Red Letter Christians

October 7, 2019

Why the Red Letter Christian Movement Is Not Growing

Tony Campolo called his Red Letter Christian (RLC) movement “embryonic” and assessed, “we just can’t get this thing off the ground” during a gathering at Greenleaf Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro, North Carolina on October 2, 2019. The gathering was part of RLC’s #GoldsboroRevival, hosted alongside the Rev. William Barber II and Repairers of the Breach.

During the revival, Campolo, who co-founded the RLC movement with Sojourners editor Jim Wallis fifteen years ago, offered a few interesting explanations for why he believes the RLC movement has yet to gain prominence in the United States.

“We’ve got to start putting our money where our rhetoric is,” declared Campolo, who shared that for the first time, RLC recently broke even financially. He then bluntly urged his audience to donate funds to the movement. “If you’re really with me, you’ll give us the support that we need to keep going,” he said. “The money coming into the fundamentalist Evangelical community is huge, and we don’t have it.”

Money isn’t the only reason for RLC’s continued infancy, according to Campolo. During Q&A, he offered this insight:

“One of the other things that the Religious Right has on people like us, is that they know the Bible better than us. I mean this very seriously. They have memorized Scripture. They can quote chapter and verse.”

The former spiritual advisor to U.S. President Bill Clinton then shared an anecdote about Jerry Falwell Sr., with whom he had a cordial relationship. The two would debate on the CNN political debate show Crossfire. According to Campolo, the late Falwell would easily defeat mainline Protestant pastors who argued from a philosophical perspective. Falwell, on the other hand, would simply quote Scripture.

“We don’t quote [Scripture] often enough,” Campolo continued. “We make all these philosophical arguments for justice. No book speaks to justice better than the Bible.”

According to Campolo, the RLC movements in England and Germany are growing, with 57 RLC-associated churches meeting in bars throughout Frankfurt.

When asked by an audience member what the disconnect might be between Europe and the U.S., Campolo blamed geography, in part. “Here in the United States, the country is so large, it’s hard to get a national movement going when the country is as big as this one.”

Another problem for RLC, observed Campolo, is the lack of progressive media networks on the airwaves. “The reality is there’s a whole network of radio stations, 1500 radio stations, that are broadcasting Religious Right ideology twenty-four hours a day.”

Campolo continued, “Interestingly enough, as we’ve introduced this [movement] here in the United States, we’ve gotten some very, very positive feedback. But not a movement.”

In April 2018, RLC garnered considerable attention for hosting its “Lynchburg Revival” in protest of Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell Jr. and other pro-Trump Evangelicals. I attended the Lynchburg Revival and wrote that the gathering resembled more of a left-wing political rally than a revival. I also expressed my frustration with some of the speaker’s disrespectful rhetoric aimed at military men and women. (You can read Campolo’s cordial response to my post here.)

Perhaps some of my criticisms were taken seriously because this year’s Goldsboro event more closely resembled a revival. There were sermons. Scripture was read by several speakers. Songs were sung by a fantastic local choir whose lyrics acknowledged Christ’s forgiveness of sins and lost souls delivered out of the darkness. Even so, I was not surprised when left-wing political rhetoric crept its way into Tuesday evening’s sermon.

While teaching on Exodus 1:15-22, where two Egyptian midwives disobeyed Pharoah to save the lives of Hebrew babies,  the Rev. Traci Blackmon praised a list of President Barack Obama’s policy achievements. The United Church of Christ (UCC) official didn’t mention that Obama is the nation’s most vocally pro-abortion president in history.

I can appreciate Campolo’s ability to examine his movement’s shortcomings and urge his followers to do better. He’s at least honest when he says they’ve yet to achieve a Red Letter Revolution. I do believe, however, there is one glaring problem with his movement that he failed to consider, at least in Goldsboro. Liberal mainline Protestantism is declining drastically across this country. And the RLC movement will not be revolutionary so long as it continues recycling liberal mainline Protestantism.

What I heard in Goldsboro sounded very similar to so many of the liberal mainline Protestant events that I’ve attended over the past six years. A heavy concentration on identity politics and less focus on the Gospel’s call for salvation, repentance, and soul-winning. The crowd looked the same too: overwhelmingly Caucasian, gray-haired mainline Protestants. United Methodist Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of North Carolina even offered a welcoming prayer. Sure there were a few young people like myself sprinkled in the mix, but they too were mostly white.

