Social justice advocate Shane Claiborne was presented with the J.V. Morsch Social Justice award in chapel on Tuesday morning, an award that has only been given out three times before.
Claiborne spoke in chapel about his intentional community, The Simple Way as well as his time spent working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta.
“He immediately got my attention by saying he worked with Mother Teresa,” said sophomore Greg Fritjofson. “I was like, ‘this guy is so real, but he might also be Batman.’”
Claiborne founded The Simple Way in 1998 after returning from his 10-week mission with Mother Teresa. The community resides in the poorest part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is made up of people who are living in poverty or are homeless. The community provides food, shelter, emergency services, a community garden and neighborhood celebrations throughout the year.
According to The Simple Way website, “We also believe in challenging the systems and structures that hold people down, squash people’s hope and destroy people’s dignity… we care about things like racial justice, mass incarceration, gun violence (and all violence!), inequality between the rich and poor, and all such things.”
Jamie Calser, director of the J.V. Morsch Center for Social Justice, said it was exciting to have someone as accomplished as Claiborne come to campus.
“He’s challenging us to rethink our responses to these social issues,” he said. “What parts of the Bible are we drawing from and why do we think that way?”
Claiborne and his community are known for challenging the “bad laws,” as he would put it. He said he has even been to jail several times for fighting laws he believed specifically targeted the homeless population.
“Christians — I don’t know where we get the idea that we’re supposed to be great law abiding citizens. I mean, at our best throughout history we’ve been holy troublemakers,” said Claiborne. “We refuse to accept the world as it is and insist on moving the world towards what God wants it to be.”
Claiborne also lead a discussion forum later in the day about the death penalty and why Christians should be fighting it. The discussion was based on Claiborne’s book, “Executing Grace - How the Death Penalty killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us.”
“The fact that we identify with a victim of capital punishment should make us suspicious of it,” he said.
Claiborne said he was even taking time, while in Nashville, to visit the prisoners on death row with governor Bill Haslam in an attempt to show the him who they are.
“It’s hard to kill people when you know them,” said Claiborne.
Casler said that although some may see this as a controversial topic, it lines up exactly with what the Center for Social Justice believes.
“Sometimes we don't look at the full gospel and what Jesus says about redemption, love, and grace,” said Casler. “I think [Jesus] would live like Shane with the Homeless and fighting for people on death row… We want our students to align with what he’s talking about.”