The Red Letter Christians describe themselves as “a network of effective, progressive, Christian communicators urging an open, honest and public dialogue on issues of faith and politics.” This is a network of well-known Christian leaders, such as Dr. Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, Chap Clark, Tony Jones, and Brian McLaren, who have united because they “believe and seek to put in to action the red letter words in the Holy Bible spoken by Jesus” by addressing the political issues that they believe Jesus would be concerned about such as social justice. This has sparked the release of several books on the subject including Dr. Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Christians, Jim Wallace’s God’s Politics, and Shane Claiborne’s upcoming book Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. They are speaking out to address political issues due to the following statement from their website:
“For decades, leaders of the Religious Right have attempted to convince Christians and the American public that people of faith and strong moral values have only one option when it comes to voting. This narrow view continues to overshadow the majority of Christians in America whose faith motivates them to care deeply about a range of ethics and values. Our nation is hungry for an open dialogue on moral values and its role in the public square. God is not a Republican or a Democrat, and candidates should be measured by examining an array of social and economic issues.”
The website goes on to state that: “The goal of the group is to advance the message that our faith cannot be reduced to only two hot button social issues – abortion and homosexuality. Fighting poverty, caring for the environment, advancing peace, promoting strong families, and supporting a consistent ethic of life are all critical moral and biblical values.”
This is a cry from a new group of people is to redefine Christian politics and issues that matter to Christians in a way that makes Christian voters look at more than just voting with the Republican Religious Right. Jim Wallace goes on to further the issue in the article “Red Letter Christians” where he states:
“When Jesus tells us he will regard the way we treat the hungry, the homeless, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner as if we were treating him that way, it likely means he wouldn’t think capital gains tax cuts for the wealthy and food stamp cuts for the poor represent the best domestic policy. Or when he tells us “love your enemies” and “blessed are the peacemakers,” it might be hard to persuade him to join our “war against terrorism,” especially when there is so much “collateral damage” to civilians, including women and children.
Yes, Jesus is a problem —for many of our churches, the Wall Street traders, and the powerful people in Washington who maintain the American Empire. But for millions of people, religious or not, Jesus remains the most compelling figure in the world today. The church may not be much more credible than the advertisers, the media, or the politicians, but Jesus remains far above the rest of the crowd. Somehow, Jesus has even survived the church and all of us who name his name but too often forget most of what he said.”
Wallace then goes on to recommend Brian McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus and Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution and comments that these books are “evidence that believers are waking up and catching on fire with the gospel again. Their vision can’t easily be put into categories of liberal and conservative, left and right, but rather has the capacity to challenge the categories themselves. These books are a manifesto for all those “red letter” Christians who have fallen in love with Jesus again and want to live their faith in this world, and not just the next. God is again doing something new.”
I think that the heart of this Red Letter Christian Movement is to be Jesus to the world through being involved in social justice and reaching out to the least of these, but I think that the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be minimized to be only thoughts like “Jesus did this so I will do this.” The gospel is a message of a Savior who not only lived out a missional way but who went to the cross to die for the sins of the world. In this whole Red Letter Christian movement, the cross of Jesus Christ and the gospel have become a missing element. Without the gospel, we are all headed to a Christ-less eternity and when we miss that does it really matter if we lived a good life and cared for those who are hurting? Hurting people without Jesus may be temporarily alleviated from their hurting by our help, but our temporary help will eventually come to a close and they will be hurting once again. I am not saying that we should not be involved in helping the hurting and social justice issues, but we should not minimize the gospel while loving the least of these.