An Open Letter to Shane Claiborne Regarding Executing Grace

Shane,

We’ve never met, but from what you said about yourself in Executing Grace, we come from a roughly similar background. You grew up in Tennessee, I grew up on the exurbs of Atlanta. We’re within a decade of the same age, and we were raised in similar conservative church backgrounds. We’ve both made something of ourselves that those in our hometowns may never have suspected us capable of back in those days.

I’m currently working on what I call a “2018TBR” project, where I set before myself a set list of books I wanted to read in 2018 – over 100 books in all, and I allowed for books to be added due to my Advance Reader Copy work with a few authors and publishers. Your book, Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It Is Killing Us, was on that list and I finished reading it today after having just started it yesterday. (Such is the norm for many of the books, and why yours was the 30th book I have read this year.)

Just so we are upfront with one another, despite agreeing with the premise of Executing Grace wholeheartedly and finding the stories you presented moving, the overall execution of the book was simply lacking. I won’t rehash what I’ve already put openly on Goodreads and Amazon, my normal places for reviewing books. Instead, I want to try to appeal to you personally.

You see, you had some very key flaws in Executing Grace, and I know you are working on a new book about gun violence. You no doubt want it to be persuasive enough to draw people to your side of the issue. But based on your execution of Executing Grace, I fear your own beliefs will fatally flaw this new text as well. You yourself said numerous times in the latter sections of Executing Grace that you were moved not by the facts and logic of repealing the death penalty – a case that can be made just as effectively as the case you presented – but by the emotional appeal of hearing peoples’ stories. So I have little doubt that this is the approach that you will take in this new endeavor. And when you do so, you will find no new converts to your side. Because those who oppose you will be able to tell just as many stories of people who used guns effectively to save their lives in various ways.

But another of your flaws was that you often referred to “societal” violence, when capital punishment is explicitly *State* violence. Indeed, when you cited Ephesians 6:12, you explicitly chose to cite the KJV’s “principalities and powers” translation rather than the NIV’s “rulers and authorities” translation. When you cited the Early Church leaders, even when they were not just decrying Rome’s capital punishment but indeed Rome itself, even while acknowledging that these leaders were antagonists to the State, you specifically state that they were against “societal” violence. No, sir. Well, not completely. They abhorred *all* violence – not just “societal”, but also that of the State – which is a key feature that you either glossed over or intentionally misled your readers about.

This is in no doubt because with your new book, you are going to do one thing those in the Early Church never did, at least not to my own education on the subject. You are going to appeal to your readers to get government to enact legislation banning that which you oppose. You are going to condone State violence – and make no mistake, there *will* be State violence if gun bans are enacted in the US – in order to further your goal of somehow reducing violence via State violence. And in all likelihood since you ignored police executing people in the street in your condemnation of the State executing people, you will proceed in your book against gun violence to ignore the fact that the State’s police are the single group of gun owners most likely to use their guns for violence against another person. Indeed, even in Executing Grace, you appealed to a complete end to violence – without ever truly discussing just how violent not we as a society have been, but just how violent government has been. You even mention apartheid and the Rwandan genocide without ever even alluding to the fact that these horrendous acts were condoned and even encouraged by their governments.

So I want you to do better in your next book. Because while I will absolutely never agree that government should dictate anything, I *would* like to see you build a case as to why a Christian should never have a gun in his or her hand. I *would* like to see you build a case for Christian nonviolence and even submission to violence to the point of death in your book against gun violence. Because you have made a career of preaching about how Christians should be counter-cultural, and I believe these points can be made in just that fashion. I am not quite there in my own beliefs – I already own three guns and would like to buy at least that many more – but I do believe the case can be made, and I believe you are one that can make the case persuasively.

And I believe that if you can make such a case, if you can show Christians how to be truly counter-cultural when it comes to guns, maybe you might be able to show us how to be an example for the rest of the nation to voluntarily lay down their own guns – both the State and its citizens.

And if you can do that, you will ultimately achieve your goal of a gun-less society. And you will have done it not via the force of the State, but by the Power of God.

Your brother in Christ,

Jeff