taking the words of Jesus seriously

Perhaps the most problematic result of the vitriol that has infected political discourse via the mass media is that people have tended to shy away from any discussion on political issues because they fear disagreeable confrontations. The meanness that has been expressed toward various candidates, along with what is heard on “talk radio,” seems at times, to be extremely one sided and harsh. Character assassinations have become normative and distortions of what candidates actually say has become common.

Nevertheless, there is an imperative for Red Letter Christians to speak about the crucial concerns that are impacting what will be decided by elected officials. We must do this, however, without being ugly toward those who are opposed to what we believe to be “Christian” points of view.

In too many cases, in order to escape heated arguments we avoid our obligations to voice our concerns for undocumented immigrants; to speak up for the elderly who wonder if there will be money available to care for them if their health insurance benefits run out; to advocate for children who need the education essential for them to have a hopeful future; to ask for help for those college and university students who are wondering how they will pay for their education; and to make the case for the next generation who will need clean air, pure water, and uncontaminated food. We especially must talk about what America is going to do about politicians who, in cavalier fashion, make threats of war which could claim the lives of many innocent people.

Given these realities, it is important for us to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide our conversations so that we will be able to respectfully listen to those who have points of view that disturb us. We should be asking God for the grace to say with sincerity, “I could be wrong,” when that is warranted. And then, we should always try to move the discussion toward an end (when possible), wherein we share some beliefs upon which there might be some kind of agreement. One thing must be understood… avoiding political discussions is not a Christian option.

In II Corinthians 5:19, we are called to a ministry of reconciliation. Even as Jesus reconciled us to God we need to be reconciling ourselves to one another. Somewhere along the line, Red Letter Christians need to step up and get people on both sides of political discussions to listen to each other and examine the biblical grounds for the beliefs that determine our political opinions. We need to speak the truth, so far as we know it, in love. Sometimes that’s difficult, but it is always necessary.

As the campaigns related to the 2020 election unfold, there is going to be a lot of meanness and hatred expressed. We Red Letter Christians are required to stand opposed to that kind of talk and, according to the red letters of Jesus, “overcome evil with good.” May we Red Letter Christians say to those who refuse to be civil in political discourse that we are followers of Jesus who expects us to be kind to one another, even when that might seem difficult.

Just the other day, I heard a sermon in which there was a declaration that Donald Trump was not a Christian because he does not live out many of the teachings of Christ, as they are highlighted with red letters in many of the old Bibles. I believe that we should make judgments on political issues and government policies, but should shy away from judgments as to who is and who is not a Christian. I can only echo the words of Søren Kierkegaard who asked, “If we mean by Christian, those who live out the teachings of Jesus without exceptions being made, who then is Christian? In any generation, their might be four or five.”

To make value judgments about whether a particular politician is a Christian is beyond our prerogative. As Billy Graham once said, “My task is to preach the Gospel. It is the task of the Holy Spirit to bring people under conviction. And it is the responsibility of God to do the judging.” I think those should become the guiding words for all of us as we enter political discussions. We should speak the truth in love and not judge others, lest we also be judged.

During the days that lie ahead let us each talk politics whenever we can with whomever we can. The stakes in the coming elections are high and we dare not remain passive. We must, however, challenge any politician who dehumanizes their political opponents with degrading talk. That’s what Jesus was talking about when He said in Matthew 5:22, with words that are highlighted with red letters in my Bible, that whoever degrades another person by what is said is guilty of “Raca” — which is akin to committing a grave sin like murder. That, it must be agreed, makes diminishing the humanity of another child of God serious stuff.

I don’t know if you can recall that Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford were political opponents but were able to be good friends and Christian even after tough political campaigning ended. They modeled political discussion without acrimony. If we could go back to their kind of politics, then maybe we really could make America great again.

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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