A candidate for president of the United States initiated his candidacy on a racist conspiracy theory designed to undermine the legitimacy of America’s first black president. He announced his presidential bid with a naked appeal to anti-Mexican xenophobia and promises of a wall along America’s southern border to keep them out. He fed the basest instincts of his base by threatening to imprison his opponent by dog-whistling white supremacy and by demonizing journalists in ways reminiscent of Hitler’s attack on the “Lugenpresse.”
Donald Trump assumed office as he pursued it, with attacks on the weak and marginal. Executive orders banning travelers from majority Muslim countries and holds on America’s successful refugee program threaten to deny the victims of the very wars and disruptions that Americans helped to create. By stacking his cabinet with a plutocracy of billionaires, Trump set his agenda against the poor. By supporting dictators like Duterte and Putin, families of “the disappeared” in the Philippines and the Ukrainian victims of Russian aggression have found no friend in Trump’s America.
What are we to make of all this? And if this picture of Donald Trump is fair, what does it say about white evangelicals who gave at least 81 percent of their votes to put him in office? And what are we to make of the fact that leading evangelical spokespersons — such as Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., and the pastor of the famous First Baptist Church in Dallas — have lent strong support for Donald Trump’s presidency? What does it mean that in the Oval Office, evangelical leaders laid hands of blessing and commission on this president?
The above provide ample evidence of the all-out attack by Trump and white evangelicals on the Evangel, the Gospel, and the biblical message of liberating salvation promised in the Hebrew scriptures to the world’s poor. They are also reasons why some evangelicals in America are looking for a new label that expresses their biblical faith without the distorting compromise or toxicity. More and more of us who still hold to evangelical theologies no longer want to call ourselves evangelical and have adopted, instead, the name Red Letter Christians.
Those who want to disparage this new movement have often countered that by emphasizing the red letters (i.e. the words of Jesus highlighted with red letters in many Bibles) we have discarded or minimized the black letters of the Bible. Nothing could be further from the truth! We affirm that all scripture is given under the inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, faith, and practice. What we Red Letter Christians do insist, however, is that orthodox Christian theology has always found in the words and life of Jesus the lens for understanding and interpreting the Bible more fully.
We suspect that there’s a deeper motivation that seeks to deemphasize the words of Jesus. His call to discipleship demands activism on behalf of the weak, a life-ethic of action beyond mere intellectual assent to theological propositions. Many of our fellow Christians have failed to pay proper attention to the red letters of the Bible because the teachings of Jesus have proven to be very hard to follow.
The way Jesus ignored racial, gender, religious and socioeconomic boundaries threatens our well-insured, well-resourced, and well-secured lives. What Jesus tells us about what we should do with our money is challenging to those of us who have accumulated an excess of it. What He says about loving our enemies challenges our easy inclinations to support war. Many of us have difficulty with what He says about embracing marginal people when it comes to fully affirming our LGBTQ neighbors.
The inevitable moral and political collapse of the American right is prevented, in large part, by compromised Evangelicalism and the congregations it misleads into voting against the teachings of Jesus in the red letters. Theologies that require mental assent but leave our ethics and our politics untouched have left Evangelicalism serving as the court religion for the Republican Party. Theologies heavy on Paul but detached from their roots in Jesus and the Hebrew scriptures have inoculated discipleship from the radical lifestyle prescribed by Jesus in those red letters.
Has the time come for you to join us and to commit to taking the red letters of the Bible seriously and adopt its difficult lifestyle? Is your church feeding your complacency? Do you need to take your faith to the streets? Who do you need to stand up for? Is there a march you need to attend? Do you need to give your money away? Are you ready to face the enemies of the righteous? Are you ready for the persecution that Jesus promised?
And this!!! – are you willing to support us financially? Jesus says in those red letters, “where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” This movement needs your help and support. Join the Red Letter revolution today!