24 Aug 2018
Every Monday night at 10:30 p.m., more than 150 young people squeeze into a backroom theatre connected to a bar in Brooklyn, New York. They would never call their gathering a church but if you ever joined them, you wouldn’t know what else to call it. For an hour and a half, they stand while a band led by a piano playing singer who they call “Reverend Vince” engages them with his music. The songs, mostly written by him, are often overtly Christian but his raspy voice and the beat of his music sound more like Woody Guthrie.
Reverend Vince started his program by singing a song he wrote entitled “Get Outta My Way,” with members of his band chiming in. The song picks up on Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees whom He considered to be barriers that kept people from experiencing God or embracing the lifestyle of the eschatological society He called “The kingdom of God.” “Get Outta My Way” points out the judgemantalism and legalism that far too often represent Christianity in today’s world. Reverend Vince notes the hypocrisy that is so easily visible in many of us who pose as leaders of the church. Over and over again he sings what Jesus might say to such contemporary Pharisees – “Get Out of My Way!”
In another of his songs, Reverend Vince sings about the ways that most Evangelical churches treat LGBTQ people, and speaks to a White House that not-too-subtly supports racism, misogyny, and the rich at the expense of the poor. He ends each verse with a refrain sung in blustering tones, “I Don’t Think Jesus Done it that Way!”
With a beat and a style that was somewhere between rock and rap, this very talented musician also sings some more traditional religious songs like, “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” and “This Little Light of Mine.”
What impressed me most was when Reverend Vince came off the only slightly raised stage, mingled among those in the packed out audience and had them join him in singing, “Don’t Give Up! We Need You Now.” Moving among the enthralled “congregation” he hugged people and it didn’t take long before everybody in the place started hugging and singing to each other “Don’t Give Up! We Need You Now.” As I watched this “happening” I wondered how many of those gathered there really needed the message of that song. I had to find out more about this amazing man, so I asked him for his story.
Reverend Vince came east from California to attend Union Theological Seminary in New York City and prepare for a preaching ministry. He was a musician on the side, to pay the bills and because he loved doing it. Then, one Sunday morning at the great Riverside Church, Vince Anderson heard a sermon preached by its pastor, Dr. James Forbes. “I felt like he was preaching right at me,“ Rev. Vince recalls now, “That sermon was about how each of us is charged with discovering what God has gifted us to do.” Reverend Vince realized that his gift was to write and sing music, so that’s what he does. That the music he was writing and performing fit better into a bar than a sanctuary, did not deter Rev. Vince from following the call he heard of Riverside Church that Sunday morning.
The rest is history.
A lot goes on in New York but you’d have a very hard time finding a better show than the one at the Union Pool Bar in Brooklyn at 10:30 p.m. on Monday nights and repeated for a second crowd at midnight. That’s where Reverend Vince Anderson and his amazingly talented band have church, and hold forth with music and messages that are truly “good news” to a “secular” audience that gets together every week in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. There’s no cover charge or admission fee, but Reverend Vince does pass his hat (literally) at the end of the show.
“We didn’t charge you to come in here.” he says, “That’s because we wanted you to come even if you can’t pay. If you can give something, put in a little more for somebody who can’t afford to be here.” I was generous, but still I’ve paid a lot more for shows that weren’t half as good. What’s more, the feast I had at the Union Pool Bar moved me as much as any church service I’ve ever attended.
At the end of the show that was so much more than a show, I could almost hear a voice from on high saying, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Many progressive Evangelical leaders have become increasingly upset with the image (often unfairly) of all Evangelicals as being homophobic, anti-feminist, anti-environmentalist, anti-immigrant, and unabashed supporters of the Alt-Right Republican policies. Thirty of them responded to an invitation issued by Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners magazine, to come together in Washington in order to consider adopting a new identity since the label “Evangelical” has taken on so much negative baggage. After much discussion, there emerged a consensus to henceforth designate themselves as Red Letter Christians. They came up with that name because in many Bibles the words of Jesus are highlighted with red letters.
These Red Letter Christians are ready to take the radical teachings of Jesus and endeavor to live them out. They contend that St. Paul, in his Epistles, gave Christians a theology, but in the red letters in many Bibles, Jesus prescribed a counter-cultural lifestyle, and the latter is what Red Letter Christians are all about. They by no means minimize the theology of Paul, but try to overcome the seaming neglect of the call to the radical countercultural lifestyle prescribed by Jesus.
Red Letter Christians generally hold to the orthodox Christian doctrines; believe the writers of scripture to have been led by God’s spirit in what they wrote, and call Christians to surrender to a transformative relationship with the spirit of the resurrected Jesus. While these beliefs could label them as religiously conservative by some, Red Letter Christians break from many fellow conservative Christians by embracing a progressive political agenda that includes environmentalism, an end to write privilege, Christian feminism, and justice for LGBT people. They certainly do not go along with those Evangelicals who declare Donald Trump as their “Dream President.”
