, and can – God help us – work together toward fulfillment of our mission as people of faith? Could it be that our love of the Gospel is bigger than Roe v. Wade or our opinions about the role of marriage? Could it be that peace, love and compassion could become the most prominent dimensions of the new face of Christianity?

A new coalition such as this certainly will not be easy, and who knows if it actually will ever work, but the idea that many of today’s evangelicals and I might have more in common than not gives me great hope. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next.