Ep 5 – “Hope for People Weary of Gun Violence” with Shane Claiborne

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Ep 5 – “Hope for People Weary of Gun Violence” with Shane Claiborne


In this episode, I talk with my friend and colleague Shane Claiborne about his passion for gun violence prevention, his faith journey, and his work as founder of The Simple Way and leader of Red Letter Christians, a movement of folks who are committed to living “as if Jesus meant the things he said.” Shane is a champion for grace which has led him to jail advocating for the homeless, and to places like Iraq and Afghanistan to stand against war. Now grace fuels his passion to end the death penalty and help stop gun violence. Shane also works closely with RAWtools, a gun violence prevention organization with a mission to disarm hearts, forge peace, and cultivate justice.

Shane’s books include Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence (2019), and his newest book, Rethinking Life: Embracing the Sacredness of Every Person (released February 2023).

In our discussion, Shane helpfully shares where and how he finds hope and encouragement in the work of gun violence prevention. Listeners will find this an uplifting and refreshing treatment of gun violence from a lens of faith-filled hope.

Guest Links:

  • http://www.shaneclaiborne.com/
  • https://www.redletterchristians.org/
  • https://rawtools.org/
  • https://thesimpleway.org/

If you enjoy this podcast and would like to find more content like this, please visit my website at www.markbeckwith.net, where you can listen to more episodes (and read episode transcripts), read my blog, and sign up to get weekly reflections in your inbox. I also explore the themes of this podcast further in my book, Seeing the Unseen: Beyond Prejudices, Paradigms, and Party Lines

This episode of the Reconciliation Roundtable podcast was edited, mixed, and produced by Luke Overstreet.



[00:00:00] Mark: Welcome to Reconciliation Roundtable, a new podcast where we discuss building bridges of understanding across religious and political difference. I’m your host, Mark Beckwith, retired Bishop of the Diocese of Newark in the Episcopal Church. There are forces and voices in our increasingly polarized world that want us to view each other and the issues of the day in a binary way: this or that, good or bad. I want to invite you on a journey beyond the safety of our silos and our egos – to the soul, where we have the opportunity to see things differently. If you enjoy this podcast and would like to find more content like this, please visit my website at www.markbeckwith.net, where you can listen to more episodes, read my weekly blog, and sign up to get weekly reflections in your inbox. I also explore the themes of this podcast further in my book. Seeing the Unseen: Beyond Prejudices, Paradigms, and Party Lines.

[00:01:14] And today I’m talking with Shane Claiborne, who is my friend and colleague, and Shane is the author of several books. One of the most recent, the one that brought us together is Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence, and his new book is Rethinking Life: Embracing the Sacredness of Every Person. Shane is based In Philadelphia, about to celebrate 25 years of The Simple Way, which is a community gathered to live simply and offer nonviolence.

[00:01:47] I know Shane through our common work in gun violence prevention. Shane wrote the forward to my book, Seeing the Unseen: Beyond Prejudices, Paradigms, and Party Lines, for which I’m very, very grateful. Many people have said, “Oh, I wish he could write more” because the forward was just so good.

A gifted writer, a passionate advocate, and an activist and an apostle for nonviolence. And the other thing I just learned, Shane, you and I share the same birthday, July 11th. How about that? How about that? We share that date with Julius Caesar and Saint Benedict.

[00:02:26] Shane: Oh, yeah, I knew Saint Benedict. I didn’t know about Julius. He wasn’t on my radar as much, but yeah, cool. Great to be with you, man@

[00:02:32] Mark: Yeah, this is great to have this opportunity. Shane, you’re an advocate and apostle for nonviolence. How did that start? How has that evolved over the years, your commitment to nonviolence?

[00:02:45] Shane: Well, the backdrop is that I didn’t grow up in any means in the tradition that’s often called the “peace church,” the Anabaptists or Mennonites, the folks that have a whole robust theology of nonviolence.

[00:02:56] I grew up in the heart of the Bible Belt with God and guns. And my dad was in the military. And so, you know, for a lot of my life, I argued the other side of issues that I now feel so passionately about. Like, I was a supporter of the death penalty and can remember passionately arguing the Bible verses that I thought defended that position, and the same with guns. You know, I grew up with guns – and a few things changed.

