Last night some friends and I went to the Red Letter Revolution Tour in May St. Church, which featured Rend Collective Experiment, Tony Campolo, and Shane Claiborne. The evening left a lot to be desired and I came away from it with a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth.
Firstly, it was organised terribly. On my ticket it said that doors opened at 7:30 pm and that the night started at 9:30 pm. Luckily for my friends and I, we had decided to head up early and when we arrived at 8:00 pm we were just on time for it starting. We had gone “early” hoping to get good seats, but when we got there the whole main area of the church was full so going into the balcony upstairs was our only option. This area was great to see the band perform as we were all standing up, but when everyone sat down (and it was a big balcony which circled round the entire church, so there were a lot of people sitting here) we realised we couldn’t see a thing because the stage was set too low down. People spent the whole talk leaning over the the edge, standing, or sitting up on the row behind them. Being short meant I eventually just gave in and sat back and tried to listen to as much as I could without completely losing attention. If you’re going to charge people £15 for a ticket to something surely you should ensure that all the seats you provide can view the stage?
I have no complaints about Rend Collective, they played brilliantly as usual and, let’s be honest, ended up performing more than they led worship. The crowed cheered and clapped for them; not quite a worship environment. But they were great, nonetheless, putting on a brilliant show and making me smile throughout. I don’t doubt that they were there to praise God but I think the amount of fame that they’ve gained as of late makes people more excited to hear them than to do the same.
The evening was going reasonably well until Campolo and Claiborne came out to speak. I’ve read The Irresistible Revolution and think Claiborne is doing a great job in Philadelphia, and I think he seems like a nice guy, but I also think people need to stop thinking that what he is doing with The Simple Way needs to be done everywhere, and that if we don’t do it we’re being awful Christians. We are not all called to form random communities, sell all our possessions, and give all our money away. We find our communities where we are, whether that be with our parents, our uni mates… just because a guy wearing sweatpants and dreadlocks tells us that this will save the world doesn’t mean it’s going to.
I feel like a lot of guilt tripping went on as well. As part of the tour Claiborne and Campolo had brought along with them Compassion UK, a charity that allows people to sponsor a child. This was a massive red light for me, especially when Campolo said you can sign up to sponsor a child for a year and then quit or keep going if you wanted to. This is my problem with charities like this. That child receives sponsorship for as long as the person donating wants to give them money. Looking further into Compassion, they don’t necessarily aid the children that well. They train them up to be pastors, but as they say on the ‘what we do’ section of their website, they identify “students from [their] Child Sponsorship Programme who have exceptional academic and Christian leadership potential.” What about the kids who don’t have this “exceptional academic and Christian leadership potential”? Do they just get thrown to the curb again? What about kids who would be better equipped to do something that isn’t ministry-based, or something that is less academic and more hands-on?
My main issue here is that they don’t do anything to allow the children to grow up and become independent with useful skills that will get them well paid jobs, they only help out the ones who can be Christian leaders, not necessarily something that will bring them out of poverty and further aid their communities. Training these kids to start up businesses and teaching them about trade and buying and selling from the farms etc. in their community would aid a lot more people. What Compassion UK are doing just isn’t practical in the long run, or realistic, it’s Christian idealism at its best. God calls us to be practical and guilt tripping people into sponsoring a child (Campolo kept saying, “It only costs 70 cents a day to sponsor a child, I don’t know why you wouldn’t be able to do that.”) to have this as their fate isn’t exactly practical. Yes, communities need pastors, but they also need skilled workers.
Campolo made a few rude comments which didn’t massively impress me. It wasn’t a question of being politically correct or a prude, it was simply a question of whether he wanted to offend people in the audience or not. I don’t appreciate preaching like that and see no need for it. If people would stop trying to be Shane Claiborne, and stop trying to recreate The Simple Way in their own cities, then maybe we would be on to something, but as long as we give him the fame that he doesn’t really need (or, hopefully, want), we aren’t really going to get anywhere. Stop asking Shane Claiborne what to do and ask Jesus.