RLC seeks to achieve diversity and attract young people disenchanted with Evangelicalism by amplifying Jesus’s words. A nice-sounding endeavor. But a repackaged version of liberal mainline Protestantism will likely have the same declining fate.

20 Responses to Why the Red Letter Christian Movement Is Not Growing

  1. That’s good news that this “Christian” Leftist movement isn’t growing here. And yes, a great admission that they are NOT working from scripture!

    “Red letter Christians” tip their hands at their foundational error. Jesus is God and is in agreement with all of scripture. He quoted the Old Testament extensively, and referred to its most controversial elements without apology: Sodom & Gomorrah, Adam and Eve, Noah, Jonah, etc.

    And Jesus didn’t hand-write the Gospels. They authors had some eyewitness accounts and some reliable second-hand accounts, just like the epistles. And all were inspired by God.

    The “red letter” Christians are nearly always false teachers who pretend that the only words of the Bible that really matter are direct quotes of Jesus (i.e., the words that are printed in red in some Bibles). Their logic fails on many levels, and they can’t even get their own pet verses right.

    If they were the least bit consistent they’d agree with Jesus’ “red letters” that say you should live on all the letters. Matthew 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

    The red letters say to live on all the letters. Why don’t they obey that simple teaching?

    The “red letters” crowd is full of nonsensical hypocrites.

    Black Letters Matter!

    • Stan Jefferson says:

      Yes, Jesus did accept all of the OT. Thanks for bringing that to the table. If there were error or invalidity in scripture, I am quite certain Jesus wd have been aware of it. And if, by implication, Jesus did NOT know of scriptural error or invalidity–that kind of invalidates Jesus as well–but they haven’t thought that part out.

  2. Lawrence Kreh says:

    Billy Graham wisely warned against linking the gospel message to the religious right. Sadly, both the religious right and religious left miss that vital point. While it is important that Christians take stands on social justice issues such as abortion, racial justice, freedom of religion, compassion for refugees, etc. , it should not extend to endorsing politicians such as Trump or Obama. Our primary focus to preach the transforming love of Jesus Christ, of repentance, grace, and new life, not to drive away our political opponents. We also need to stop angrily judging another’s Christianity based on their political views.
    The religious right and left need to recalibrate their approach to transforming individuals and society.

    • John Smith says:

      The right, left, sideways and all ways people need to worry about the conversion of people into Christians and properly teaching them the truths of God. If they do that society will be taken care of. Anytime its “transform people and society” it quickly devolves into training people to change society into the image we want. Or what we call just another political game.

  3. MJ says:

    Campolo used to promote social justice within the context of evangelical faith. His voice was an important corrective for churches that overlooked that part of scripture. He was well received and definitely had an impact on the evangelical churches. When he disengaged from that constituency and became part of the liberal protestant “resistance” his message of a wholistic gospel fell on deaf ears.

  4. Karole Fedrick says:

    Campolo’s “Evangelical Right” comment brought Ecclesiastes 10:2 to mind, “A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.”

  5. Lee D. Cary says:

    This is better than The Onion, or the Babylon Bee. Had me in stitches.

    “The money coming into the fundamentalist Evangelical community is huge, and we don’t have it.” That’s like promoters of Professional Curling saying, “We just don’t have the fan base of the NBA.”

    “One of the other things that the Religious Right has on people like us, is that they know the Bible better than us.” Maybe they read it more often, Tony.

    “The former spiritual advisor to U.S. President Bill Clinton…” Bill had a “spiritual advisor” – besides the Reverent Jesse Jackson! Who knew?

    “Falwell, on the other hand, would simply quote Scripture.” So, Falwell cheated?

    “… RLC movements in England and Germany are growing, with 57 RLC-associated churches meeting in bars throughout Frankfurt.” Then Wisconsin, with a bar, or two, on every corner, should be fertile ground, Tone.

    “Here in the United States, the country is so large, it’s hard to get a national movement going when the country is as big as this one.” So much for the McDonald’s chain.

    “Another problem for RLC, observed Campolo, is the lack of progressive media networks on the airwaves.” Now I know this if from the Babylon Bee. No progressive media networks?! Bra…ha…ha…ha… (I couldn’t keep readying, My side hurt from laughing.)