It’s also the Bible belt. So, I fell in love with Jesus, and I started reading the Sermon on the Mount and it became harder and harder to reconcile violence with Jesus and with the Sermon on the Mount, and blessed are the peacemakers, love your enemy, turn the other cheek, you know, all those things that Jesus taught and lived, embodied.

[00:03:44] And also, what happened for me is that my kind of landscape changed, you know, my kind of cultural and social environment. And there’s that old saying that goes, “where we sit determines what we see,” and I think our worldview is shaped by our life experience. And so, as I’ve spent the last 25 years on the north side of Philadelphia, we’ve just seen too many lives lost to guns.

[00:04:09] And that’s where my passion for gun violence really surfaced, both from my faith and love for Jesus, but also from my location and my place here in North Philly, and particularly one young man that was killed in front of our house. And that just was a massive, pivotal moment, you know, for me. Same with the death penalty.

My proximity to people who have been impacted by capital punishment changed everything, both murder victims’ family members who have lost their loved ones and survived violent crimes. And yet they come so often with this passion to abolish the death penalty, this conviction that more violence, you know, killing someone, is not going to heal the wounds of violence in my own soul. So, I don’t see these as just issues that are islands in themselves, but it’s a part of a movement for life and for love and to really see the intersections of all these different things.

[00:05:08] That’s what my recent book is about, you know, kind of connecting the dots a little bit and why I love your work, you know, which is very much holistic and not just reacting to gun violence or nuclear weapons or whatever. All those things are important, but they come under a big umbrella of championing life without exceptions.

[00:05:26] Mark: So you grew up in the Bible belt with guns, and now are a staunch advocate for letting go of guns, which are the source of so much violence. Also, in the course of your career, you worked at Willow Creek Church outside of Chicago, a megachurch in the evangelical tradition. You also spent a long time with Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Charity in Calcutta – and those are different communities, different positions or presentations of the faith to the world. Being in the middle of all that and being a part of all that, what evolved from that? What were the reconciling messages and forces from those differences?

[00:06:08] Shane: Well, I guess for me, I’ve always liked that scripture that says we’re working out our salvation with fear and trembling, that we’re figuring this out.

[00:06:16] You know, for me, being a Christian is not just about a moment, but this continual being shaped into the work of Christ. And I’ve also loved diversity, people that are working that out in different ways and I can learn from them. I mean, I still do that to this day. Certainly Willow Creek Community Church, for those that may not be familiar –

[00:06:35] I mean, it was a megachurch outside of Chicago, but it started as a youth movement, and in a sense a youth group really, that read the book of Acts where it talks about the early church sharing everything in common and no one claiming any of their possessions as their own. So, they had this really community-based vision that caught my attention.

[00:07:03] And while it looked really different from Mother Teresa’s expression in India, which was really all about reading the words of Jesus: give everything to the poor, sell everything you have. And she went to Calcutta, India, to you know, what Mother Teresa called the poorest of the poor.

[00:07:16] So I literally had like, less than two weeks, I think, if I’m remembering, between when I was on the streets of Calcutta with the Missionaries of Charity and Mother Teresa, to when I was in the building of Willow Creek sitting in the food court. They ended up having a food court, you know, there in the church. But part of that was that they wanted people to eat together. They wanted people to build community. They wanted to be the church, the center of their life. So there were definitely bones to spit out, but I am grateful for those experiences and they shaped me. And I think even having them back-to-back hit me in a particular way. And then, right after that, we came to Philadelphia and started our community on the North side of Philly 25 years ago.

[00:08:03] Mark: What was the motivation for doing that? Starting the community, The Simple Way?

[00:08:07] Shane: Well, there were a few things. So it was that same inspiration of the early church in the book of Acts that, as we read about it, it was about sharing everything in common. That the gospels would be lived out of our dinner tables and living rooms, you know, out of our homes, not out of these big sanctuary buildings, but the idea is like getting church integrated into our lives and into the neighborhood.

