PART ONE

 

Shane Claiborne, The Simple Way Board Members

And Their Other Activities

 

 

It is one of the distasteful and misleading ploys of secular and Christian heresy hunters to smear someone because of the wacky or heretical people they can found to be loosely linked with. Jesus didn’t come off very well in just such a survey when the Pharisees attempted to do just this. I hope many Christians would fail the same test. We are called to minister to those outside the church to bring them in, as well as to those within it.

However, it is not unfair to try to find out what Shane stands for by looking at the board members his own organisation, The Simple Way, and at any particular organisations or individuals that he recommends and rates highly, especially if his fellow board members play an active part in the activities of those organisations.

The Simple Way website says it has non-profit tax status and a board but the website does not give the names of its members. I have written to The Simple Way to ask for information about its board members but have not received a reply. In spite of this some of this information can be extracted from references in Shane’s books or on The Simple Way website.

The board and inner circle of The Simple Way may not be large. Shane himself talks of eight or nine main members of the community. Among those the following four have been identified:

Will O’Brien (‘our friend and Simple Way board member’). O’Brien coordinates The Alternative Seminary, which is recommended on The Simple Way website by Shane in his book and which receives some of the profits from its sale. O’Brien and his wife Dee Dee Rischer were editors of The Other Side Magazine. Some of aspects of The Alternative Seminary’s teaching are alarming and are discussed in more detail below.

Michael and Michelle Brix (‘founding partners’). Both have been imprisoned for refusing to pay fines for obstruction of civic buildings at the outbreak of the Second Iraq War. They are also lecturers at and supporters of the alternative Word and World organisation. Word and World is also examined in greater detail below.

Jamie Moffat – (‘co-founder’). Although The Simple Way identifies itself as a Christian organisation, Moffat is not a Christian, describing himself variously as a ‘Recovering Catholic agnostic’ and ‘someone who doesn’t identify as Christian’. He has lived in the community for seven years.  He attended Eastern University with Shane, and is director of the documentary film made with Shane which has been used on his tour promoting his latest book, ‘Jesus for President’.

In more detail:

THE ALTERNATIVE SEMINARY

Shane and The Simple Way endorse The Alternative Seminary

Shane’s link with The Alternative Seminary is very close and it is not unfair to assume Shane’s underlying beliefs on certain issues mirror those of The Alternative Seminary because:

  • He mentions it approvingly in The Irresistible Revolution. ‘I have grown to love biblical study.  In Philadelphia, there is something called the Alternative Seminary, which is a loose network of people studying the Scriptures together. (There) whether people have knowledge from academia or wisdom from the streets, everyone is valued as a teacher and a learner. In one of those classes…’ (p.172) and says they get a portion of the book’s profits
  • The Simple Way website recommends The Alternative Seminary on its website.
  • Will O’Brien, one of The Simple Way board members is The Alternative Seminary’s ‘co-ordinator’ (i.e., in the context of a community led organisation, one of its leaders)

This is the recommendation from The Simple Way website:

The Alternative Seminary now has a website! The Alternative Seminary is a little underground seminary here in Philadelphia area. Visit the website for more information and keep an eye out for upcoming events. We are grateful for all the tireless work of our friend and Simple Way board member Will O’Brien for facilitating the Alternative Seminary all these years. Keep an eye out for ongoing events, especially if you don’t mind a little homework here and there. http://www.alternativeseminary.net/

 

Heterodox Influences at The Alternative Seminary

 

The Alternative Seminary states on its website that:

Some of the major influences on the Alternative Seminary include: Liberation theology, Feminist theology,The Catholic Worker movement, Theologies and biblical reflections emerging from the peace movement and faith-based resistance communities, Gay and lesbian theology, and Jewish renewal

The church is no longer as aware as it was in the second half of the 20th Century of the shortcomings that some of these ‘theologies’ represent.  A discussion of them is beyond the scope of this paper but it is fair to say that in our own church we would by no means wholeheartedly accept them. We would also question the legitimacy of other teachings emphatically proposed by people who subscribe to the theological and philosophical worldview they represent.

 

Example 1 : Homosexuality

Shane is coy in his book about his own views on homosexuality. He criticises Conservative Christians for being overly concerned with ‘narrow issues’ such as homosexuality and talks of the difficulty of finding a faith community…

…that recognizes that there are “moral issues” other than homosexuality and abortion, moral issues like war and poverty.’ (p17) [and, in a familiar swipe at the church at large, he then states that]  ‘the higher a person’s frequency of church attendance, the more likely they are to be sexist, racist, anti-gay, promilitary …  I figured if that’s what it means to be a Christian, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be one, or whether even Jesus would want to be one, for that matter.  I wondered why Jesus didn’t take back his religion.’ (p269)

The Alternative Seminary, which Shane recommends and in which he teaches,  is not so restrained on homosexuality. The list of its teachers and facilitators, which includes Shane, O’Brien, O’Brien’s wife Dee Dee Rischer, Shane’s co-author of Jesus for President Chris Haw (all Simple Way associates) and John Linscheid. Linscheid is an openly active homosexual campaigner from the Mennonite Church.

