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Shane Claiborne: Being Pro-Life Means More Than You Think

Shane Claiborne: Being Pro-Life Means More Than You Think

Shane Claiborne wants us to re-think what it means to be “pro-life.”

“I love that language,” the author and activist said. “But I began to see the limitations that we put on that, such as how narrowly we define pro-life to one issue on abortion.”

Ahead of the release for his latest book “Redefining Life,” we sat down with Claiborne to discuss what a holistic pro-life outlook means for him and how every person can make a significant difference in the fight for life.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

RELEVANT: Where did this message come from?

Shane Claiborne: This is one of those projects that felt really like a sacred project. It’s building on some of the other stuff I’ve been passionate about. My last book was on gun violence called “Beating Guns,” before that was “Executing Grace” over the death penalty and recognizing that we’ve got a problem in our Christianity when we’re advocates for life on one issue, but not another. So I think this was kind of addressing some of the roots of the problem.

I grew up in Tennessee and fell in love with Jesus in the Bible Belt, but I also began to see how my world view and my political imagination was being shaped in a real particular way, especially when it comes to the idea of what it means to be pro-life. I love that language and fully embraced it, but then I began to see the limitations that we put on that, such as how narrowly we define pro-life to one issue on abortion. We Christians, we’re not only silent, but we were an obstacle to things that would actually save lives. In particular, the biggest supporters of the death penalty has been Christians. And when it comes to gun violence, Christians are the highest gun-owning demographic in America.

So I really wanted to not abandon the language and the idea of being for life, but to expand it to really invite people to think more broadly. And that’s what’s happened for me: I’m not less for life, I’m more pro-life than I was when I was 15 years old.

How can we make sure we’re not treating the pro-life movement as a political issue?

The question that kind of reverberate all through “Rethinking Life” is, “What does love require of us?” And I think that’s exactly the right question. Jesus said, “they will know that you’re my disciples by your love.” All the Scripture says over and over, the law is summed up into this: Love God, love your neighbor.

And so back to the question, what does love look like? Well, we know what love doesn’t look like, and we’ve seen a lot of that, especially in what many would call the pro-life movement. I’m sure some of them would say that they’re acting in love towards unborn children. But tis is where, in the book, I point to Mother Teresa as a model. Obviously, Jesus is the ultimate model of what love looks like, but Mother Teresa is really helpful when it comes to being an advocate for life, including abortion.

I spent time in India working with her. Everyone called her mother, and we “Mother Teresa” can become this kind of phrase that’s so familiar, we lose the depth of it. I met this 20-year-old guy that said, “You know why we call her mother? Because she rescued us from some of us were abandoned in train stations, some of us who had moms that weren’t able to raise us.”

She just started loving people in tough situations, and she was very passionate about abortion. Bill Clinton invited her to the National Prayer Breakfast, and she talked about her passion on abortion. But Mother Teresa wasn’t a single-issue person, either. She called governors the night before executions and would tell them to show mercy, to do what Jesus would have them do. She didn’t just have bumper stickers and T-shirts. She didn’t hold signs that say “abortion is murder.” She came alongside people and she had compassion along with her conviction on these issues. I think that’s really what the sort of posture we need, and not just on abortion, but every issue. To think about the people who are impacted.

One in four women had an abortion — that’s what our statistics are — and so we need to talk about this in a way that respects the complexity and the pain and the impact that this has had on people that might be really, really close to us. They’re certainly in our pews and workplaces, but probably even in our own family. Let’s treat this issue with love and respect because it’s not just an issue. We’re talking about people’s lives.

What would you say to someone who feels like they aren’t capable to do anything on their own?

So interestingly enough, Mother Theresa was very familiar with all of this, and she actually didn’t take herself too seriously. She was pretty honest about her struggles and doubts, and when people were impressed by her, she would kind of moderate their infatuation. She’s real famous for this line when someone said, “How did you life 50000 people off the street to Calcutta?” And she said, “I started with one person.”

Her philosophy was, we’re not called to do great things, but small things with great love. What’s important isn’t how much you do, but how much love you put into doing it. And I think the truth of Mother Teresa, like the power of her life, is if we love one person at a time, if we show compassion to a few people, that’s contagious and it does begin to have ripples throughout the world. I think the best takeaway from Mother Teresa is for each of us to ask, “how can we do small things with great love? How can we show compassion to a few people in the capacity that we’re given?”

Let’s try to be who we’re called to be and do it right where we are. And there’s a few things I suggest. One of them is, we believe that the truth sets us free, and we believe in confession in the church — with repentance comes confession. And acknowledging where maybe we’ve fallen short of what love requires of us is a good place to start. I’m trying to confess where my own ethic of life fell short and try to do a better job at advocating for life, but I think we also need to do that as a country. That’s why I do some hard work in the second part of this book that’s about the cracks in the foundation of our ethic of life, about how our country is devalued life, especially of Native Americans and certainly of African-Americans. All kinds of folks that we at different points in history have seen as less than.

Even as the founding fathers were writing, “all man are created equal,” people were being sold on street corners. I think that’s the kind of the paradox at the heart of America. I think we need to tell some of that truth about history, and I try to do that in the book about our country, but also about where Christians have been complicit with death. In fact, some of the worst atrocities in history and some of the most beautiful stuff has happened at the hands of Christians, sometimes simultaneously. I think we have to recognize that history and see the holes and some of the theology that we learned.

But I think there’s also a piece of this… it’s not just about our head, but it’s about our heart. Sometimes our hearts move and our heads follow, so I think that’s why proximity to those who have been impacted is so important. I talk a lot about how visiting folks on death row, listening to stories of immigrants and refugees on our southern border, being in Iraq during the bombing in the war, these things have shaped my passion for life and my grief over violence in all of its different forms. I don’t think this is just an intellectual enterprise, but I think there’s also a call to be near to those who have been impacted, who have been the recipients of violence and injustice. Let the suffering speak and let it move us in our hearts.

I think we can be a force for life, again. There’s lots of places in history that can inspire us, including the early church, which is… I try to paint an accurate picture. It was imperfect, but it was also beautiful in its comprehensive championing of life and speaking out against the gladiatorial games, and speaking out against the death penalty and against military combat and all these different things.

You can hear more of our conversation with Claiborne on the RELEVANT Podcast.

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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