[00:08:31] And so we started our community with the vision of Mother Teresa, which was “what’s important is not how much you do, but how much love you put into doing it.” So she used to say, “We’re not called to do great things. We’re called to do small things with great love.” And for years we had that quote above our door: “Today, let’s do small things with great love.” Let’s love one person well, you know, be present.

What’s important isn’t how many meals we give out, but how much love we put into doing it. You know, are we getting to know people’s names? Are we getting into people’s lives and building community as we do it?

[00:09:08] And Mother Teresa also, she used to say, loving our neighbor or following Jesus is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. So, that idea that our mission is to love God, love people, and follow Jesus, that’s simple, but it’s not always easy. Especially when our neighbors in an abandoned house or living in a cardboard box, or when Philadelphia is losing almost two lives a day to gun violence.

[00:09:34] So loving our neighbor is something that keeps us up at night sometimes.

[00:09:39] Mark: You described, or it is described that you’re an evangelical, and that is a word that’s used a lot and I think it has many layers of meaning. What does that mean to you to be an evangelical?

[00:09:54] Shane: Well, words and labels evolve, right? And so I think it’s important to, like, go to the root of some of these words that we use. And the word evangelical comes from, the root word for it is the “evangelion,” the gospel, the good news. And what Jesus said is good news to the poor. So, it’s also a particular way that we see the gospel. The good news of Jesus is that the last are first, the first are last, the mighty are cast from their thrones, the lowly are lifted up, the rich are being sent away empty, but the hungry are filled with good things. I mean, that’s the gospel and it has economic dimensions and political dimensions, social dimensions. And that’s why many evangelicals throughout history have been known for addressing social issues, for abolishing slavery, for championing human rights and equality for women. The modern version of evangelicalism has kind of gotten hijacked and distorted. And a lot of people hear “evangelical” and they think fundamentalists or they think, “oh, those evangelicals, those are the white folks that were supporters of Donald Trump,” you know. We’ve often become known for the very things that Jesus was against.

[00:11:10] Or we’ve become against the very things Jesus was for, right? A lot of people think evangelicals, those are the folks that are pro-gun, pro-military, pro-war, anti-environment, anti-abortion. So, you know, in one sense I’m not really attached to the word evangelical, but I do care a lot about the evangelion and the gospel, and I want to reclaim Jesus.

[00:11:34] In fact, I want to reclaim Jesus and my faith from evangelicals that have used Christianity for their own political agenda and have often used Christianity, or the language and symbols of Christianity, to camouflage their own hatred or bigotry. Or to distort it into this kind of version of Christian nationalism that I think is really, I mean, to use a church word, it’s heretical.

[00:12:02] It really strays from centering Jesus. And a lot of people I meet, they love Jesus. They just don’t like Christians very much because the Christians they’ve encountered have been these evangelicals that are anti-gay, that don’t believe in science or, you know, caring for the earth.

[00:12:19] They’re just promising people heaven while ignoring the hells that they’re living in right now. But the Jesus that I know, and the Jesus I read about in the gospel, talked about the kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. So, our faith is not just about escaping this world, but transforming this world from what it is into what God dreams for this world to be.

[00:12:41] And that’s why addressing gun violence, ending the death penalty, welcoming immigrants – to me, these aren’t just political things. This is what love looks like. This is what our faith compels us to do.

[00:12:55] Mark: And as you engage in this faith and this love, which is not a pitter-patter feeling but an act of the will, wishing God’s blessing on everyone, and earlier said that some of those who embrace the term evangelical from your perspective are heretical. How do you approach that? People who live within the Christian family but have a very different notion of what it means to be a Christian. How best to reconcile with folks who have a very different theology and interpretation of Scripture?

[00:13:30] Shane: Well, what I see Jesus doing – I try to take my cues from Jesus – and what I see Jesus doing is not so much excluding people from the movement that God’s doing in the world, but defining what that looks like, right?

[00:13:45] So this is what it looks like: selling what you have and giving it to the poor, losing your life to find it, giving special honor to the parts of the body that have been dishonored. Joan Chittister, such a wise Catholic sister, she says if you look at Jesus, “he’s continually including the excluded and challenging the chosen.”

