taking the words of Jesus seriously


Prophetic Peacemaking: Closing Plenary at the Parliament of the World’s Religions (Chicago 2023)

By Shane Claiborne 

[The Parliament of the World’s Religions was founded in 1893 around a common vision of people from different faiths working together with mutual respect to build a better world.  Shane was honored to be among the Parliament’s featured “luminaries” in 2023.  The 2023 gathering had over 8000 attendees from 90 different nations, representing 200 different religious traditions.]

I have the privilege of working with a movement called Red Letter Christians. Many Bibles have the words of Jesus highlighted in red and that’s where we get our name. We like to say that we’re trying to “live as if Jesus meant the stuff He said.” 

When Gandhi was asked about Christianity, he said – “I love Jesus, I just wish the Christians acted more like him.”  That’s what we want… a Christianity that looks like Jesus, that acts like Jesus… We want to live out a version of our faith that loves like Jesus… that lives like Jesus… that stirs up good trouble like Jesus did. Many Christians are good at worshipping Jesus, but not as good at following Jesus. 

Jesus did not just come to make believers.  He came to form disciples.  

Many Christians have used our faith as a ticket into heaven and an excuse to ignore the brokenness of the world we live in. Too often, Christians have promised people life after death, while many people were wondering if there is life before death. Christians have been obsessed with saving people from hell while ignoring the hells that they are living through right now.   We’ve talked about souls, but not as much about systems.  And I believe in personal salvation, but I also believe in social transformation.  

Almost every time Jesus opened his mouth, he talked about the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God that Jesus talked about was not just something we go up to when we die, but something we are to bring down on earth – we are to bring God’s dream “on earth as it is in heaven.”  So, it is a gift to represent Red Letter Christians here at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

I also was given a very particular task at this year’s Parliament – to turn some guns into garden tools with all of you!  So we brought the forge. And the anvils.  And we brought hundreds of chopped up gun parts!  Hundreds of you took the hammer to gun barrels this week and helped us turn them into garden tools.  And hundreds of you made pieces of art from chopped up guns, and planted seeds with our tools so you can take them home to bring new life. 

Over 12 years ago, RAWtools was born – we get our name from flipping “WAR” around, and that’s what we do – we turn guns into garden tools and other life-giving things.  We are inspired by the vision of the prophets Micah and Isaiah who cast this vision of a world where people beat “swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.”  Literally, turning the tools of death into tools of life.  

This cross that I’m wearing is made out of the barrel of a gun.  Next month we’ll be delivering one to Pope Francis!  It reminds me that the gun and the cross give us two very different versions of power.  The gun says, “I am willing to kill.”  And the cross says, “I am willing to die.”  There is something worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for.  As the early Christians said, “For Christ we can die, but we cannot kill.”  This cross also reminds me that Jesus was a victim of violence.  As one mother who lost her 19-year-old told me, with tears rolling down her cheeks, “God knows what it feels like to lose your son. God knows what it feels like to be me.”  As a Christian, I believe Jesus is God’s most profound act of divine solidarity.  God leaves all the comfort of Heaven and joins the suffering here on earth.  Jesus enters the world as a brown-skinned, Palestinian, Jewish, refugee… born in the middle of a genocide.  Jesus came from a town called Nazareth, where people said, “Nothing good could come.”  He was homeless as he said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  And Jesus was a victim of violence.  He was condemned, humiliated, tortured, executed. On the cross, Jesus absorbed all the violence of the world.  He made a spectacle of death.  He put death on full display… and he subverted it with love, forgiveness, and an empty tomb.  That’s why I wear a cross made from a gun.  We cannot love our enemies as Jesus commands and simultaneously prepare to kill them.  We cannot hold the cross in one hand, and a gun in the other.  Love is willing to die but not to kill.  Love is a force more powerful than all the weapons in the world.  

