20 Sep 2017
I am confused about what the Bible says about the rapture. In I Thessalonians 4:13-18 and in I Corinthains 15:51-54 the Apostle Paul talks about the end of history being marked by a heavenly trumpet sounding and those who are “in Christ,” (meaning “the saved”) will immediately vanish and are “caught up in the air” to meet with Christ.
Having been raised on the theology of the Scofield Reference Bible I was taught that those who had not entered into a “saving relationship with Christ” would be left behind while true Christians would be raptured. It seemed clear cut to me that godly folks would be taken up to meet with Christ in the sky, and then taken to heaven, while the ungodly would be left behind to endure seven years of suffering times called “The Great Tribulation.” After that would come the final Judgment Day!
But then, as a Red Letter Christians, I read about another rapture which Jesus Himself talked about. Check it out in Matthew 13:41-42 and then in Matthew 24:40-41 and you will find that it’s just the opposite of what my Scofield Bible told me would happen when the end of times is heralded. In Matthew it’s not the godly people who are raptured, but evil people who will be raptured and then thrown into “a furnace of fire” where there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
Fortunately, there are Biblical scholars who can explain away these apparently contradictory raptures, and I’m glad for that. What I am trying to say is that things are not as clear-cut as these Scofield Reference Bibles told me they were. You need to read up on all of this, and there are books like Left Behind? by LeAnn Snow Flesher and The Rapture Exposed by Barbara R. Rossing that you might find especially useful. In the meantime, get on with doing God’s work in this world and let “the end” come, “whenever”!
15 Sep 2017
I usually turn off the T.V. whenever I come across those Bible Prophecy preachers. Their interpretations of scripture usually makes them into prophets of doom. They generally use the Bible to predict days of war and strife laying ahead of us, usually in the immediate future.
The other day, however, while reading the nineteenth chapter of Isaiah, verses twenty-three through twenty-five caught my attention.
“23 In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians.
24 In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land:
25 Whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.”
A day is coming, according to this passage, when Israel will be a blessing to Assyria (present day Iran) and to Egypt, with a highway running through Israel connecting these three countries. If we are to take the prophet Isaiah seriously (and I do) the future holds the promise of peace and harmony in the Middle East. That is real good news for those of us concerned about geo-politics.
13 Jul 2017
This past Sunday, while sharing The Lord’s Supper with fellow worshippers, I was challenged to repent of my sins. Before eating the bread that symbolized Christ’s broken body or drinking the wine that served as a reminder of His blood shed because of my sins, I did a lot of repenting. I did so, not so much to escape condemnation from God on judgment day, but in deep remorse for all the hurts my sins had inflicted on others. I remembered those who may have thought less of Christ because of having noticed things that I had said or done.
I am an old man now but when I reflect on my past I realize that there have been in my attitudes and behavior over the years expressions of the sexism that I now condemn. I know that there have been times when, in the face of racism and homophobia, I remained silent and did nothing – and that silence was sin. And there have been occasions when I have been disingenuous and compromised my testimony for Christ. It would be easy for me to go into specifics but I don’t know what good that would do. Deeds done in time are irrevocable.
All I can hope for is that on that day when each of us will have to give account of our sins that those who I have offended will have taken on something of the grace and forgiveness of Christ, so that they might respond to me as I know He will.
At this communion service this past Sunday, as I ate the bread and drank the wine, and most of all remembered how my sins have caused Jesus agonizing pain. Upon reflection I realized that none of the nails that the Roman soldiers drilled through His hands and feet hurt Him more than my own personal ugly sins…and, at this communion service, I repented – big time, and I inwardly wept.
26 May 2017
On June 18th I will be speaking at the Ocean City Tabernacle located at 550 Wesley Avenue in Ocean City, NJ at both the 8:30 and 10:30 am services. Your presence could be a great encouragement for me, and it will please me more than I can say to see you there. My topic will be, “Keeping the Faith in a Secular World.”
You may know that my son Bart, after years of serving along side of me in a variety of missionary ventures, confronted me with the news that he no longer believed in God. This stunned me and pained me. I will be sharing in my morning messages what I believe may have caused his de-conversion, as well as how I have responded to him.
