For the 2023 A.J. Muste Memorial Lecture, the Hope College Peace and Justice Program and Students Demand Action for Gun Sense hosted Shane Claiborne, who presented a lecture called “Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence.”
Shane Claiborne is a prominent Christian speaker, activist, and author. He is an advocate for nonviolence, which fuels his passion to end the death penalty and gun violence. Claiborne’s activism is based in Philadelphia, but he has traveled across the world, sharing a message of hope wherever he goes.
Claiborne presented to a standing-room-only crowd in Winants Auditorium on Monday, September 11, 2023, with students, faculty, staff, and community members eager to listen to his perspective. Overall, his presentation described gun violence as a public health, spiritual, and moral crisis, but one that can be solved by changing both hearts and laws.
Claiborne began his presentation by acknowledging the anniversary of 9/11. He shared that it was on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 that he transformed the first gun into a garden tool, which has become a meaningful part of his activism in Philadelphia. By melting down guns and rebuilding them, he says we are transforming tools of death into tools of life. This practice is rooted in Isaiah 2:4, which talks about beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. At the beginning of his presentation, he gave a melted-down heart to a leader of Students Demand Action and then provided a small hand shovel made from a gun for the audience to pass around.
They will beat their swords into plowsharesIsaiah 2:4
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Throughout his talk, Claiborne connected his message of nonviolence to the stories of the Bible, revealing how his faith compels him to seek peace and justice. Overall, he connected his passion for nonviolence to the mission of Jesus, who scolded Peter when he picked up a sword to defend Jesus on the night of his arrest. Claiborne argues that when Jesus disarmed Peter that night, he disarmed all of us, emphasizing Christians’ call to nonviolence.
Throughout his presentation, Claiborne also shared many statistics, emphasizing that gun violence is the number one killer of children in America yet is widely ignored. He added that the United States only has 5% of the world’s population but 50% of the world’s guns, meaning that the United States has more guns than people. Finally, he shared the shocking fact that 44% of all Americans know someone who was shot and killed. Additionally, Claiborne made sure to distinguish the difference between gun extremists and gun owners, as 90% of gun owners are not members of the National Rifle Association, yet the NRA tries to speak for all gun owners.
While gun violence is often treated as a partisan issue, Claiborne emphasized that ending gun violence should be a non-partisan, Christian-led movement. White evangelicals own the most guns yet claim to be on the side of love. He said there seem to be contradictions at the center of Christianity, so he wants to advocate for the end of gun violence with his own love for Jesus as his guide.
Claiborne beautifully wove stories of his own community being directly impacted by gun violence into his talk. Whether they are finding bullet casings on their streets, sitting beside victims as they fight to recover, or marching in the streets with families who have lost loved ones, Claiborne emphasized how this is a real issue affecting real people. While Claiborne does identify as a Christian, he criticized the “thoughts and prayers” approach that many Christians adhere to. Claiborne believes more than “thoughts and prayers” are needed to affect change. He claims that loving our neighbors means caring about policy, and while no law can change a heart, laws can make it harder to kill. Claiborne stresses that change begins with the people of God, as we are called to action as people of faith. When people say all we can do is pray, he believes they are wrong.
He ended his presentation by saying that first hearts can be changed to care about gun violence, and then heads will follow. In his own efforts to end gun violence, he merges Biblical stories with the stories of people affected to make it personal. Access to guns is America’s problem and to quell it, we need to meet people where they are at by creating common ground. It is important to speak the truth and put faith into organizing and action, as Claiborne’s own life demonstrates. Christians have been part of the problem, Claiborne argued, but they can also be part of the solution.
By tying his own faith to his activism, Claiborne exemplifies how to live a life of peace and justice rooted in Christianity, a perspective that one would hope to develop at a Christian institution like Hope College. Given the size of the crowd at his talk, we are hopeful that our community will continue to find ways to live out our faith in pursuit of peace and justice. Shane Claiborne’s passion for ending gun violence and commitment to living out his Christian faith through activism and nonviolence is inspiring, so we are grateful for the time he spent on Hope’s campus.
Lauren Schiller is a senior at Hope College, majoring in communication and minoring in Chinese studies. She is a founder and the president of Hope College Students Demand Action for Gun Sense.
Anna Whittle is a junior at Hope College, studying Environmental Studies and Women’s & Gender Studies with a minor in Peace & Justice Studies. Anna is a founding member of Hope’s Students Demand Action group.