Linscheid’s Alternative Seminary biographical note says that he ‘spent several years on the editorial staff of The Other Side magazine, an independent progressive Christian magazine’. The Other Side was co-edited by O’Brien and Rischer. It is not unfair to presume that some leaders of Simple Way have had a long term and uncritical association with Linscheid. The biographical note further says that:

‘He has written extensively on issues of biblical interpretation, gay theology, gay spirituality, and gay psychological development. He is active in gay/lesbian issues in the Mennonite Church, where he served for many years as a pastor.’

On his own website[1] Linscheid is even more forthright:

John Linscheid …is a writer, speaker, and an activist in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition of the Christian faith. He and his lover, Ken M. White (together 20 years as of September 2003), (are) currently are exploring the art of creating nurturing space for queer and progressive individuals on a journey toward liberation of the world, the flesh, and the spirit.

John was influential in moving gay biblical interpretation beyond apologetics to queer-experience centered understandings. He has continually challenged the Mennonite denomination’s move to institutionalize and harden its official hostility toward LGBT people. John’s steady participation and leadership as a lay person at Germantown Mennonite Church along with his vigorous advocacy when the congregation was excommunicated was one element among many that prepared the ground for that congregation to become the first in the Mennonite denomination to ordain an openly gay man, David Weaver, in 2001.

Elsewhere on his website it says:

Ken and John live in Philadelphia. Together they have led retreats on ritual and rites of the gay-male spirit.

We were working in mental health and pastoral activism when we met …  we began hosting the local queer Mennonite group at a time of struggle. When we found out gay and lesbian students at Princeton Theological Seminary were under fire, we invited them to use our home as a retreat and safe space–and soon a little queer family was born. Now scattered across the country, we keep the ties alive with Christmas boxes of biscotti and jellies.

We kept working in queer contexts, designing rituals to honor gay elders. We danced the fleshly, sexual spirituality of queer men in workshops to discover the work of the divine there (my italics).

Example 2: Demonology

It is not only on homosexuality that The Alternative Seminary appears heterodox.  In 2000, The Alternative Seminary ran a course entitled ‘Casting Out Demons: Applying Biblical Exorcism Stories to Modern Society’. Although this ran in 2000, it was featured in November 2009 as an example of the courses they have run and therefore can be presumed to represent their present beliefs on demons too.  They will be familiar to a student of liberal liberation theology (my italics added):

Stories of “demon possession” and “exorcisms” are among the most difficult parts of the Bible for modern people to accept. Interpretations have stressed either literal inhabitation of an individual by a supernatural being or some primitive explanation for an individual’s physical or emotional disorder. In fact, the Biblical narratives consistently understand demon possession as symptomatic of a profound social oppression or crisis – and exorcism as a response to that social oppression (hence the importance of “naming” demons).

This five-week course will study that biblical understanding of demon possession and exorcism, and apply this understanding to our modern society. We will consider modern social “demons,” such as racism, sexism, and poverty. We will pose the challenge: What does it mean for us to follow Jesus’ lead in “exorcising” these demons?

This course will be led by Sam Wallace, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and a former staff member of The Other Side. Sam has been involved in adult education for more than ten years. He taught a previous Alternative Seminary course in “Reading the Bible In the Lives of Sexual Minorities.” The cost for the course is $40 (or whatever you can afford).

This is advertised on their website in Nov 2009 as a past course, so obviously it is a view they still hold.

Fdffgdfdfdfgdfgdfgd fgd f df fdfg dfgd fgdf gdfg dfg. If any young people visit The Simple Way as part of their gap year travels (not at all unlikely), its seems highly probable that they will come across The Alternative Seminary, also based in Philadelphia. Now Shane has been given such prominence mmmmdg   f g sfg df d fgd f d dd fgd fg f fd fgd fgd fgd g dfg dfg dfg f   will they have the discernment to be able to realise that some of the teaching they would be exposed to will be heretical?