I am by no means alone as a parent who tried to raise a child in the Christian faith, only to discover that his or her precious child has turned away from God. The Pew Foundation having studied this matter in depth has given evidence that young people who once had religious convictions and have been turning away from being people of faith at an alarming rate. That is why I am convinced that discussion on why children leave the faith of their parents, and what can be done to bring them back, is of ultimate importance. We all need to be open about the fears and concerns we have when those who are dear to us stray from a relationship with Christ.
This sermon will be hard for me to deliver, and I need sympathetic listeners to encourage me. Perhaps some in the congregation will learn something that will enable them to help others to deal with such a crisis. I need your help!
By Tony Campolo
Older white working class men have been hurt and are angry—and for good reason. They have suffered three-quarters of the eight million job losses caused by the 2008 financial crisis. The male-dominated industries of construction and manufacturing were the hardest hits by that recession and the effects are still being felt. Close to 20% of working class men in their prime working years were not employed by 2016. Sociologist will tell you that financial stresses are the major causes of marital disruption and there were many divorces and other family difficulties as a result of husbands being unemployed.
Progressive social justice preachers, like myself, have championed causes for every other oppressed group except for these older white working class men, whom we have often cast as “the enemy” in accord with the prejudices of some of our human rights groups. Perhaps this is one of the reasons they have drifted out of our churches.
We social activists have preached against global warning, which we believe has been caused in part by carbon emissions, and we have lobbied the government to put restraints on those factories that were guilty of such emissions. This, of course, caused many industrialists to take their factories and the jobs that go with them, and move them to other countries like Mexico and China, where restrictions on carbon emissions were not as strict as they are here in the United States. So when Donald Trump told them that he would financially punish those industrialists who try to take their factories out of our country, working class white men cheered.
Trump told them that they had been left behind by the social movements that the liberals in the Democratic party have espoused over the past half century, so it should not surprise us that they found in Donald Trump someone who expressed what they felt.
In the past, the Democratic party has claimed to be the party of the working class, but these older working class white men tended to see it as a party made up of an educated, latte drinking, haughty, and condescending elite with whom they could not identify, and that did not seem concerned with their plight. The Democrats assumed that because they were members of the working class they could take their votes for granted as they had before.
The possibility of winning working class people back to the Democratic party has not been helped by those party professionals who declared them to be people who stupidly voted against their own political and social interest. Nor did the Democratic party do itself any good when some of their “sour grapes” losers accused these neglected citizens of being Islamophobes, homophobes, xenophobes, and sexists. Many of the rest of us also may have harbored such unfair prejudices but have learned sophisticated, politically correct, ways of concealing them, knowing that these attitudes would be unacceptable in the circles in which we travel. Not surprisingly, there are an array of these working class older white men who really know this and mock our hypocrisy.
It is time for all of us to remember that Jesus did not find His followers among the elite of His day. As a matter of fact it was the religious and political elite who deemed Him a threat to their privileged status. They were the ones who eventually crucified Him. It was the working class folks, on the other hand, who heard Him and from whom he chose His disciples.
A prime concern of mine right now is that President Trump, along with his new cabinet members and his other appointees, could betray these older white working class men who have cheered their new president at his many rallies. There is growing evidence that they are introducing policies that could harm them. My hope is that he will respond to their hurts and frustrations in ways that will give them—and the rest of us—hope. Given the Wall Street bankers and financiers that Donald Trump has appointed to high offices so far, and, on the other side of the political aisle, the Wall Street billionaire operative who is now the Democratic minority leader in the Congress, I wonder if the concerns of these older white working class men on Main Street will continue to be ignored. I fear that could happen. Let’s pray for better things.
05 Aug 2016
On Tuesday evening, July 26th, at the Democratic National Convention, I was given the opportunity to deliver the benediction. It was at the end of the day’s program during which the convention delegates voted to make Hillary Clinton their candidate for the Presidency of the United States. I thought that the prayer should be as non-partisan as possible, while at the same time holding up Mrs. Clinton before the Lord. Also, I wanted to do my best to cite the social concerns that are of note in the discussions of Red Letter Christians.
Many of you listened to the prayer as C-SPAN broadcast me delivering it, and have responded by sending me emails and letters. Perhaps you would like to give me your thoughts on the contents of the prayer.
We are a nation that needs healing. Break down the barriers of race and ethnicity that separate us. Cure the sexism and homophobia that denies the dignity of so many of our fellow Americans. Help us to overcome our fears of refugees and show us how to love our enemies and overcome evil with good. Imbue our religious leaders with your love so that they will teach us how to transcend our differences and become one people.