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel has taught me much about the prophets.  One of the things they have taught me is that we often misunderstand the prophets. We think of the prophets as if they were fortune-tellers, trying to predict the future. But the prophets weren’t fortune-tellers.  They were truth-tellers. And they weren’t trying to predict the future. They were trying to change the future, by waking us up to the present. They are inviting us to imagine another future – that’s what my brother Dr. Walter Brueggemann calls the prophetic imagination.  The prophets are always trying to wake us up, and say, “It doesn’t have to be this way.”  Another future, another world… is possible!  It takes faith to believe despite the evidence, or as one of my friends puts it, “Faith is believing despite the evidence, and watching the evidence change.” 

Interestingly enough, the passage about beating swords into plows ends by saying that “nation will not rise up against nation… people study war no more.”  It ends with a vision of a world where people live without fear and have everything they need.  But if you look closely you notice, the vision that the prophets speak of does not come from the top down.  It comes from the bottom up.  It’s not those in power – the kings and presidents, or the prime ministers or politicians who lead us to peace… no they keep creating the wars.  It is the people of God who lead the politicians to peace.  It is the people of God who are the prophetic conscience of the nations.  It is the people who begin to beat their swords into plows.  It is the people who are fed up with war and violence.  And they take things into their own hands.  

The people are tired of violence. The people are tired of excuses. The people are tired of politicians who do nothing. The people are tired of “thoughts and prayers” without action.  So the people take things into their own hands and begin transforming the tools of death into tools of life. The people refuse to accept the world as it is and insist on building the world that God dreams of.

It reminds me of something my mentor told me years ago, “Sometimes we are waiting on God, and God may be waiting on us.”   When we ask God, “Why don’t you do something?”… if we listen closely, we may hear God say, “I did do something… I made YOU!”  When you ask God to move a mountain, God may hand you a shovel.  When you ask God to do something about gun violence, God may hand you a hammer and give you a forge!  The truth is that one of the greatest mysteries of our faith is that God does not want to change the world without us.  God is inviting you, and me, to join the holy work of healing and redeeming the world.  

It has been especially powerful to beat guns into garden tools here at Parliament, with people from 200 different religious traditions, because the best of our faiths has been manipulated, abused, distorted, twisted in order to justify hatred and violence and bigotry. Hitler had the Bible in his hand as he carried out his evils… all you have to do is twist the cross and you get a swastika.  

Over and over, people have used religion to camouflage their own hatred. No one kills with more passion than someone who believes that God is on their side. That’s why it has been so marvelous to take the same hammer together across all of our different faith traditions, and declare a common vision for peace and love and compassion. Hundreds of you have taken the hammer and beaten guns into garden tools together this week.  And we are dedicating this shovel made from a gun to the Parliament of the World’s Religions as a symbol of that common vision we share, of a world free of violence.  Sometimes I tell my evangelical friends (holding a shovel made from a gun):  “This is what a gun looks like when it gets born again!”  All things can be made new.  Metal that has been crafted to kill can be made new, recrafted to protect life.  And a person who has killed someone is more than the worst thing they have ever done.  They too can be made new.  People can be made new. Policies can be made new. Our world can be made new!  

Some 50 years ago Dr. Martin Luther King said that these are extreme times in which we live. Dr. King said that the question is not whether we will be extremists but what kind of extremists will we be.  Will we be extremists for hatred, or extremists for love?  The world has seen enough religious extremists for hatred.  But the world is longing to see a new generation of extremists for love.  May we rise to the occasion at such a time as this… as extremists for love.  

Let us be the change we want to see in the world.  Amen.

About The Author


Shane Claiborne is a best-selling author, renowned activist,
 sought-after speaker, and self-proclaimed “recovering sinner.” Shane writes and speaks around the world about peacemaking, social justice, and Jesus, and is the author of several books, 
including "The Irresistible Revolution," "Jesus for President," "Executing Grace," "Beating Guns," and his newest book, "Rethinking Life (released in Feb 2023)." He is the visionary leader of The Simple Way in Philadelphia and co-director of Red Letter Christians. His work has been featured in Fox News, Esquire, SPIN, TIME, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and CNN.

Related Posts

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.


Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
    Check which Newsletter(s) you'd like to receive:    

You have Successfully Subscribed!