Friday, October 13, 2006

Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: Sojourners and the "Red Letter Christians" Campaign

It takes a certain amount of courage to get up in a coffee-house or a college auditorium and come out in favor of the things that everybody else in the audience is against, like peace and justice and brotherhood and so on. ~ Tom Lehrer

As part of their attempt to make Christian politics, specifically Evangelical politics, more Left-friendly, Jim Wallis and his Sojourners organisation, along with a few of his friends, have rolled out a new campaign called "Red Letter Christians".

One of them, Liberation Theologian Tony Campolo, former spiritual adviser to President Bill Clinton, recently wrote an article about this campaign on Beliefnet:

What's a 'Red-Letter Christian'?

Recently, I met with a group of religious leaders who have become increasingly disturbed by the alliance between evangelical Christians and the Republican Party. Karl Rove, President Bush’s political strategist, has brilliantly and successfully served as the matchmaker to arrange this union, which was consummated in the last presidential election when 83 percent of evangelicals voted Republican.

So here we have the rationale for the campaign. In spite of Sojourners' three decades of Leftist agitation under the banner of Evangelicalism, still an overwhelming number of Christians that describe themselves as Evangelicals vote for Republicans instead of Democrats. And with the typically hazy memory of the Left, Campolo ascribes this phenomenon to a recent alliance rather then look at the real trend - Evangelical politics and the Republicans have maintained this alliance at least since the days preceding the pivotal 1980 election, when the Presidency was wrested, in one of the largest landslides in history, from the hands of Evangelical Leftist Jimmy Carter and put into the capable hands of conservative Ronald Reagan.

Not to be bothered by the facts of history, however, Campolo's purpose is better served by making the Evangelical - Republican alliance appear to be a recent development, the product of a nefarious plot hatched by Karl Rove.

The meeting was joined by the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine; Father Richard Rohr, a well-known Catholic writer and speaker; Brian McLaren, a leader of the emergent church movement; the Rev. Dr. Cheryl J. Sanders, a prominent African-American pastor; the Rev. Noel Castellanos, a strong voice in the Hispanic community; and several other outstanding Christian communicators.

The purpose of this gathering was not to create a religious left movement to challenge the religious right, but to jump-start a religious movement that will transcend partisan politics. Believing that Jesus is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, we want to unite Christians who are concerned about what is happening in America. We are evangelicals who are troubled by what is happening to poor people in America; who are disturbed over environmental policies that are contributing to global warming; who are dismayed over the increasing arrogance of power shown in our country’s militarism; who are outraged because government funding is being reduced for schools where students, often from impoverished and dysfunctional homes, are testing poorly; who are upset with the fact that of the 22 industrialized nations America is next to last in the proportion of its national budget (less than two-tenths of 1 percent) that is designated to help the poor of third-world countries; and who are broken-hearted over discrimination against women, people of color, and those who suffer because of their sexual orientation.

This is the important paragraph, the great moment of deception upon which the article, yea, even the whole campaign hinges. Campolo states that the "Red Letter Christians" are not out to "create a religious left," but rather to "jump-start a religious movement that will transcend partisan politics." But this is sheer sleight-of-hand rhetoric. The agenda of this movement that "transcends partisan politics" is a laundry-list of Leftist causes that seems lifted directly from the Democratic Party Platform. Or even the Communist Party Platform. In other words, what will transcend partisan politics is the adoption by those who have traditionally been part of the Christian Right of the Left-Liberationist agenda of Sojourners. The aim of the "Red Letter Christians" is to convert unlearned and immature Christians to the politics of the Left.

This has been the strategy of Sojourners for the duration of its existence. As Gary North comments, "Wallis is editor of Sojourners, a magazine of considerable prominence in liberal political circles. Don't get me wrong. Political liberals do not actually read Sojourners, but they know it is out there, softening up the hearts and minds of an ecclesiastically isolated and politically marginal group of evangelicals. To do what? To vote for the next Democratic candidate for President."

Because being evangelical is usually synonymous with being Republican in the popular mind, and calling ourselves “progressive” might be taken as a value judgment by those who do share our views, we decided not to call ourselves “progressive evangelicals.” We came up with a new name: Red-Letter Christians.

Translation: "Calling ourselves what we actually are would be counterproductive to our purpose - it would reveal that we are not in any major respect different from the theologically liberal crowd at the National Council of Churches (though we pay lip service to a historical Resurrection and the inspiration of the Scriptures); therefore we must deceive our audience by finding a catchy label that will resonate with their fundamental religious committments - after all, who can be opposed to the words of Jesus?"