  6. Richard says:

    I’m not surprised Traci Blackmon made no mention of abortion. She’s well entrenched at Planned Parenthood and assured their staff members recently that “the UCC stands with you”.

    RLC is well and truly syncretic, and less and less Christian as the years go on.

  7. Donald says:

    This sounds like Jim and Tony are angry that their ‘retirement plan’ has not garnered funding to keep up with their appetites.
    It also confirms what we already know about Liberal-to-Progressives: they’re experts at spending OTHER PEOPLES’ money. As for contributing their OWN MONEY, not so much!

  8. Pudentiana says:

    I am sad for Tony Campolo. He once spoke as inspired by the Holy Spirit and doesn’t seem to notice he left him. I mean Tony left the Holy Spirit. Even though he teaches his constituents to quote scripture, he will go nowhere. As I recall, even the demons know the scripture and “tremble”.

  9. “‘The former spiritual advisor to U.S. President Bill Clinton…’  Bill had a ‘spiritual advisor’ – besides the Reveren(d) Jesse Jackson!  Who knew?”
    After his 7th Commandment moral failure in office became publicly known, President Clinton invited three men to be his spiritual advisors—Foundry UMC Pastor Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, Grace Chapel Pastor Rev. Gordon MacDonald, and Campolo.  The invitation made national news at the time.

  10. Michael says:

    “Another problem for RLC, observed Campolo, is the lack of progressive media networks on the airwaves…”

    HEY!! Comrade Campolo, put he bong DOWN! Almost every media network in the U.S.A is being directed by Satan.

    ““We don’t quote [Scripture] often enough,” Campolo continued.”

    Yeah, well, since you don’t believe it, why would quote it? You want to re-write Scripture to what YOU wish it said.

  11. David Gingrich says:

    The RLC’s problem is that, if they get their people to start reading Scripture, their people will figure out that the RLC is wrong.

  12. Stan Jefferson says:

    Should I be this blunt? Campolo is a heretic. He is leading people away from scriptural authority. So-called “Red-Letter Christianity” which follows only what Jesus said, is an attempt to leave out the rest of scripture. But Jesus validated scripture time and again–and he never anywhere said, “Don’t pay attention to such-and-such in the OT.” I’ve always questioned Campolo, but the last straw was his advocating on behalf of gay marriage, saying “it was time” to accept this practice. Goodbye, Tony.

  13. Theo says:

    What do Red Letter Christians do with these words of Jesus?

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

  14. Jeffrey Crawford says:

    And yet if one “side” of the spectrum is unwilling to reach out to the other, what then? I am convinced that there are NO sides in the kingdom. If Paul proclaimed that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, why do we think that there is a left and a right, a conservative or a liberal? We are all fallen due to our own sin and are all welcomed into the Kingdom when we accept the atoning sacrifice of Jesus and believe in Him.
    I cannot, for the life of me, understand two things: why there is so much division in the church and why we, as Christians, are the most hurtful weapons AGAINST other Christians. Seriously. Save the vitriol for Twitter.
    I don’t agree with everything RLC does nor with what they say. However, I applaud Tony Campolo for TRYING, for being willing to work outside of the “norm”. He seems to be issuing a very necessary corrective to the movement. Only the foundation that is built upon Christ will last. All others are built on sinking sand.
    The bottom line is this: there are going to be a whole lot of people in Heaven who didn’t think like you did, who didn’t look like you did and who didn’t stand for the same issues that you did or “gasp” pushed a different button in the voting booth than you did. Myself included. We should all thank God for that. In His infinite mercy, He sent His Son to die for ALL of us, not just those of a particular political or theological persuasion.

  15. Tony Campolo says:

    The Red Letter Christians Movement never said that the rest of the Bible was not inspired by the Holy Spirit or was not important, but only that the requisites for discipleship were more radical than is generally believed.

  16. Taylor Aldridge says:

    I agree with the RLC notion that the Christian merging with Rebuplican’ism is a bad idea and dilutes Christianity into a political movement.

    But the utter disingenuousness and the deceptive way they seem just fine with Christianity merging with Democrat’ism is horrible.

    They have no problem saying Christians shouldn’t vote for Trump but Hillary nor Biden is a pillar of moral fortitude.
    In the end, I believe they’d be happy (and target) for zero Christians to vote because in a binary system “their side” would win. The very fact they “have a side” while telling me I shouldn’t is the pinnacle of hypocrisy.

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