WORD & WORLD – MICHAEL AND MICHELLE BRIX

Word and World is a moveable conference which is intended to provide ‘radical education and training for Christian disciples committed to the work of social transformation’

 

Shane and The Simple Way endorse Word and World

The close association between Shane and Word and World is as follows:

  • Michael and Michelle Brix, founding partners of The Simple Way, imprisoned for their pacifist activities, are lecturers at and supporters of the Word and World organisation
  • Shane cites Word and World in The Irresistible Revolution (p.362) as one of organisations ‘who have inspired this book and with whom the money from the sales of this book is being shared’
  • Shane was involved in their Pentecost celebration and spoke at their conference

Like The Alternative Seminary, Word and World subscribes to unorthodox perspectives on human sexuality.  Bill Wylie-Kellermann, the founder of Word and World, is pastor St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Detroit and a supporter of gay marriage.[2] Of the foundation of the organisation Bill Wylie-Kellermann writes:

…Some of us came to the circle having been awakened by the fierce and whimsical pedagogies of Christian feminism, including alternative theological reflection offered in places like Grailville, or in the struggles either for womenchurch or for ecclesial inclusion of sexual minorities….And others yet, arrived among us walking the path of liberation theology, tutored and tested in the base-community movement where the language of preference is Spanish and the pedagogy entails a risky cycle of action and reflection.  … We conceived of what has since come to be called Word and World: a People’s School

Applications to join the schools (conferences) for ‘radical education and training in Christian discipleship’ are decided on the basis of a process which includes selecting people by sexual orientation:

To keep a balance between regional/local and national participants, to ensure that commitment rather than means (time and money) should predominate, and to factor affirmatively for diversity (youth, women, people of color, poor folk, gays/lesbians, and disabled people), a simple process of application and admission is in place.

And the Word and Way Mentoring Committee (i.e. its Board of Reference) includes:

Melanie Morrison … co-director of The Leaven Center in Lyons, Michigan, a retreat and study center dedicated to nurturing the relationship between spirituality and social justice. She is an anti-oppression educator, activist, pastor, spiritual director, and practical theologian. As a white protestant lesbian feminist, she is passionate about working with individuals and organizations to better understand the connections between racism, sexism, ableism, and heterosexism – and finding ways to subvert and transform the dominant order. She is the author of three books including The Grace of Coming Home: Spirituality, Sexuality, and the Struggle for Justice.

The 2008 Word and World conference in Philadelphia coincided with Pentecost sd sds s ds ds fs s fs dfs f sf sf sf sf sdf sd fs fs f sf sf sf s fs f sf sdf s fs dfs f sdf sf sd fs dfs f sf sdf sdf sdf  :

… PENTECOST …The (Conference) took place during the celebration of Pentecost, the traditional feast of the “birth” of the church in the Spirit. This theme was evident throughout the week, culminating in a march through downtown Philadelphia where participants gathered at symbolic sites of oppression and chanted “Catch the Spirit!” as Shane Claiborne breathed plumes of fire into the night sky[3]

One wonders which ‘symbolic sites of oppression’ Shane might chose in sdfsdf – especially as his knowledge of British history is shaky.[4]

JAMIE MOFFAT & THE ‘JESUS FOR PRESIDENT’ FILM

Moffat is a founder and long time active member of The Simple Way, and co-director with Shane of his new film. By his own admission, Moffat is not a Christian. Some might challenge the principle of including someone outside the Christian faith in the leadership of The Simple Way for so many years. It is certainly unconventional for Shane, as the leader of a Christian community, to entrust the direction of a film promoting the objects of his Christian book ‘Jesus for President’ to a man who says he doesn’t identify as a Christian.

It becomes more than unconventional when that film,  which has been enthusiastically received by young radical Christians on its 11,000 mile tour,  is so critical of the worldwide Body of Christ and presents stereotypes of the church more often used by militant atheists. How true are those stereotypes? How many impressionable young people will be newly convinced by the film’s technical expertise that most of the church is as awful as the film suggests?   This is how one reviewer puts it:

So Moffett directs a film that is critical of Christians, full of stereotypes and he isn’t even a Christian!!  See…

“If the Christian faith is this 2,000-year-old perspective that’s supposed to be all about the love of God and neighbor,” begins Jamie Moffett, director and narrator of the documentary “The Ordinary Radicals,” “just how did it get to the point that Christianity in America is stereotyped, somewhat accurately mind you, like this?”

What follows on the screen are the stencilled and printed words: unforgiving, hypocritical, homophobic, intolerant, fear-mongering, consumerism, preachy, anti-Semitic, televangelism, paternalistic, paedophile priests and bigotry.

Of the film, Moffett himself says  “My goal with this movie is to show this kind of Christianity has a lot in common with the secular community in regards to social justice, racial reconciliation, environmental justice and more.” Once again, some Christians observers might have problems with the implications of this statement. Is what is being promoted radical because it is counter-middle-class-culture or radical because it is Christian?



[1] http://www.seas.upenn.edu/~linsch/JLpage.htm

[2] http://www.newsweek.com/id/175223

[3] http://www.wordandworld.org/philadelphia/index.shtml

[4] As mentioned elsewhere in this paper, he says on p.250 of The Irresistible Revolution that among ‘the embarrassing bloodstains left by Christian movements that have tried to rid the world of evil by the sword’ is ‘the busy guillotine of the English Reformation’. The guillotine was first used in France in 1792 . The ‘English’ Reformation and began in the 1530s, 250 years before the French guillotine was used.

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