[00:14:11] I mean, Jesus’ harshest words, like “brood of vipers,” were not for people on the fringes of the faith, but they were for the religious elite who were using their religion as an oppressive exclusionary force in the world and were heaping heavy burdens on people. Those are the folks who Jesus said, you go across land and sea to make a single convert, and then you make them twice the son of hell that you are.

[00:14:36] I mean, I didn’t say that. I wouldn’t dare, you know, but Jesus, he had some collisions when religion is used to oppress and exclude. And he’s constantly including people who were excluded from that religious community. He says things like, to the religious folks, he says, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom ahead of you. The people that you’ve locked out of the church actually hold the keys to the kingdom, right? So you wonder what gets someone killed. Well, it’s saying stuff like that, right?

But I’m not Jesus, right, and so I think there’s humility that we need with this. And part of what Jesus is calling out is the poison of self-righteousness, of believing that we’re better than someone else. And he told beautiful stories like the tax collector and the pharisee, you know, the religious guy that stands up and says, “thank you that I’m not like all of those people, but I do all the great stuff. I tithe and go to church and all that,” you know, and then the tax collector who doesn’t even lift his head to heaven, but just beats his chest and says, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”

[00:15:45] And that’s, according to Jesus, really the posture and the prayer that we’re meant to gravitate toward, not the self-righteousness. So, I grew up with a version of religious self-righteousness that had a conservative flavor. It was about legalism and not smoking or drinking or listening to secular music or whatever, you know. But there is a version of progressive self-righteousness that also has its own forms of exclusion, internal language, all the stuff that the fundamentalists had. Ways of canceling people, of theological sort of litmus tests, and if you don’t fit all these categories, you’re not welcome here. So, it’s really sad, but you can kind of mirror that self-righteousness that’s about making other people feel shamed for feeling differently than you.

[00:16:40] So to me, Jesus is the key to so much of this and really the corrective. When you talk about the heresies of Christianity, traditionally a heresy is when Christians have emphasized one truth at the cost of another. So we’ve ignored one thing to kind of exaggerate or to overemphasize another thing.

[00:17:03] And it’s tempting to do that. It’s tempting to overemphasize and lose another truth in it. So, I think there’s these tensions we’ve got to hold. I sometimes describe it as like, if your car runs off the right side of the road, you yank the wheel and you run off the other side of the road. Rather than reaching this equilibrium.

[00:17:20] And there’s a lot of things that are meant to be held together in the Christian faith, like faith and works, loving God and loving our neighbor. You can’t separate these things from each other. I think even traditionally, the social gospel and the gospel of personal salvation or evangelical gospel, you know, these things have to be held together.

[00:17:41] God is personal and God is also concerned about the world we live in.

[00:17:46] Mark: I was brought out of my own self-righteousness a bunch of years ago when I went to a gun show, and I stuck out like a sore thumb, and I was listening to the conversation there and I didn’t know what people were talking about.

[00:17:59] Because they were talking about the technical aspects of guns. And I began to realize guns are a fundamental part of American culture. And I’ve been working, as you have, to reduce gun violence, but I realized that I don’t understand this culture. And without knowing it or not being fully aware of it to the extent that I should, I shame this culture and I’m self-righteous and I’m smug. And that was a real learning for me. Because guns are a part of American culture, and they’re not going to go away.

We need to reduce gun violence. And a question I have of you, because you’ve been asked at this gun violence reduction movement longer than I have.

[00:18:41] For myself, there are days when I say this is too big a rock to push up too steep a hill. I’m done, or I need to hide under a rock, you know, and avoid the whole deal. How do you keep going in this ongoing movement to reduce the scourge of gun violence?

[00:19:04] Shane: Well, I want to speak to that, but first, as you were sharing, Mark, about your own story, it made me think of the NRA, the National Rifle Association Convention down in Texas, where a group of folks that you or I may or may not have been a part of organized a prayerful presence that went in.

