Followers of Jesus, We Need a New Name


If there was any doubt that the name “Evangelical” has become politicized, news reports about recent primaries should have settled the question.


The word “Evangelical” has been used by both Fox News and CNN to identify a block of voters seeking to destroy the Affordable Health Care Act that has provided health coverage for the 44 million Americans who live below the poverty line. They also were identified with candidates who had prejudicial attitudes toward Muslims.


There is little doubt that the word Evangelical has come to mean extreme right wing politics to the general public. That’s why I am asking if the label “Evangelical” is useful for many of us.


Would it be better to call ourselves Red Letter Christians?

Brave New Films


We Red Letter Christians are a movement that, in accord with what Jesus said in Matthew 25, wants to make room for needy immigrants in America. We seek social politics that serve those whom Jesus called “the least of these.” We reject the disparaging language used by one of the leading “Evangelical” candidates when referring to women. Red Letter Christians are committed to sharing the love of Christ with Muslims, therefore we turn away from rhetoric that paints all Muslims with a broad brush of negativity. Furthermore, we do not believe we can communicate Christ’s love if we are identified with the politics of an “evangelical” candidate who calls us to be suspicious of all Mexican people.


Red Letter Christians oppose the death penalty and seek alternatives to war when talking about the severe problems of the Middle East. We question America’s too easy acceptance of military action as a primary response to international conflicts.


These are some of the reasons we are hopeful that you will adopt a new name to identify yourself–“RED LETTER CHRISTIANS.” And you can check back here daily to hear from women and men who strive to follow the red letters of Scripture with you.


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About the Author

Tony Campolo

Tony CampoloTony Campolo is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University. Look for Tony in your area and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.View all posts by Tony Campolo →

  • redletterchristians

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  • Michael Patno

    Frankly, that IS how I identify myself. I emphasize that it is not a denomination but a way of faith and living.

  • Brad Wylie

    “3C” Counter Culture Christian following the Great Commission (Mt 28:16-20, Commandment (Mt 22;36-40) and Compassion (Mt 25:31-46).

  • Kings kid

    It seems to me we have always felt a need to change the labels we place on ourselves in order to not be identified with “those others”. It’s been ongoing as far back as I can see. It reminds me of the Baptist joke (maybe some have heard it) where a man was about to jump off a bridge when another man tries to give him hope by asking questions about his faith and he found a lot in common with the man…BUT eventually pushes the man off the bridge himself cuz the man didn’t line up with what he believed was needed to have the “correct” Baptist identity. I don’t believe we Christians need to separate by labels we place in front of Christian or even fear that somehow it’s a reflection of ourselves on what “those others” are doing. I would like to see us just drop the labels we put on ourselves. Wouldn’t we be more apt to drop labels on those others if we did this? We are “In Christ”….that is our identity and He is way bigger and wiser than our labels.

    • SamHamilton

      I agree. No doubt, if the “Red Letter” appellation ever caught on there’d be a group of Red Letter Christians who would begin to make the “authentic” RLCer’s want to come up with a new name. Any time you form an organization made up of human beings you’re going to have people who don’t live up to the standards.

      I prefer to just refer to myself as a Christian and try to walk the walk as much as possible. I don’t feel ashamed to call myself a follower of Christ just because some followers of Christ don’t measure up all the time (Lord knows I don’t).

      • Kings kid

        Well said Sam. I’m staying with Christian and follower of Christ myself. No need to fear or get caught up on what others might think. Jesus frees us from that.

  • Tie-dye One

    The “Evangelical” brand was created to separate themselves form other Christians. They felt they were better than regular Christians. It’s important that those using the “Red Letter” brand not fall into the same trap of pridefulness.

    • Tie-dye One

      If that is possible.

    • WFU86

      Was it created by them, or applied to them? I don’t know when the term entered modern politics (Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority in the 80s?), but in recent years it looks more like a net that is being cast by others, for the purpose of stereotyping and marginalizing Christians.

      • choctaw_chris

        I think it was self assigned. Its squarely based on a plain reading of the Gospels but when you look at the Evangelical church now its weakness is evident. Many of the supporters of Cruz and Trump are clearly evangelical but they are so focused on an us and them paradigm that they fail to balance grace with responsibility, forgetting even that mercy always triumphs of judgement.

        I think Red Letter Christians would fall into the same error, focusing too much on the actual words of Jesus as reported by the Apostles. I personally believe the words of Jesus are the bedrock of our faith but once that becomes the de facto it turns into a dogma.

