Red Letter Christians

“I’m a secular Jewish country music songwriter and disk jockey,” my interviewer on a Nashville radio station said. “But I love your stuff and have been following your book tour.” He told me he loved my “riffs” and would like to spend an evening together just to get some lines for new music. “You’re a songwriter’s dream.” Then he told me he believed we were starting a new movement, but noticed we hadn’t come up with a name for it yet. “I’ve got an idea for you,” he said. “I think you should call yourselves ‘The Red Letter Christians,’ for the red parts of the Bible that highlight the words of Jesus. I love the red letter stuff.”

The truth is that there are many people who like the “red letter stuff,” and many of them are not even Christians. Try it yourself sometime. Go out on the street or to your school or workplace and take a poll. Ask people what they think Jesus stood for. You’re likely to hear things like “stood with poor people,” or “compassionate,” or “loving,” or “he was for peace.” Then ask them what Christians or the church stand for. And you’re likely to hear some very different things.

We have a problem. Most people have the idea, as crazy as it may seem, that Christians and the church are supposed to stand for the same things that Jesus did. And when they don’t, people get confused and disillusioned. It’s a problem.

When Jesus tells us he will regard the way we treat the hungry, the homeless, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner as if we were treating him that way, it likely means he wouldn’t think capital gains tax cuts for the wealthy and food stamp cuts for the poor represent the best domestic policy. Or when he tells us “love your enemies” and “blessed are the peacemakers,” it might be hard to persuade him to join our “war against terrorism,” especially when there is so much “collateral damage” to civilians, including women and children.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2006
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