Saturday, May 13

COUNT ME IN AS A "RED-LETTER CHRISTIAN"

(For those who don't already know, the Bible in many editions highlights the word of Jesus himself in red letters.) One of the evangelical Christians who are Christ-driven, not power-seeking -- Tony Campolo.

It's hard sometimes these days to be an evangelical Christian and witness the perversion of our faith, which is at bottom one of charity and a commandment to take care of "the least of these," being morphed by power-seekers into one of a public judgment upon various segments of God's creation (homosexuals, the environment, peace-seekers, etc.). But the "hard sayings" of our lord Jesus Christ are markedly "progressive" or "liberal" by any honest reading.

A significant proportion of the evangelical community is part of the Religious Right. My purpose in writing the book was to communicate loud and clear that I felt that evangelical Christianity had been hijacked.

When did it become anti-feminist? When did evangelical Christianity become anti-gay? When did it become supportive of capital punishment? Pro-war? When did it become so negative towards other religious groups?

There are a group of evangelicals who would say, "Wait a minute. We’re evangelicals but we want to respect Islam. We don’t want to call its prophet evil. We don’t want to call the religion evil. We believe that we have got to learn to live in the same world with our Islamic brothers and sisters and we want to be friends. We do not want to be in some kind of a holy war."

We also raise some very serious questions about the support of policies that have been detrimental to the poor. When I read the voter guide of a group like the Christian Coalition, I find that they are allied with the National Rifle Association and are very anxious to protect the rights of people to buy even assault weapons. But they don’t seem to be very supportive of concerns for the poor, concerns for trade relations, for canceling Third World debts.

In short, there’s a whole group of issues that are being ignored by the Religious Right and that warrant the attention of Bible-believing Christians. Another one would be the environment.
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Isn’t poverty an issue? When you pass a bill of tax reform that not only gives the upper five percent most of the benefits, leaving very little behind for the rest of us, you have to ask some very serious questions.
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And we would also point out that the evangelical community has become so pro-Israel that it is forgotten that God loves Palestinians every bit as much. And that a significant proportion of the Palestinian community is Christian. We’re turning our back on our own Christian brothers and sisters in an effort to maintain a pro-Zionist mindset that I don’t think most Jewish people support.
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Evangelicals need to take a good look at what their issues are. Are they really being faithful to Jesus? Are they being faithful to the Bible? Are they adhering to the kinds of teachings that Christ made clear?
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I don’t know how far the grace of God does expand and I’m sure that what the 25th chapter of Matthew says is correct--that there will be a lot of surprises on Judgment Day as to who receives eternal life and who doesn’t. But in the book I try to make the case that we have to stop our exclusivistic, judgmental mentality. Let us preach Christ, let us be faithful to proclaiming the Gospel, but let’s leave judgment in the hands of God.
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I think that Christianity has two emphases. One is a social emphasis to impart the values of the kingdom of God in society—to relieve the sufferings of the poor, to stand up for the oppressed, to be a voice for those who have no voice. The other emphasis is to bring people into a personal, transforming relationship with Christ, where they feel the joy and the love of God in their lives. That they manifest what the fifth chapter of Galatians calls "the fruit of the Spirit." Fundamentalism has emphasized the latter, mainline churches have emphasized the former. We cannot neglect the one for the other.


Hat tip to my man, Dr. Bruce Prescott.

UPDATE: Xpatriated Texan has a great related post, "Playing God."

2 Comments:

Anonymous Russell said...

Perhaps fifteen years ago, I was exploring other religions and seeking a different spiritual path. Jesus had always been my personal Savior, but I felt everything else that came with being a Christian was simply against what I stood for. I had a hard time reconciling being a pacifist in a "Christian nation" which seems to go to war at least once a decade. It galled me as to what American evangelism had morphed itself into, being very selective as to which moral issues to fight for (gay marriage, abortion) and which to blow off (health care, poverty). The history of Christianity, starting only a few generations after the Resurrection, became not at all reflective of the message its central figure preached, and as a result, the Western "Christian" world has gone through Crusades, Inquisitions, the enslavement of Africans and Native Americans, the Holocaust, the bloodiest wars humankind has ever fought, and a distinct and growing gap between those who live in luxury and those who live in squalor.

Truly, this is not the world Jesus had envisioned for us.

A few years ago, I realized, there was not only nothing wrong with the message of Jesus Christ, but truly, it was the only way to save the world from itself. There is nothing at all wrong with the teachings of Jesus, and if we merely followed its precepts instead of twisting them to fit our own selfish natures, we could transform the world.

The core of Christianity--the Gospels--is as pure and perfect as it was when Christ preached it.

It's all the other garbage, all the dogma, all the rationalizations, all the manmade crap, that has turned the temple into a den of thieves.

So, about five years ago, I started rereading the Bible, with a different point of view. I started with the Gospels and made everything else secondary. By doing that, it put the message of Jesus Christ first and foremost, and it made any perceived contradictions many point out in the Bible, they all went away. I pushed the dogma aside. I stopped listening to others except to just get an idea as to where that person, that preacher, that politician, was coming from. I started my Christian trek from scratch.

Jesus said Himself, No one shall meet the Father except through Me. No one is responsible for your salvation but you and Jesus, and Jesus will always hold up His end of the bargain. That makes what I have with Jesus, and you have with Jesus, intensely personal. The whole religious aspect of Christ falls by the wasteside, and a new spiritual flowering occurs.

It's true, what I have with Jesus is not a religion, it is a relationship. And that could only happen once I peeled all the layers off the onion, all the dogma and ritual and opinions and history, two thousand years of jive, and rediscovered Jesus for myself.

When Gutenberg printed his Bible in the 15th century, the Catholic Church trembled in fear and anger, because it meant the word of Christ was now in the very capable hands of the general public, a public previously kept illiterate and ignorant and completely reliant on that dogma, on clerics, for their salvation. That was the singular event that spurred the Protestant Reformation, and it's been a power struggle ever since, but what you and I need to realize, all that means nothing on a personal level if we take Jesus into our own hearts, and read His teachings and let them absorb into every fiber of our beings.

It is a shame that, nearly six centuries since Gutenberg, the religious powers that be are continuing the same medieval struggle for hearts and minds, fighting over which dogma is the correct one, when the truth is, all such arguments fall limp and end once a sincere reading of the Gospels, without commentary or dogma, is attempted. All the garbage stops. And a new sensibility takes its place.

I've been looking for something to call myself ever since I had this revelation, like Jesusian or Red-Letter Christian. Until a better nomenclature arrives, I think I will consider myself the latter.

5:02 PM  
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