taking the words of Jesus seriously

Eleanor Roosevelt could have, and maybe would have, signed up as a Red Letter Christian.

As bombs were destroying downtown London, Mrs. Roosevelt was publishing a short book entitled, The Moral Basis of Democracy. She overtly framed her book around the teachings of Christ and proposed that democracy depended on taking what we now refer to as “the red letters” seriously. She asked America on the eve of World War II to rise above the Nazi ideology and “practice a Christ-like way of living.” She told our country that a good work ethic in itself would not make America great, because it is not enough for its people to work for themselves. Rather, they must “serve the purposes of the greatest number of people.” That’s what all Red Letter Christians should do!

Eleanor Roosevelt was the embodiment of Steinbeck’s, The Grapes of Wrath, when he wrote: “Whenever there are battles to be fought or injustices overcome, wherever there are people – individuals or masses of people – who need a friend, Eleanor Roosevelt will be there… doing her job.”

She was a leader for civil rights long before there was Martin Luther King, Jr. It was Eleanor Roosevelt who pushed for African-American pilots at the Tuskegee Air Base to be deployed on combat missions. She struggled to save Jews from anti-Semitic leaders in the State Department who had worked to shut the door on Jewish refugees. She did her best to open America to all people in need, as Jesus told us to do in Matthew 25:35.

After her husband’s death, and following the end of WWII, she exercised her most important role when she led the drafting of the Declaration of Human Rights that was passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations. She maintained an opposition to bigotry which I am sure grew out of her childhood days in Sunday School where she learned to sing:

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world,
Red and yellow, black and white,
They’re all precious in His sight.

President Kennedy would appoint her to be chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.

Eleanor Roosevelt became the face not only of American Idealism, but an example of what one person can do for America and for the world when that person takes the red letters of the Bible seriously and tries to use them to mold public policies.

About The Author


Tony Campolo is Professor of Sociology at Eastern University, and was formerly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. For 40 years, he founded and led the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that created and supported programs serving needy communities in the Third World as well as in “at risk” neighborhoods across North America. More recently, Dr. Campolo has provided leadership for the Red Letter Christians movement. He blogs regularly at his own website. Tony and his wife Peggy live near Philadelphia, and have two children and four grandchildren.

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