[00:19:23] I mean, you know, this is just days after the Uvalde shooting, and the callousness of so many of the extremists to gather there, and we went to that prayer breakfast and read the names of the victims in Uvalde and of course were escorted out of that prayer meeting. But the whole point of it was that we did this liturgy, this prayer, reading each name and saying, “God knows their names.”

[00:19:47] But what’s interesting is, right before that, when we first went in to the NRA convention, I had all these ideas of who I was going to encounter in there, and minutes within walking into the door of the National Rifle Association Convention, one of the first people I met had read some of my books and came up and introduced himself and was really excited to be talking. And I was too, to meet someone.

[00:20:13] It kind of disarmed me, all the kind of hesitations or fears that I had walking into this gun show, where there’s just assault rifles everywhere, you know, camouflage everywhere, crosses and God mixed with guns. And this guy, we just started having a conversation together, and he tells me what brought him there, which was very different than what I might’ve thought. So, all of that to say, these human encounters are so important, and not to kind of lock people into a box, but even to realize that I’m different from the person I was 20 years ago and you know, people change.

[00:20:48] I’ve met folks that have been passionately for the death penalty, and their opinion has changed on it. The governor of Pennsylvania is one of those. So, I think that’s so important when it comes to not being cynical or feeling defeated, like you were saying. I think all that’s related. It’s realizing that change can happen.

[00:21:07] I mean, as you know, and many of your listeners may know, we’ve been turning guns into garden tools with a national network we call RAWtools, which is flipping the word “war” around backwards. And we make these tools out of guns. And for folks that are listening, I’m holding one in my hand. We make shovels and plows out of guns, and we turn the wood from the stock of the gun into handles for these tools. But every time we do it, we are declaring that all things can be made new. Things can change. A piece of metal crafted to kill can be recrafted. Policies can change. We’ve seen it happen throughout history.

[00:21:49] So there is an element of faith that scripture says is believing despite what we see. You know, believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change, watching policies change as we make that change happen. I think cynicism, in some ways, is a privilege. Choosing which issues we care about and which issues we don’t care about has a certain degree of privilege behind it.

[00:22:12] For a lot of folks, they can’t help but fight for change because they’re fighting for their lives. This is not just an issue, this is their children that they’re fighting for.

[00:22:21] Mark: And RAWtools, I’ve been a part of some of the [workshops], and there’s a whole, to my word, liturgy around it. You take the broken down guns, forge them in a forge, and then pound them into garden tools. And people who are attending have an opportunity to help fashion them. And then within that, there are stories. People tell stories of their experience of gun violence and that whole process, which takes a while, but invites people into the depth of this. And symbolically, it’s very important.

[00:22:57] And this has been growing around the country. And can you speak to that and the witness that you’re making through RAWtools?

[00:23:05] Shane: Yeah, so we’ve been doing this for over 10 years, transforming guns into garden tools, but one of the most powerful ones was, early on, we had a handgun that we found in an abandoned house here in Philly.

[00:23:19] We’re also restoring abandoned houses, which is the same kind of transformation, you know, and in one of these abandoned houses, we found a gun and we began to do the work of blacksmithing with our friends that are blacksmiths. But then we felt really, I would say moved by the spirit, really compelled in that moment to invite anybody that’s lost someone they love to take the hammer.

[00:23:42] And in particular, there were these moms and dads that started beating on that gun. And one, Miss Ryans, when she beat on the gun, she had a picture of her son who was killed in Philadelphia. And she said with every thump of the hammer, “This. Is. For. My. Boy.” And it really felt like it moved from art or symbolism into this deeper thing that, to use a church word, we would call a sacrament.

[00:24:13] And the word sacrament means holy mystery, right? And there’s things that we do in the church, like the Eucharist or communion, where we’re doing what might even be a peculiar thing, you know, drinking the blood and eating the body of Christ. And you enter this sphere that is the transcendent, right?

[00:24:30] There’s something spiritual and holy happening. And it really does feel like that often happens as we’re doing this transformation of metal. That it’s more than just turning a gun into a garden tool, but it is proclaiming that we believe in a God that wants to move us from death to life, that wants to see swords beaten into plows, you know, to see a world where we don’t lose 120 lives every day to guns.