Teach us how to beat our swords into plowshares and learn war no more.
We pray that the next president of our country will sense the obligation to reach out with our vast resources to minister to those who You called, “the least of these,” not only here in America but to needy people around the world.
May all of our political leaders be committed to making America into a people that strive to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, provide care for all the sick, speak justice on behalf of the oppressed, and make room for refugees, remembering Your own Son who was once a refugee in the land of Egypt.
On this memorable night, we pray for Hillary Clinton. May her candidacy send a message to women everywhere that the glass ceiling that has held so many of them down is being broken, and that a new day is dawning not only for women but for all people everywhere.
We ask all these things in Your holy name.
10 Jun 2016
by Tony Campolo
Red Letter Christians should try to be at the Ocean City Tabernacle (550 Wesley Ave., Ocean City, NJ 08226) on June 26th at 7:00 pm. Along with Mark Lowry (of T.V. fame) I will try to explain the unique spirituality preached by Jesus, as highlighted in the red letters in many bibles.
Jesus was quite specific about what we should do to prepare for intimacy with God; how we should pray, and what to expect to happen because of our prayers.
Here are some things I will address:
- When Jesus told us that when we pray we should, “go into a closet and shut the door,” He was telling us that prayer should be a time and place when we shut out the extraneous things in the world and be totally focused on Him.
- That prayer should be a time of surrendering to Him, and in stillness allowing His spirit to invade our hearts and minds.
- That prayer should be a time of “cleansing.” This happens when we name those dark things in our lives and allow Him to reach across time and space to connect with us and absorb those dark things into Himself.
- That prayer should be preparation for action. We should come away from praying empowered to do His work in the world. Prayer should motivate us to share the gospel with others and to work to end sexism, militarism, homophobia, racism, and economic injustice. When Jesus prayed it resulted in action, and it should do the same for us.
Mark Lowry, who regularly appears on television in Bill Gaither’s “Homecoming” concerts, will be joining me, and singing from his repertoire a variety of gospel songs related to what I have to say about prayer.
I hope you come to the gathering on June 26th. Red Letter Christians very much need the kind of deep spirituality that prayer can give us if we are to engage the world with Christ’s radical calling all Christians.
26 Feb 2016
By Tony Campolo – founder of the Red Letter Christians Movement
When Larycia Hawkins, a Professor at Wheaton College claimed that Christians and Muslims worshiped the same God, a major controversy broke out. Consequently, I was asked if I agreed with her. My response was to ask a question in return: “Do any two of us worship the same God?”
Each of us grew up in a different social environment. We were raised by different fathers and mothers who conditioned our various understandings of God by what they said and what they did. Also, the various economic classes from which each of us came, also gave each of us differing concepts of the nature of God.
Then there is the reality that our church and denominational affiliations highly influenced our understanding of what God is like. Who can deny that a person enmeshed in a fundamentalist church, with a strong emphasis on the penal-substitutionary doctrine of the cross, will have a very different concept of God then does someone raised in a liberal church which teaches that the cross is primarily an expression of God’s sacrificial love? Furthermore, we even must ask if males and females have differing images of what God is like.
Some of the words we use to help us understand the nature of God only serve to confuse us. Words like omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient have great poetic value but are beyond the comprehension of our empirically grounded minds. Can anybody really understand what these words mean? Is it safe to say that the knowledge and power of God is beyond comprehension?
Here is where Red Letter Christianity comes into play. All that we Red Letter Christians know about God is what we find in Jesus. For us, who God was and is, is discovered in God’s son.” In Jesus, the fullness of God is revealed.” (Col. 2:9) As we read those red letters of scripture, along with the divinely inspired black letters that describe the life of Jesus, we get a good look into the character of God.
There is still another way in which we can come to know God, and that is to surrender to the transforming impact that God can have in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. The more we are in a mystical communion with God that allows God’s indwelling presence to transform us into Christ’s likeness, the more we will understand God and the more the world will get some glimpses of what God is like. We are called to reflect God’s likeness to a confused world, and to the extent we do that there will be fewer questions about God’s nature and character, such as those that were raised about Professor Hawkins’s controversial statements.
