September 12, 2018

A Message from Tony Campolo to Chelsen Vicari

On April 6-7, 2018, I attended and reported on Red Letter Christians’ “Lynchburg Revival,” which was sparked months earlier by Shane Claiborne’s public criticism of Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr.’s support of the Trump Administration. You can read my full report titled, “Jesus, Justice, and Political Partisanship” here.

To give a little background, the opening prayer, for example, included more identity politics than genuine petitions to the Almighty:

Dear God, we have been seduced by the myth of redemptive violence. We have failed to resist the unholy and preemptive wars of choice and have even fought for the death penalty. As the youth of America are raising their voices against gun violence, many Christians remain silent, many even working to sustain and further a culture of guns and violence. From an unrestrained militarism, Lord save us.


Dear God, our nation was founded on the death of native lands including Monacan land upon which Lynchburg was founded and the systemic enslavement and stolen labor of African peoples. Having not fully acknowledged this history, we are unable to see how race and whiteness function as an exclusionary and protective privilege. Thus, we continue to marginalize and deny full access and rights to many, including immigrants, LGBTQ peoples, native peoples, African Americans, Latinx people, and too many to justify acknowledgment in this prayer. From our persistent racism, Lord, save us.

Most upsetting, was a mainstage speaker who told service men and women that he was “not grateful for your service” and stated, “fallen soldiers are victims, not heroes.” Instead of offering tangible national security measures, the speakers suggested we “fight evil with poetry.” This speaker received a standing ovation. As the wife of a Navy veteran and sitting in attendance beside a friend and former Marine, I remained seated.

Tony Campolo took notice of my report and concerns. (Campolo provides leadership for Red Letter Christians and the broader progressive Christian movement and was also a keynote speaker at the “Lynchburg Revival” gathering.)

Over a respectful e-mail exchange, Campolo acknowledged my concerns and shared his own reservations and honest reflections about some of the political sentiments expressed at Red Letter Christians’ event. Campolo’s note is posted here with his permission.

Dear Chelsen,

I couldn’t agree with you more about the negative spin that was given to people in the military at the Red Letter Christians revival. I myself am a non-violent resister, but I always say, before I declare myself as such, that I am ambivalent and troubled. That is because I know that the freedom to speak as I do and to believe as I do has been made possible by brave men and women who have laid down their lives in struggling to protect my right of speech. I wouldn’t be able to say the things that I do, or be the person that I am here, in America, if it has not been for men and women in the military. You can see why I am ambivalent, because with people like yourself, who have family members in the military, we have to be very sensitive, and I do not think that several of the speakers at the Red Letter Christians revival were very respectful.

The one place where I become critical of militarism is in government spending, and on a matter like that you and I could enter into a disagreement with great respect for each other. I contend that there has to be government cuts in spending. In this respect, I agree with those in the tea-party. We can’t go on year after year, going deeper and deeper in debt. Donald Trump is going to put the country into another couple of trillion dollars down in the red column. It’s bad enough that we have had a string of heavy spenders among the democrats. It’s interesting, however, that the last president to end up with a budget surplus was a democrat, Bill Clinton. Thus, I am concerned, as most fiscal conservatives are, with the out of control spending that is marking our government. The differences between me and Donald Trump (as though my differences really matter) is that I would like to see cuts in the military spending rather than the social services to the poor and the needy. What I do not want to see happen is that the people in the armed forces are in any way denigrated or talked about in ugly terms. There was some of that at this revival.

I was dismayed as you were that there was not much room for spiritual edification. We needed more prayer, and we needed more opportunity for people to make commitments to Christ. I had an opportunity for between 5 minutes at the end of Saturday night, and I did ask people to commit themselves to Christ. But that is a far cry from what should really take place at a revival, so I am in much agreement with you in much of your criticism.

The place where we would disagree, is that I think there is a need for a movement that articulates to Christianity that does not espouse the political ideology of the right wing of the Republican party. On the other hand, I think you would agree that we do not need a Christianity that articulates the ideology of the left wing of the Democratic Party. We need a biblical theology that puts Christ above both parties, and from the perspective of the red letters of the Bible, make value judgments about what is good and bad in each of them.

I hope we can be friends in spite of differences, and I want you to know that in so many things that I am in harmony with you.

Yours in Christ,

Tony Campolo

21 Responses to A Message from Tony Campolo to Chelsen Vicari

  1. Mike says:

    I noted Campolo’s reference to “the red letters of the Bible”. I am bothered when anyone, particularly someone in Campolo’s position of influence makes this statement. It means that he ignores the rest of the Bible, and especially those passages in Paul’s letters that do not support his theological positions, indeed sometimes condemning them. Campolo has come out in favor of homosexuality, and can justify his new position on that by the fact that Jesus never addressed the issue in the “red letters”, while ignoring the fact that Paul had plenty to say about it.