[00:24:58] And it’s participating in that, right? It’s not just praying for God to change this world, but it’s saying this is a conspiracy, a holy conspiracy that we’re actually to participate with God in building a world where peace and life triumph over violence. So, it really is. And there has become kind of a prayer and liturgy that we do around it at the forge.

[00:25:24] But I think it’s helpful to also recognize that guns have become a form of idols for us. Things that we attribute this kind of reverence and sacredness to. So when we are destroying those idols and kind of naming that, it’s really powerful, but it also evokes some deep principalities and powers in our world. You know, people are offended when you’re chopping up an AR-15, that they believe can do what only God can do, you know, that can rid the world of evil or protect you or determine your destiny, you know, all of that stuff that we attribute to guns. There’s sort of a God-like reverence that we often have for these guns. So it’s important, as the old prophets would say, to cast down those idols and to melt them down and to rethink where our hope and faith lies. And it’s not in our guns, but in our God.

[00:26:18] Mark: I remember several years ago doing some lobbying on Capitol Hill and visiting a conservative Republican representative from Queens who has since retired. And he voted to restrict guns at some level. I can’t remember the specific legislation. And he said the pushback was enormous. He hadn’t anticipated it. He said, “Oh, it’s a religion with some of these people.” So we have sort of competing religions. How do you see us moving the needle, reducing the level of gun violence to get it down? How do you see us moving the needle?

[00:26:58] Shane: Well, this idea that it is a religion… actually there’s a quote, I wanted to look it up here and make sure I got it right, but this is from Warren Cassidy, who’s the former executive of the National Rifle Association.

[00:27:09] These are word for word, his words, “You would get a far better understanding if you approached us, the NRA, as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world.” So, I mean, that’s not hyperbole, right? To say that there’s a form of idolatry and counterfeit religion and faith that’s put into all of this.

[00:27:30] So when I think of what we can do about gun violence, I think there’s a part of this that people of faith, especially specifically Christians can play a major role in this. Because as we researched for Beating Guns, one of the really troubling things we discovered is that the demographic with the highest support of guns and the highest rate of gun ownership are Christians.

[00:27:57] Evangelical Christians, in particular, are the biggest gun enthusiasts in the country. So, there’s something I think we’ve got to do as Jesus said to get the log out of our own eye, right? To begin to do some internal work around, you know, Jesus carried a cross, not a gun. Can we simultaneously love our enemies as Christ commanded and prepare to kill them?

[00:28:20] You know, turn the other cheek and stand your ground, as the NRA says. Those begin to feel like we’re trying to serve two masters. So I think there comes a point where we’ve got to name that. And we’ve got to do some good, deep theology and spiritual work in the Christian church. And we need to collaborate with people of other faiths and no faith. But this is not just a policy crisis. It’s a spiritual crisis in the church.

[00:28:43] Mark: Well, you and I are part of this new movement called Faith Leaders for Ending Gun Violence, and we made a decision, we really came together to offer a response or a presence at the NRA convention a year ago in Houston, and we wanted to continue because we realized we have a deep commitment.

[00:29:01] Faith Leaders for Ending Gun Violence, we’ve gathered together progressive Christians and evangelical Christians, we may disagree theologically on a lot of things, but we are foursquare in our commitment to reducing gun violence. And I think we have an opportunity… No, we have an obligation to be witnesses to the gospel in such a way that we do what we can to reduce gun violence and challenge idolatry, as you describe it.

[00:29:32] Shane: Yeah, and there’s folks that say, “Well, this isn’t a gun problem. It’s a heart problem.” And I think one of the things that we want to say is that it can be both. And we need to address the heart problem, the sin problem that goes all the way back to Cain and Abel. The inaugural act outside the Garden of Eden is violence, a man killing his own brother.