10 Feb 2016
By Tony Campolo
Eric Hoffer in his seminal book The True Believer declared that a movement can exist without a god! Many movements have. The Nazi movement existed without a god, and Marxist/Leninist Communism was a movement that existed without a god. What Eric Hoffer goes on to say, however, is that no movement can exist without a devil. Certainly Hitler knew this, so he made the Jewish people to be the devil, and as such, had to be destroyed. He told the German people that all their problems, including their defeat in World War I, were because of the conniving of the Jews. We all know the horrors the Jewish people suffered because of this kind of evil propaganda that defined them as the devil. After World War II we Americans made the communists the devil, and we evangelicals preach sermons against the communist who we felt we’re everywhere to be found. I remember when the preacher in my home church called communism the greatest enemy that the church ever had to face, and that communism likewise had to be destroyed.
When the Berlin Wall came down Christians were left in a quandary. We Evangelicals needed a new devil to energize and grow our movement. We needed a devil that we said had to be destroyed, and with communism gone we established that devil to be in the gay community. To listen to some of our Evangelical brothers and sisters these days this becomes very clear. So many of them see gays as an enemy that must be stopped at all cost. In far too many cases Evangelicals have demonized gays and lesbians and have acted as though these homosexual people “are out to destroy the basis of Western civilization – the family”.
If you read the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) you will find that the ancient Jewish Prophets did something very different. They too believed that there was a devil that had to be destroyed, but they found that devil within themselves and their community. Whenever Israel was threatened, as they were by the armies of Sennacherib, the Prophets did not view their primary problem to be in the enemies of Israel, but to be what was in the hearts and minds of the people of Israel themselves. The Prophets, in the face of adversity, always called upon the people of their nation to examine themselves, to repent of their sins and to get right with God. They called upon the children of Israel to root out the demonic that was within their own lives. If they could do that and become yielded to God, then all would be well. It was not a devil outside of Israel that was viewed as their nations problems, so far as the Hebrew Prophets were concerned, rather it was the devil that was within the hearts and minds of their own people who were living in opposition to the will of God that was the problem.
We need prophets in this day and age who will stand against those who call gays and lesbians people who are demonically possessed. Homosexuals are not the devil who are the primary problem for American family life. Instead we need a strong call to righteousness within the heterosexual community. There is no question that family life in the Western world is falling apart. The divorce rate is high and the incidence of marital infidelity is scandalous. The number of maladjusted children coming out of dysfunctional families grows daily. In the face of these realities, we should realize, however, that families are in danger these days, for the most part, because of heterosexuals, not homosexuals. Heterosexuals are the ones getting divorces while the gays are asking if they can get married. If you can’t see the irony in that, then you have no sense or humor whatsoever.
When a friend of mine who is gay was told by a judgmental Christian, “I love the sinner but I hate his sin,” my gay friend responded, “That’s just the opposite of what Jesus said. Jesus did not say that we should love the sinner and hate his sin. Instead he told us to love the sinner and hate our own sin – and only then, when you are purged of your own sins, can you begin to talk about the sin we might find in the gays and the lesbians of the land”. Before heterosexual Christians look for the devil in the gay community, the should focus on the signs of demonic traits within themselves. When asking what is threatening family life in America it would be best if we first got rid of the beams in our own eyes before trying to ferret out the splinters in the eyes of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
Think about these things. This brief set of comments is not anything more than to say to my Evangelical brothers and sisters, we need more self examination and less condemnation.
25 Jan 2016
By Tony Campolo
Donald Trump has revealed something about we the American people. It is not just Republicans who are marching to his drum beat. If he becomes the Republican nominee for the presidency we will learn very quickly that he has very strong support among Democrats as well. Mr. Trump is a populist candidate who understands the intensity of the discontent and fears of a host of Americans. In the face of his challenges we must ask if we have become a people who have forgotten what we once claimed to be. At the base of the statue of liberty we read these words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! “
Do we still believe those words or do we resonate with Mr. Trumps desire to build a wall across the Mexican border? Are we ready to join him in stereotyping those undocumented immigrants who he described as rapists, murderers, drug pushers and thieves – while going on to say, in a condescending fashion, that “some of them might be decent people”. His willingness to discriminate against groups of people because of their religious beliefs – as he indicated he wants to do temporarily towards Muslims who want to enter America – is not only unconstitutional, but to many of us, it is immoral. He has suggested that thousands of these Muslim people danced in Jersey City on 9-11 without giving one iota of evidence. This ended up only feeding the anger and animosity towards Muslim people.
Mr. Trump’s sexist attitudes towards woman are well known and need no elaboration here. The more outrageous his declarations the higher his polling numbers go up. If you do not believe that Mr. Trump can win the presidency, than you underestimate his appeal to a huge sector of people in both parties.