    Campolo says that “we do not need a Christianity that articulates the ideology of the left wing of the Democratic Party.” However, he is in danger of indeed aligning himself with that “left wing”. Some, including myself, would argue that he is already there. After all, the whole Democratic party stands for such things as same sex marriage and abortion, both of which are abominations in God’s sight.

    • Josh says:

      What does the Republican party stand for? And don’t give me a bunch of B.S.

      • Mike says:

        With phrasing like that, I hope you aren’t holding your breath waiting for a response.

        • Josh says:

          Is the phrasing to straightforward for you?

          You flat out said what the whole Democratic party stands for. Why can’t you say what the whole Republican party stands for?

          What’s wrong with the wording for that question?

          • Mike says:

            Reread your last sentence. This is a Christian site, and you word your demand that way?

          • Josh says:

            Wow. A Christian site. That means that we can’t use the word B.S.

            Have you read the Bible? All of it? It’s not P.G. rated.

            What’s more offensive to God? That we say the “s” word or that we B.S. one another?

            I got news for you . . . God does not like a bunch of B.S.

      • Mike says:

        I really am not concerned with what the Republican party might stand for. My concern is that Campolo may pass himself off as a neutral, but in reality is a full blown liberal in religion, and as such would tend to align himself more with liberalism in politics. I can easily visualize Campolo as subscribing to “the ideology of the left wing of the Democratic Party.” He has been moving that way for years.

      • Rebecca says:

        If you want to know what Republicans stand for do a net search for “Republican Party Platform.” Or do a search for your state Republican Party Platform. While you are at it, you might do a search for the “Democratic Party Platform.” It is easy enough.

    • William says:

      Of course Jesus addressed homosexuality, ALL sexual immorality in fact. To assert that homosexuality would not have been considered a form of sexual immorality in that Jewish society would be tantamount to proclaiming that there is no gravity.

    • diaphone64 says:

      There use of “red letter” itself is laughable considering their agitation for LGBT+ and then ignoring these very red letters:
      “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?”

  2. Patrick98 says:

    Ummm… I have seen photographs of Biblical manuscripts in both Greek and Hebrew. They all seem to be black ink on parchment or papyrus. Haven’t seen red in them.

  3. bob says:

    Campolo’s willingness to offer something different from a rigidly defensive response to Chelsen is constructive in a time when nastiness predominates. And Chelsen’s initial critique that what happened was political event rather than spiritual revival clearly struck a tender spot with Campolo. Would that more players of left and right would be willing to address the shadow sides of their positions, which is not the same as becoming fuzzy about core convictions.

  4. Brad Pope says:

    I appreciate Campolo’s spirit. I am quite sure we aren’t in sync politically, but that cannot be our litmus test. Christians are going to be on a spectrum of opinions & he does separate himself from the crazies on his side. From this article, he is a believer & should be treated like a brother.

  5. Mr. Porter says:

    While I am very disturbed by Campolo’s movement away from the plain teachings of Scripture over the past few years on issues like homosexuality, I am impressed with his response here. Prayers that are really just “sermons in disguise” remind me of the Pharisee’s prayer in Jesus’ parable….”Thank God I am not like this man.”

  6. George Plasterer says:

    I have no sympathy for the ambiguity Tony feels. At least Hauerwas openly admits his nonviolent stance would lead to the death of millions. I have respect for Tony, but he has identified the gospel with progressive politics. To say True Christianity must promote a policy that leaves the democracies defenseless is to open the door to bloodshed on a massive scale. Christianity has helped build the West and benefitted from being part of it. Some form of Christian realism would be welcome here.

    • Mike says:

      Campolo started out as a conservative in a liberal institution and a liberal denomination, but has gradually moved to the other side. Perhaps he is an example of those who “went out from us, but they were not among us”.

  7. Nick Stuart says:

    If Tony Campolo didn’t exist, it would not be necessary to invent him.

  8. Susan Smith says:

    I have respect for Tony, but he has identified the gospel with progressive politics.

  9. Scott says:

    I like having my faith challenged and have enjoyed listening to proponents of the various emerging church movements, such as Greg Boyd, Bruxy Cavey and Shane Claiborne. I understand the attraction to pacifism and non-violence, but taken to their logical conclusions, would result in unimaginable bloodshed. Campolo, Boyd, et al, benefit greatly from the shed blood and sacrifice of the military. For many years, Jesus benefited from the security provided by Rome. The Temple was guarded by armed soldiers, as was the nation of Israel. In the Old Testament, the borders of the nation of Israel were well-guarded at all times. There were foreigners and strangers in the land, but they were well-vetted and determined not to be a threat. Israel had many enemies, so they could not have open borders. People that did gain entry into Israeli territory were expected to obey Jewish laws and respect their customs. This is what Moses had in mind when he wrote that we should welcome strangers and foreigners. I don’t think violence is God’s ideal, but in a fallen world, it is unfortunately very necessary. While Boyd, Campolo and Claiborne are sincere, they are also breathtakingly naïve about basic safety and security.

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