        The question has to be asked, do we think God needs help separating the wheat from the tares? Jesus’ very own words would suggest not.

        • WFU86

          Very well said.

  • Frank

    No it would not be better. Not only is focusing on the red letters theologically incorrect it results in a profound lack of knowledge of God, humanity, the human condition and the self.

  • WFU86

    Although Tony doesn’t name names, it’s obvious he’s referring to Trump. Donald Trump is not an evangelical candidate. He is a secularist, who is courting the Christian vote. The fact that some are buying in does not make him evangelical as a person or a candidate.

  • otrotierra

    Thank you Dr. Campolo for affirming Jesus and The Greatest Commandment above identity politics, no matter how terribly unpopular it is to do so!

    • WFU86

      The laden phrase “identity politics” has come to signify a wide range of political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups. Rather than organizing solely around belief systems, programmatic manifestos, or party affiliation, identity political formations typically aim to secure the political freedom of a specific constituency marginalized within its larger context. Members of that constituency assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations, with the goal of greater self-determination.

  • craig

    I guess red letter christians are the only true followers of Jesus. It sounds like a very divisive idea to me

  • Mark Munger

    Count me in as a Christ follower trying to follow the Red Letters of scripture!

  • The word “awful” was once used to describe something full of awe. Somewhere along the way it took on an opposite meaning. I’m afraid that’s what’s happening with the word “Christian” as well. Too many Christians have allowed their faith to be hijacked by a political party that represents nothing Jesus stood for and those on the outside looking in are left puzzled by what it means to be a Christian.

    Not that I’m asked very often what my religion is; I’d probably find myself qualifying it so as to distinguish myself from those who have sullied the word “Christian”. Perhaps RLC is a good alternative.

    • Andre Dickson

      Mind if i quote you? That’s an excellent statement.

      • Thanks, Andre. I don’t mind at all.

    • jim

      Hi Kevin, I would honestly appreciate your insight on to RLC. I guess the name RLC, I mean the actual words. So does RLC mean that the writings of Paul or Moses are a notch down on the totem pole? I suppose I should ask Tony the question, so I am certainly not asking you to speak on his behalf. But rather share your opinion.

  • John Costas

    Why do you need a label or “name”? Why not be who you are, followers of the way , the truth and the life? I have never liked being called an evangelical or anything else. Labels are for those
    who want enemies. If others want to call me, whatever it is they want to call me, so be it.

    • otrotierra

      It is highly shocking when we discover that Jesus never called himself “Evangelical” nor did he refer to his followers as “Evangelical.”

      • craig

        Or a red letter christian

        • otrotierra

          Such a claim is not in my post, nor do you find it in Dr. Campolo’s.

      • SamHamilton

        Why is this shocking to you? I’ve never heard anyone claim otherwise.

      • WFU86

        I think you’re getting hung up on stereotypes again. Evangelical is derived from a Greek word meaning Good News, or Gospel. I believe that rather than abandoning a very good word, Christians should fight back against the ugliness it’s being applied to. Below is a definition of Evangelical, which characteristic do you think that Jesus would take issue with? All can be directly tied to his words.

        Historian David Bebbington also provides a helpful summary of evangelical distinctives, identifying four primary characteristics of evangelicalism:
        Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
        Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
        Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
        Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

  • jim

    14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

    But whether it is a name from the bible or some clever little name invented by man, to some the name will be a fragrance of life, and to others a fragrance of death.

  • Kings kid

    Could we also be putting the cart before the horse when a label can get more emphasis than Christian? In this case, many can believe it’s about the “good” they do for others that makes them a Christian. (There are many who believe and are fighting for many of the same injustices Tony mentioned that don’t claim to be Christian at all.) It is easy to pick up a cause we have passion for (and yes it’s good) but we don’t get Life (worth) by doing. We get life and worth by being In Christ. That’s the “Good News”! and Evangel means sharing the Good News.(The Gospel ..The Cross.) We don’t need to place evangilical in front of Christian because evangel already exists in Christian. Could it be why some evangilical Christians get caught up in their own “cause” by feeling the need to “do” for Christ when the walk is about being In Christ? Big difference.

    • Kings kid

      Just to be clear, the cause I’m talking about for some evangelical Christians is the need to “Take America back”. They allowed it to get mixed with politics and they do believe they
      doing it “for” Christ. I was there myself years back. I keep in remembrance where I was and how The Lord never left me and it always about a process of surrender. He is always drawing to Him to teach us things we dont see in ourselves and Noone is our enemy.

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