There are some liberal clergy who have spoken out but the vast majority of the Evangelical clergy are remained silent on these matters. That Mr. Trump is opposed to gay marriage and abortion is enough for many to define him as an Evangelical and far too many of the rest of us think that that makes him okay for the presidency.
Evangelicals readily ignore our Lord who called upon us to welcome aliens and told us in Matthew 25 that if we fail to make room for the “stranger” we are rejecting Him.
The respect that Jesus showed towards woman flies in the face of those Evangelicals who ignore the degrading comments that Mr. Trump has made about woman, in opposition to the kind of respect that Jesus showed towards them.
Trump’s shocking statements about prisoners of war and especially about the heroic John McCain who could’ve been set free from his Viet Cong captors, but refused to leave behind his fellow prisoners, deserved some rebukes from Evangelical televangelists, but none have been forthcoming.
Some fellow Republican candidates (bless their hearts) have spoken boldly against Mr. Trump’s values and have tried to distance themselves from him. But I am still looking for notable Evangelical spokespersons or publications, like Christianity Today, to do the same.
The question I am raising is not about the character of Donald Trump, it’s about who we are as Americans, and more specifically, who Evangelicals are who follow after him. If he wins the Republican nomination, and the pundits increasingly believe that he will, I fear that my fellow Evangelical brothers and sisters for the most part will vote for him. This is why so many of us are calling ourselves Red Letter Christians instead of Evangelicals. Unless Evangelical leaders who sense that there is something radically wrong with Mr. Trumps social values and speak against them, there may be a new generation that may choose to call themselves Red Letter Christians because the word “Evangelical” will be carrying the baggage that the Trump campaign is presently carrying.
By Tony Campolo
Someone has said that Pope Francis is really a Protestant. He is, if Protestant is defined as someone who protests. His recent encyclical Laudato si’ is a protest against the often irresponsible industries as they pollute the environment.
The Pope especially protests the ways in which coal is burnt in the production of electricity. He is right to protest. What comes out of the smoke stacks of coal-fed electric power plants is linked to 50,000 deaths a year, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility. Because children and the elderly among the poor are the most vulnerable, the Pope, following his namesake, St. Francis, has a special concern for those that Jesus calls “the least of these.”
This encyclical is not just a plea for curtailing the pollution of God’s planet; the Pope is also calling for a change in our cultural values. In this encyclical, he protests the heightened individualism of our modern world that is concerned only with personal comfort and pleasure and, instead, he calls for an ethic that highlights a commitment to “the common good.” For Red Letter Christians that means that we must ask ourselves, before we do things that impact the environment, what Jesus would do if Jesus was in our place. There is no doubt that all that Jesus did and calls us to do puts the welfare of others above materialistic self-interest.
Like Jacque Ellul, the 20th century French sociologist, and the British economist, B.F. Shoemaker, this pope protests the technocratic society which is not only using up the earth’s non-renewable resources, but has created means of production that has been destroying meaningful work, creating unemployment, and generating low paying jobs among the poor.
In case you think that Pope Francis is some kind of Luddite, rejecting all forms of technological advances, you really should read Laudato si’. If you do, you will find that he very much encourages the kind of technology that will reap great benefits for the poor of the world. He singles out the invention and the deployment of solar panels as an example of good technology. This particular means for generating electricity could and should be made available to poor families, not only in America, but also in villages and hamlets in the third world.
Most of us have been unaware that the cost of solar panels has dropped 75% in the last six years, and there are indications that the costs soon will drop dramatically further. In light of that fact, Pope Francis proposes that as part of foreign aid packages, countries like the United States should require that receiving nations–as a condition for receiving fund– make solar panels available for poor citizens, rather than using their grant money primarily for the benefit of the rich.
Of course, this sets up the pope as an ideological enemy of the likes of the Koch brothers who are willing to spend 500 million dollars in the 2016 election to ensure that a Republican candidate becomes president, who is committed to stopping government endorsement and support for forms of energy that do not use fossil fuels. Their reason is that they have become billionaires through their investments in the coal and oil industries.
As influential as Pope Francis has become, I seriously doubt whether his Biblically based efforts to save the environment will succeed, given the opposition from those special interest groups that are focused on maximizing profits–even at the expense of the rest of us, and especially at the expense of the poor. But then, God’s prophets are seldom taken seriously during their lifetime. Let’s pray that Pope Francis is an exception. With God, all things are possible.