[00:29:53] And the whole scripture has this theme of turning from that sin and violence to God. So, there’s a heart problem. But then we’ve got a gun problem. You know, we’ve got more guns than people. We have unprecedented death happening in our country from guns. And specifically, we have guns that are designed to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, legal on our streets right now. Assault rifles, guns like the AR-15. And we now see guns are the number one cause of death of our children in America, more than cancer or car accidents. So that’s where I really love what Dr. Martin Luther King said, “A law cannot make a man love me, but it can make it harder for a man to kill me.”

[00:30:40] And that’s why I would say every one of us who believes that every human being is made in the image of God, we should be champions for life. And gun violence in my lifetime has taken more lives domestically than all the casualties of all of America’s wars throughout history combined. Like, this is a pro-life issue. You can’t be a champion for life and ignore gun violence. So, you know, we’re not going to save every life, but we can save some.

[00:31:11] And I think that’s where we can begin to create some common ground, right, Mark? Where not only is it 80-90 percent of Americans who want change, but it’s an overwhelming majority of gun owners who want to see changes happen. And some of those changes are a limit to the capacity that guns can fire. We’ve got a whole coalition called Hunters Against Gun Violence and on their shirts it says “you don’t need 10 rounds to shoot a deer.” So there are gun owners that want to get rid of assault rifles. There are laws like limiting, not getting rid of the Second Amendment, but limiting the number of guns that people can own. And one of those laws is one handgun a month, right, Mark? That would say you can have 12 handguns a year per person, but there’s a “well regulated” deliberately put into the Second Amendment and no one needs more than 12 handguns a year, right?

[00:32:09] That’s why we say common sense changes, right? Someone that’s convicted of domestic violence should not be able to access guns, because we know that’s a big determinant. Someone that’s hurting their own family is very likely to either kill their own family members or hurt someone outside of their own family. So those are things that we just know are not going to save all lives, but we can do a whole lot better than 120 lives a day.

[00:32:35] Mark: Well, and fear is kind of in the ether. And I refer to guns as fear transfer machines, that people who want to arm themselves are arming themselves against fear. And if they anticipate an intruder they think they could shoot their gun, which reduces the fear or the source of fear. And instead, it just exacerbates it. It just raises it up. And I’m remembering a story about Martin Luther King. After his home was bombed, he went and got a gun. And after a while, he got rid of it because he had never been as afraid as he was when he had a gun. How do we respond to this explosion of fear and the manipulation of fear?

[00:33:18] Shane: You’re totally right. It has everything to do with fear, but there’s also a quest for power. It’s also about power, you know, and being able to take out people that we deem dangerous, but often are just different from us. And there’s a great study that we cite in our book, Beating Guns. It’s from the Cato Institute. They list a dozen things that are more likely to kill you than an immigrant or a refugee. And this was the time where, you know, we saw so much fear of immigrants and refugees in our country. And the things that are more likely to kill you than an immigrant or a refugee were roller coasters, lightning, a cow.

[00:33:56] One of them was a vending machine falling on you. That’s actually more likely to kill you than an immigrant. So our fears are often produced, right? They’re shaped in a certain way. But I think for every Christian, especially, we should stand on the promise that love casteth out fear, that there’s a choice we have to make between love and fear.

[00:34:21] And you start to ask what if love, rather than fear, was the motivating, kind of shaping force behind our policies on immigration? But also on gun violence on so many different things. So I think, you know, fear and love are like opposing magnets. They can’t occupy the same space. And right now fear is driving so much of our policies on a number of issues, but especially guns, this idolatrous kind of clinging to our guns as the only way forward for our country.

[00:34:52] And it goes really deep. So I think we’ve got to really, as scripture says, there’s principalities and powers that we’re up against. It’s more than just flesh and blood, but it’s people’s fears and their pursuit of power that I think is behind so much of our infatuation with guns.

[00:35:07] Mark: You grew up in a gun culture. I did not. You have street cred that I don’t have. How do you engage with folks who come from the same culture that you do around the issue of guns?

[00:35:19] Shane: Well, I’m really encouraged. I mean, most of my family are still gun owners. I mean, almost everybody I can think of in my family, they’re still hunters. They still have a gun to keep the coyotes from you know, hurting the baby cows and whatnot. So they’re still gun owners, but they’re still in that category of gun owners that are concerned deeply about gun violence and want to see changes happen. So I’ve found that we’ve got to realize that the problem is not gun owners, but gun extremists and to differentiate between them.