Campolo goes on, saying:

Who first suggested the label? A secular Jewish Country-and-Western disc jockey in Nashville, Tennessee. During a radio interview he was conducting with Jim Wallis, he happened to say, “So, you’re one of those Red-Letter Christians - you know - who’s really into those verses in the New Testament that are in red letters!”

Jim answered, “That’s right!” And with that answer, he spoke for all of us. By calling ourselves Red-Letter Christians, we are alluding to the fact that in several versions of the New Testament, the words of Jesus are printed in red. In adopting this name, we are saying that we are committed to living out the things that He said. Of course, the message in those red-lettered verses is radical, to say the least. If you don’t believe me, read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

In those red letters, He calls us away from the consumerist values that dominate contemporary American consciousness. He calls us to be merciful, which has strong implications for how we think about capital punishment. When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he probably means we shouldn’t kill them. Most important, if we take Jesus seriously, we will realize that meeting the needs of the poor is a primary responsibility for His followers.

Figuring out just how to relate those radical red letters in the Bible to the complex issues in the modern world will be difficult, but that’s what we’ll try to do.

Gandhi once said that everybody in the world knows what Jesus was teaching in those verses - except Christians! We will try to prove him wrong.

The difficulty is that the "Red Letter Christians" are actually quite selective in the matter of which red-lettered verses they are interested in reading and applying. And not only that, but they suffer from the problem inherent in using red letters to separate the words of Jesus from the rest of the Scriptures - it is all the Word; it is all inspired. The Incarnate Word that gave the Sermon on the Mount is the same Logos of God that gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Indeed, the "Red Letter Christians" are only interested in verses that they can turn into proof-texts for their Leftist social agenda. And divorced from the larger context of Scriptural teaching, they can use the Sermon on the Mount to support their Social Gospel programme - what Gary North has aptly called "a theological defense of the welfare state." North continues:

The welfare state relies on a system of compulsory taxation that is backed up by the threat of government violence against taxpaying residents within its jurisdiction.

The welfare state threatens residents and citizens with the following penalties for resisting the tax collector: (1) the confiscation of their assets, (2) fines, and (3) imprisonment. The welfare state's law-enforcement agents are armed and are empowered by law to shoot anyone who physically resists the tax collector.

The welfare state exists only because voters have authorized the confiscation of private property through violence by the state. In the name of helping the poor, middle-class voters extract most of the loot: tax-funded education, Social Security, and Medicare. The welfare state is therefore the implementation of covetousness by politics.

The Social Gospel defends this system of compulsory wealth-redistribution in the name of Jesus. It teaches that Jesus implicitly favored economic aid to the poor in the form of government policies that can be enforced only by the threat of systematic violence.

No New Testament account of Jesus offers evidence that He recommended such a view of Christian civil government. This inconvenient fact is regarded as a slight impediment by Social Gospelers, but nothing too serious. They insist that this is what Jesus really meant to say, even though He never actually said it, and despite the fact that the Old Testament adamantly denies such a view of civil justice. God through Moses warned:

Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour. (Leviticus 19:15)

When you hear the words Social Gospel, immediately think "Pastors' justification of armed government agents acting on behalf of certain special-interest voting blocs to take wealth away from other groups of citizens in order to benefit these special interests." This is exactly what the Social Gospel has always been. The central moral, judicial, and political issue of the Social Gospel is compulsion.

[This whole article is located here.]

I would add that the Social Gospel is not solely restricted to the advocacy of socialist economic policy - it now has grown to include other elements, particularly adoption of a stance that either downplays the importance of, tolerates or approves (in the full sense of the word (suneudokousi) as used in Romans 1:32) such things as abortion and "gay rights". To be fair, it must be said that the Evangelical Left claims to be pro-life - they just find welfare-state issues and pacifism to be more important. Most of them personally view sodomy as a sin, but do not think it is bad enough that the law should preclude allowing homosexual civil-unions.

The Scriptural phrase, "rightly dividing the word of truth", actually signifies giving the proper interpretation. The Religious Left, with their hermeneutic subordinated to their socialist political views, do not do this. But the "Red Letter Christians" take it a step further - not only do they fail to properly interpret the Scriptures, they actually divide them, setting some of our Lord's teaching apart from the rest in order to justify their socialistic humanist ethos.

We should, thus, be ever watchful, since, as our Lord told us, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves, (Matt. 7:15 - a red letter verse)" and as His Apostle saith, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Tim. 4:3-4)"

The "Red Letter Christians" come to us preaching another gospel, one of salvation through taxpayer-funded subsidies and concord with the humanistic spirit of the age.

1 comment:

Alice C. Linsley said...

[Originally posted 2006-11-27 @ 11:11:32 am]

This is a very insightful article. Thanks for posting it.