10 Aug 2015
By Tony Campolo
I want to be a non-violent resister because as a Red Letter Christian I am committed to taking seriously what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. There’s no way to read through chapters five through seven in Matthew without recognizing that Jesus called his followers to reject violence, “turn the other cheek,” and do good to those who would do us evil. Jesus told us that we are to love our enemies, and that probably means we shouldn’t kill them.
As I remind my fellow Red Letter Christians to be peacemakers, even as Jesus proposed in Matthew 5:9, I do so with some ambivalence. Realizing that the freedom to be a pacifist, or in my case a non-violent resister, was earned for me and for other likeminded Red Letter Christians by brave men and women who both fought and, in many instances, died in order to provide that freedom. In short, I have a sense of gratitude that there have been and still are men and women in uniform who did what needed to be done so that I could live out my commitment to being a conscientious objector and not serve in the military.
It is far too easy for me, living in the security of the United States, to say that “war is not the answer” because I live thousands of miles from those places where ISIS is about to take over villages and cities–where I know its hooded terrorists will rape, murder, and kidnap innocent victims.
I wonder how many others like myself, who declare themselves to be non-violent resisters in a cavalier manner such as mine, would remain non-violent in response to ISIS threats if ISIS was knocking on the doors of the places where we live.
Yes! I am still committed to non-violent resistance in the face of those who, as the scriptures say, would persecute me in spite of my innocence or “for righteousness sake.”
So it is that I stand for non-violent resistance with a troubled heart and mind, and I hope you can understand why.
By Tony Campolo
Shane Claiborne, one of the co-directors of the Red Letter Christians movement, has made abolishing the death penalty a major commitment. He not only has drawn up petitions to be signed by likeminded believers who want to declare opposition to capital punishment, but he has done his best to confront those government officials who order executions for capital crimes.
Shane’s fellow graduate of Eastern University, Bryan Stevenson, joined this effort as one of the nation’s top lawyers working to abolish the death penalty. Following his graduation from Harvard Law School (which recently awarded him an honorary doctorate for his leadership as Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative) he established himself as a lawyer who would seek to get men and women off of death row.
To date, Bryan has gotten more than 350 of such convicts delivered from execution and even has gotten some of them freed after proving them to have been unjustly condemned to die.
Bryan tells me that those who he has helped in the face of the death penalty have had one thing in common. They were all poor! Poor people, in all likelihood have had nobody who was really good to speak for them when they have their day in court–“Except,” says Bryan, “in Montgomery, Alabama! Because in Montgomery, Alabama,” he says, “I speak for the poor, and I’m good!”
Both Shane and Bryan were students of mine during the 50 years I taught sociology at Eastern University. They are two young leaders who grasp the meaning of those red letters in the Bible that highlight the words of Jesus, who said, “Blessed are the merciful for they should obtain mercy (Matt. 5:7).
Certain religious leaders contend that the Old Testament legitimates capital punishment–and they are right! But we Red Letter Christians declare that the teachings of Jesus transcend and take precedence over the teachings of Moses and the Laws of the Hebrew Bibles. Consider how many times in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus declares concepts of justice as “an eye for an eye” with what he called His “new commandments.”
Jesus was about mercy and grace, and Red Letter Christians know that they should be about the same practices.
“You are my disciples,” He said, “If you do whatsoever I command you.” That’s what Bryan Stevenson and Shane Claiborne are trying to do! We thank God for them!
By Tony Campolo
President Obama negotiated a deal with leaders of Iran in the hopes of curtailing for a decade their development of an atomic bomb. It is by no means a perfect agreement. It is important to note that this agreement curtails, during a ten year period, the development of enriched uranium, requires the destruction of most of centrifuges (essential for the creating of nuclear weapons), and, with some limitations, the inspection of sites where atomic research could be conducted.
The prime minister of Israel was outraged over the agreement, and his extensive influence over the U.S. Congress has generated significant opposition to these proposals on Capitol Hill. Don’t think the prime minister is unreasonable. If you were in Benjamin Netanyahu’s shoes, you probably would react the same way. He, along with the rest of the world, has watched on television as tens of thousands of Iranians gather in front of their Iranian parliament building and chant for hours, “Death to Israel!” There is further upset when the key religious leaders of Iran declare that they will settle for nothing less than the annihilation of Jews from the Holy Land.
