Friday, March 31, 2006
Why I'm a Red Letter Christian
The call, first issued by Tony Compolo, Jim Wallis and other leaders, has gone out. The nation needs a new Christian movement, one not bound by the false distinctions of "conservative" or "liberal." This new movement avoids the labels "left" and "right" or "red state" and "blue state." By basing positions on the teachings of Jesus Christ, we can avoid the acrimony and divisiness of party politics and stand on a common, unified ground.
The words of Jesus in scripture appear as red print in many Bibles, thus the term, "red letter Christian."
I greet this new opportunity with joy, and am happy to share why I consider myself a follower of this movement.
I chose to believe in Jesus the Christ; His teachings, His life and His ministry and the saving grace He gave to me and to everyone.
I believe in the Kingdom of Heaven, as He taught. The vision Jesus gave to the world is ever before me. I believe this is the vision:
In the Kingdom of Heaven, no child is hungry.
In the Kingdom of God, the sick find healing.
In the Kingdom of Heaven, no one harms another.
In the Kingdom of God, no one is cold.
In the Kingdom of Heaven, sins are forgiven.
In the Kingdom, humans live at peace, with dignity, and never suffer because of the indifference, anger, hostility, or hatred of their fellows.
I feel called to work to establish the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. I want to live in obedience to Christ's teachings. That is the struggle for me and the challenge for Christians everywhere.
I continually study the words and the works of Jesus, and always try to keep His thoughts close. One must know Jesus to follow Him. The only way to truly get to know Jesus is to spend time with Him. To listen when he speaks and watch when He acts. We hear priests and preachers talk about Him, we watch movies that fictionalize His life, and we learn much but we are misled. Why listen to the words of another when we can go straight to the Bible and hear the words of Jesus himself? Why listen to me preach about what Jesus says, when you can easily look at the red letters on your own?
He said, "Blessed are the peacemakers..." and "As you do to the least of these, you do to me..."
As a red letter Christian, I care about issues. I view political parties as servants of entrenched power. As a red letter Christian, I challenge rich and powerful Christians to live out their faith by obedience to Jesus.
As a red letter Christian, I feel the tide of our times has turned against Jesus and his teaching. I see us, as a nation, taking away from the poor and giving to the rich. We could provide for the all the physically sick in our own country, but choose not to. We could open our doors and welcome the oppressed, but as I write this Congress debates ever harsher penalties for immigrants. We boast to each other of our generosity, but as a nation we give a smaller percentage than most to charity. We talk endlessly about peace, but spend as much on arms as all the rest of the world together. We talk a lot about free markets while pouring out vast sums to protect our own farmers and oilmen. I see the consequences of our reckless wars, and my heart cries out.
Jesus commands us to love our neighbors; He wishes us to care for the poor, the sick, the widow and the helpless. Jesus wants us to welcome the stranger as Abraham did so long ago. Jesus did not bear arms; He lived under the oppression of a foreign occupation. Jesus did not dine with the elites and celebrities, but broke bread with the despised and outcasts. Jesus did not deny anyone His healing power, but gave it freely, never asking anything in return.
As a red letter Christian, then, my politics are informed by simple ideas based on the teaching of Jesus:
Don't start wars. Ever.
Welcome those who need help, and do what you can. Sacrifice.
Take care of sick people.
Feed hungry people.
Give to those who have the least; instead of taking from them.
Teach the children what they need to know. All of them.
Always be fair, even if you must lose.
Always chose the high road. Even when no one notices.
Always speak well of your brothers, no matter how boneheaded they are.
Assume the best of people unless shown direct evidence to the contrary.
The whole of the Bible bears study. All of the Bible matters to Christians; but the red letters are the actual words of Jesus, and thus merit a special place. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Habbukuk, Elisha and the rest were prophets of God and deserve our attention. Entire books and lifetimes of scholarship have been devoted to most them. But our days on this earth are short. As a red letter Christian, I emphasize the words and works of Jesus, and I choose to devote more of my study to Him than to those who went before Him. I choose to draw most of my inspiration from Him, and less from the prophets. In church, it is God we worship, not His prophets.
In my view, the leaders of our nation act as though ignorant of basic Christian precepts. They profess Christianity, but seem to forget the text of the red letters. They offer up all sorts of justifications for injustices. They explain, with considerable force, why it is necessary to give vast sums to the wealthy while reducing the pittance allotted to the poor. They shout out loudly that we must fight an unjust war, that we must strike the first blows lest we be struck. Their barbarous barks echo on our televisions, repeated in excited tones by talking heads. People who should know better nod in agreement. Christians, men and women who go to church every week, allow fear to deaden them to the teachings of Jesus.
But the words Jesus said more often than any others were, "Be not afraid."
I am just a Sunday school teacher living in Kansas. I have no power. I have no influence. My voice is a whisper in Arrowhead on game day.
But if there were enough red letter Christians, if we banded together and spoke with one voice ... our roar would shake the very foundations of the capitol.
You do have a voice; His name is Jesus and He lives within you; wants you to draw up nourshiment from Him and speak and counsel others as His representative.
(Col. 1:27, 2:7, 3:16-17)
Perhaps there is a future in the faith for guys like us.
john, the writer of john, says at the end of his book that jesus did so much more that if it were to be written down, it would take volumes upon volumes of books to express. that means that there is more truth to jesus than we have in scripture, right? so, embrace just as much christ in you, you in christ, as you do his words.
but you are right, if we did take jesus "literally", we could all change the world. i want to be a part of that.
I ask God to give me a servant heart.
I don't know how I feel about Jesus, but I do know that like you, I crave social justice and don't see much of it going around these days on a national scale. On a local scale perhaps...especially as I work for a non-profit and believe in its efficacy. But nationally speaking, I hate the way things are and I feel powerless to do anything about them. I hate that feeling.
In any case, I truly admire your faith and feel inspired by your idealism. I'm so young, but I feel so jaded... I just want to thank you for sharing your strength and hope.
PS- If you read my most recent post, please know that I do respect the Bible more than it would seem. I'm just frustrated by the way people have been abusing religion around here...
I single Christians out, only because they have the most power in our world today.
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