[00:35:49] The folks that are uncompromising, even in their dialogue, or they’re not willing to really look at data and the facts that show things like a gun in our home is more likely to hurt someone we love than it is to be used to fend off an aggressive person coming in to hurt us, and even the way that those things are shaped, we really need to look at that.

[00:36:10] So we try to debunk some of those, but I always keep coming back to automobiles too, which, you know, they’re not designed to kill, but they can be deadly. And so we’ve done so many things as a society to try to protect people. You’ve got to prove that you can drive a car before you get a license.

[00:36:27] There’s a minimum age to it. There are regulations of cars, right? If you end up abusing your right to drive a car, you can lose that license and, you know, speed limits, even as we’ve evolved as a society, airbags and seatbelts and no texting laws while you’re driving, all these things are  meant to protect life and yet you look at guns and it’s one of the most unevolved industries in our country.

[00:36:53] And that’s got to change. I mean, these are made to kill and they’re taking so many lives. And some of it is policies like we’ve done with cars, some of it is technology like airbags. We could have smart gun technology that operates off fingerprints, like many of our cell phones or security systems, that it would make it a little harder for a kid to find a gun and use it in the home or for someone to use a gun in suicide that belongs to someone else, to be using stolen guns.

[00:37:23] We need to make it harder and harder for people to kill other people. Policies can do that. So can technology, so can responsible gun ownership – having guns locked in people’s homes. So we give out free gun locks to gun owners in Philadelphia, all those things. We just need to put all of our hearts and minds around the idea of what can we do to make it harder for people to kill, to save people’s lives.

[00:37:49] And I’m really hopeful because I think a lot of folks are feeling the weight and tragedy of gun violence. I mean, the latest statistic is almost half of Americans know someone who’s been shot. So for those who are lucky enough not to know someone who’s been shot, don’t wait until it does become personal.

[00:38:10] As Jesus said, love your neighbor as yourself. Realize that if someone else’s child has been lost, what would it take for me to care? And I think love compels us to not wait until this hits home, but to realize That loving my neighbor as myself means doing a better job at protecting kids than guns.

[00:38:31] Mark: Well, Shane, your commitment to love, the ongoing commitment of joining hearts and minds to promote life, has been a boon certainly to me and to the people who read your books and listen to you and your lectures and the work that you do and, in your neighborhood, and community. Your passion is contagious, and it’s lifted my spirit as we continue in this important life-giving yet hard work of reducing gun violence.

[00:39:01] And to hear your story and your journey and how you’ve blended many things together in your life to be the witness that you are. I’m just really appreciative of who you are and what you’re about. And this is Shane Claiborne, who is a leader of Red Letter Christians and The Simple Way community, which will soon celebrate 25 years. Author of many books, the most recent is Rethinking Life: Embracing the Sacredness of Every Person.

I’m Mark Beckwith, retired Bishop of the Diocese of Newark in the Episcopal Church, one of the leaders of Faith Leaders for Ending Gun Violence. Anything else that you want to share with folks, Shane, about how to connect with you and the work that you do?

[00:39:45] Shane: Oh, my brother, always good to be together and you, you are a force for love and for life and I’m grateful to always be with you and to continue to do this work together. We’re pretty active on the socials, so you can find me and also Red Letter Christians on Twitter, Instagram threads now, and also Facebook.

[00:40:04] And just go check out redletterchristians.org, or if you’re particularly interested in the guns to garden tools, check out rawtools.org. Always a gift to be together, man. Thanks.

[00:40:17] Mark: Thank you for listening to this episode of Reconciliation Roundtable. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform and visit markbeckwith.net to stay up to date with new episodes, blog content, and other news. Please, if you could, rate and review this podcast on iTunes. It helps new listeners to find us.

Copyright © 2023 Mark Beckwith. All rights reserved. Contact for questions involving permission to use portions of the audio or transcript elsewhere.


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