Iran’s benefit from the deal that was negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry, on the one hand, is the lifting of the embargo that has crippled the Iranian economy and brought hardships to the poor of Iran. The Israelis, on the other hand, worry that when that economic embargo is lifted that Iran will be able to sell once again its vast oil reserves to amass significant financial resources which can be used to buy conventional weapons. And while there is a supposed eight-year embargo on purchasing arms, there are few who doubt that the Iranians soon would use these financial resources to purchase conventional weapons from Russia. If you can imagine living in Israel, that prospect would make you more than a little nervous. The Jewish people are asking if such weapons would be used to further equip Hezbollah and Hamas, whose soldiers are constantly threatening Israel at Israel’s borders.
The question that we have to answer is how we should react to this negotiated agreement. When we read in our Bibles those words of Jesus which are highlighted with red letters we ask ourselves, how literally are we to take them? All of us know that He called us to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9), and, more specifically, that He called upon us to do all that is possible to evade war through negotiations (Luke 14:31-32). On the other hand, Jesus warned us that when we enter into negotiations with those who have declared themselves to be our enemies, we are to be very careful. He said: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” There is little doubt that in those talks that were conducted in Vienna, John Kerry did his best to represent America as a nation seeking peace (i.e. doves), but the question that Israel is now asking is whether or not Secretary Kerry was as wise as serpents.
Secretary Kerry may not have come away from Vienna with the best agreement possible, nor did he come away with absolute assurances that the Iranians would fulfill their obligations. He did, however, make it clear that if Iran endeavors to subvert any part of this agreement that the former sanctions, with all their devastating economic effects, would “snap back” into place. That seems to me to be a wise amendment to the agreement.
The alternative to this agreement which hopefully would stop their atomic development plans would be to bomb Iran’s research facilities. This likely would result in another war, and most of us are of the opinion that war is not the answer.
Is the Bible unrealistic when it teaches us: “If thine enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirst give him to drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:20-21).” Shouldn’t we as Red Letter Christians try Biblical ways to deal with Iran to be implemented? Could helping the poor and hungry citizens of Iran to overcome their privations thaw their hard feelings towards us and Israel? Could doing things the Jesus way change everything?
Secretary Kerry didn’t get out of his negotiations with the Iranians everything he wanted for the U.S. and for Israel, but he did get a lot. Shouldn’t we support him and give this Vienna agreement a chance?
There is much to fear when dealing with the Iranians, but let us ask God for the grace to love our enemies, realizing that perfect love casteth out fear (1 John 4:18). That would give us the capacity to negotiate without fear, whether it be in Vienna with the Iranians, or wherever God may lead us.
21 Jul 2015
Next summer, August 24-28, 2016, I will be participating in what is called the Inaugural Global Congress on Sports and Christianity, to be held at York St. John University in the United Kingdom. Other speakers include Dr. Michael Novak from the American Enterprise, one of America’s foremost media commentators on the social issues that dominate the headlines of newspapers and television talk shows; Joe Ehrman, an All-American football player, writer of several books including the New York Times best seller Inside Out Coaching featured in Parade Magazine as “The Most Important Coach in America;” and Stanley Hauerwas, professor at Duke Divinity School, and considered by many as the most influential theologian in North America. These are only a few of what must be considered a star-studded list of speakers who will address this congress.
There is little doubt that sports have become such an overwhelming presence in the lives of vast numbers of people around the world that sports must be dealt with as a crucial matter for the church. Among those questions that must be answered by Christian leaders are:
- Have sports taken on idolatrous characteristics, becoming for many their “ultimate concern” (using Paul Tillich’s definition of religion)?
- What does a positive theology of sports look like?
- How has the urgency for winning altered moral principles, especially in light of the recent scandals that have plagued the Olympics, American football, soccer, and tennis?
- What are the implications of steroids and other drugs being used by athletes for young people who are being nudged to success at any cost?
- What are the positive effects that a winning team can have on a community?
- How have the inflated salaries of some athletes influenced the value orientations of young people, as well the devaluation of work within such fields as human services?
- In what ways can sports contribute to the development of Christian character?
- What does the Bible and the early Church have to say about sports?
- How have sports contributed to the social solidarity of communities and nations?
- How do economic matters alter the role of sports in society?
- What are the sexual implications of the ways sports’ celebrities behave?
