KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WW) – A prominent Christian activist and author urged a Kansas City, Missouri, audience to embrace social issues by getting closer to people who are hurting. Shane Claiborne keynoted a “social justice revival” on Sept. 22 at First Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo.
“I’m convinced that in the church, one of our biggest problems is not a compassion problem as much as a proximity problem,” Claiborne explained. “It’s a relationship problem. It’s not that wealthy or middle-class folks don’t care about poor folks, they just don’t know many.”
“And I think the racial divide in our church so often is because we live in homogenous circles of people who live and think and have seen the world like us,” he added. “So, we’ve got to kind of keep expanding our relationships. But those relationships, I tell you, they mess you up, right when you see people that are victims of what the scripture calls the principalities and powers.”
Claiborne argued that in the Bible, “the whole story is about a God who is near to those who are hurting.” Thus, he urged Christians to act similarly as he told about spending time years ago in India with Mother Teresa. He mentioned she talked about how “in the church, it can become very fashionable to talk about the poor, but not as fashionable to talk to them.”
“Sometimes we are good at talking about justice issues, but we don’t always know the people who have names and faces who are not statistics, but they are the casualties of injustice,” he added. “We need that revival in our heart to keep us moving towards the suffering, which so much in this world is going to try to keep pulling us away from it. And that proximity becomes so important.”
Preaching on the theme “What if Jesus Meant the Stuff He Said,” Claiborne urged Christians to demonstrate with actions what they profess to believe.
“Just look at the politicians right after every mass shooting,” he said. “We get ‘thoughts and prayers.’ And I believe in prayer, but we need action, too! When people say ‘all we can do is pray,’ I think they’re lying. We can pray, we gotta pray. But we can organize, right? We can march, we can get in the streets, we can wake people up! So, I think we need prayer and action together.”
“I fell in love with Jesus down in the Bible belt in Tennessee,” Claiborne said. “But I also found that the church was pretty good at talking about life after death, and not as good at talking about life before death. I don’t know if it’s been your experience, but, for me, everything was about going to heaven when we die. And I heard somebody saying that, you know, a lot of Christians are so heavenly minded they’re not a whole lot of earthly good. You end up talking about heaven as almost an escape from this world.”
“I’m excited about heaven — then we’ll party like there’s no tomorrow, and there won’t be,” he added. “I think what’s exciting about what we’re seeing is folks that care about this world and that are not just going to offer people life after death when so many people are saying is there life before death? You know, doesn’t God care about this world? And I think you’re here today because you know God does care about this world.”
The one-day event also included breakout sessions on social justice issues, including on food insecurity, homelessness, climate change, and political advocacy. Co-hosts of the event included Bethel Neighborhood Center in Kansas City, Kan.; Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan.; First Baptist Church in Overland Park, Kan.; First Baptist Church in Turner, Kan.; and Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, Kan..