- How are women treated in sports?
The subject of sports as a Christian vocation has been largely ignored, but this congress could be the beginning of a great and ongoing discussion concerning this issue. Sports are far too important to be left solely to media commentators to define for their roles in society. It is time for church leaders to join the discussion.
For information about how to register for this conference long on to:
Hope to see you there!
13 Jul 2015
I’m retired. That means that I don’t teach there anymore, but I still think that Eastern University is a really GREAT school.
The faculty is tops. Everywhere you turn in this academic community you will run into PhD’s. While most of them are outstanding authors, those on the faculty at Eastern are primarily committed to teaching. They enjoy the small class size that marks Eastern as special, as well as the opportunity to get to know students personally, and to be able to provide for them the kind of counsel that students need to optimize their potential.
Eastern is in the mainstream of Evangelicalism. Added to that is its well established commitment to social justice within its community. There is a variety of opinions on social policies, and there is room for divergent viewpoints on the social issues that confront our contemporary world. One graduate remarked to me, “my friends at some other schools are told what to think. At Eastern I was taught how to think!” One thing that Eastern’s students and faculty members hold in common, is a commitment to the values of the Kingdom of God. They take it seriously when they pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done; on earth as it is in Heaven.” That means that Eastern is endeavoring to raise up a generation of Christians who will invade every sector of society in order to be change agents for Christ. Eastern wants its graduates to be what Jesus called, “the leaven” – that means, to be people who permeate societal institutions in order to move them towards being all that God wants them to be.
Of course Eastern has just about everything else that a good school should have these days. Its campus has been voted by US News and World Report, as one of the most beautiful in America. It’s full range of student activities, including an outstanding athletic program, is such, that unlike massive state universities, creates the possibilities for all students to participate.
Because of Eastern’s evangelical roots and emphasis (go to Eastern’s website and check out the school’s doctrinal statement at: http://www.eastern.edu/about/our-faith) many students have come to study here who are oriented to full time church vocations. The school has one of the highest rated programs for youth ministry. Preparing students for missionary work both in third world countries and here in urban America is another one of the school’s specialties.
This university is seeking out committed Christians who are socially progressive in their thinking, and is, even now raising special funding for students who are heading into church vocations (http://campolocenter.org). I’m an old man now, but I look back on the days I spent as an undergrad at Eastern as some of the most fruitful and joy-filled days of my life. So when thinking about higher education, think Eastern!
I want to make a pitch to post high school young people for Mission Year. This is a program that recruits young people to spend a year as urban missionaries in some of the most “at risk” cities in America. These young people live in what is now being called “intentional Christian community”. Teams of ten to fifteen Mission Year volunteers live together in rented houses located in various “under served” neighborhoods where they go to work getting to know their neighbors, and sharing God’s love with them.
Every Mission Year worker gets involved in some community service program. It may be tutoring boys and girls, working with the homeless, talking to teenagers about what’s going on in their lives, helping a local Young Life club or being part of a neighborhood Bible study group. You certainly will be connected to a local church.
Each week there will be a meeting of all the team workers where high energy singing and good fellowship will nurture your soul. You will be given the opportunity to learn about urban ministry from experts in the field. You can even get college or masters credit for what you learn, experience and for your required reading. Every effort will be made to nurture your spiritual life so that at the end of your year of service you will be “on fire” with your commitment to Christ.
Here’s the web site: http://missionyear.org/ check it out, and sign up. You are needed!
Read Tony’s Article “The Perils of Well-Meaning but Short-Sighted Generosity” on Sojourner’s God’s Politics blog.
09 Mar 2009
Read Tony’s blog on Huffington Post, “Will Faith-Based Programs Go Sour on Obama?”
From the blog: “From the beginning, there have been some religious leaders who greeted the funding of faith-based social services by government with ambivalence. On the one hand, they believed that these religiously grounded programs needed extra funding and were pleased that the White House wanted to help. On the other hand, they had deep concerns about how government dollars would change the character of those faith-based ministries receiving this aid.”
27 Oct 2005
Click here to read a blog entry by Tony on Huffington Post titled “Evangelicals and Bill Bennett.”
From the post: “Bill Bennett has been a darling of Evangelicals since the publication of his Book of Virtues. It made him a hero because he espoused old-fashioned values that Evangelicals tout loud and clear. But has this hero-worship of Bennett curtailed their ability to criticize him when he makes outlandish statements?”