81% of white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, and since his election, have continued to support him with enthusiasm. They have done so even though there are many who argue that his policies are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus. For instance, Jesus said blessed are the poor (Luke 6:20) while Donald Trump blesses the rich with a tax bill that will make the rich even richer. Whereas Jesus was into a ministry of reconciliation, this president has been into nurturing divisiveness and polarization. The Jesus revealed in scripture called upon his followers to welcome aliens but President Trump has been closing the door to needy persecuted immigrants. While Jesus called his disciples to be meek there has seldom been anyone in American politics who can match Trump’s egoism. Jesus requires repentance from those who sin, but America’s President has declared that he has never seen the need for repentance. The list of contrasts between what followers of Jesus are expected to be and do and what we find in Donald Trump seem blatant and long. Yet several of America’s most prominent Evangelical leaders refer to to him as the kind of president for whom they had been hoping.
The support for President Trump that has been shared by most white Evangelicals is in stark contrast to who many African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Native-American, and leading progressive Evangelicals had hoped would occupy the White House. Not surprisingly, it was only a matter of time before these Trump opponents would find one another and coalesce into an emerging movement. That movement, which had been brewing for more than a half dozen years via the internet, became visible on April 6th and 7th in Lynchburg, Virginia. That is when and where the first Red Letter Revival meetings were held. Bringing together some 350 attendees these meetings featured an array of speakers who took turns challenging white privilege, “American exceptionalism,” sexism, excessive military spending, homophobia, the oppression of African-Americans, the treatment of Native-Americans, and the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Committed to gender diversity, men and women were equally represented as speakers. There was also diversity with speakers from a variety of ethnic groups.
Lynchburg was chosen as the site for these revival meetings because it is the location of the ministries of Jerry Falwell Jr. and Jonathan Falwell, two of the most notable leaders of the political right-wing of Evangelicalism. Representing political positions at times diametrically opposed to the Falwells is Shane Claiborne, the president of the Red Letter Christians movement. There were plans for Shane to go onto the campus of Liberty University, the school founded by Jerry Falwell, Sr. and hold a prayer vigil there on the shooting range where Liberty students practice with guns that Jerry Falwell encouraged them to carry. Unfortunately, this leader of Red Letter Christians was barred from the campus by Falwell’s threats of arrest and a $2,500 fine.
The two days of meetings culminated with a call to discipleship wherein the attendees were asked to commit themselves to the radical teachings of Jesus in contrast to the “cultural religion” they believed was being propagated by too many politically alt-right Evangelicals. Up until these Red Letter Revival meetings in Lynchburg, which received wide media coverage, including a fall page article in The New York Times on May 29, 2018, the movement was largely propagated via the Red Letter Christians website. Now, however, the movement is picking up momentum and is planning additional RLC revival meetings.
It is likely that the next RLC revival in the United States will be held in Dallas, Texas, the buckle of the Bible Belt, with a special goal of challenging Rev. Robert Jeffress, the politically powerful pastor of the First Baptist Church, who has served as a primary promoter of Donald Trump’s presidency, even giving introductory speeches at many of Trump’s political rallies.
When asked how Jeffress and other “Family Values” Evangelicals could lend such unqualified support to Donald Trump in light of the alleged sexually immoral behavior of the president, Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council answered, “We Evangelicals believe in God’s grace and forgiveness.” To this, Red Letter Christian and a New York Times best-selling author, Frank Schaeffer, retorted, “This president has never repented and forgiveness without repentance is what the German martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer called, ‘cheap grace.’”
Red Letter Christians has a powerful ally who call themselves “The Elders.” These are Christian leaders who, from the 60’s up to the present, have been prominent activists, championing civil rights, speaking out against environmental degradation, opposing the war in Vietnam, standing up for the rights of women and gays, along with other hot button issues that have troubled the nation.
In May, Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners Magazine, and Bishop Curry, made world famous from his homily at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. “The Elders” – held a rally attended by more than 2,000 pastors and lay leaders at the National Christian Church in Washington to initiate their movement which they called “Reclaiming Jesus” (see www.reclaimingjesus.org). Following the rally there was a silent candlelight march to the White House where there were declarations of their calls for justice for the poor and oppressed.
Red Letter Christians is linked with The Elders and together we are becoming a formidable force for an alternative to the alt-right politics often propagated by segments of the Evangelical community. The movement has even gone international! In early May, Tony Campolo, a founder of RLC, and Shane Claiborne, the president of RLC, met with Steve Chalke and Ash Barker, two prominent progressive Christian leaders, in order to plan launching the movement in the United Kingdom, and even in Australia. Don Golden, the executive director of RLC, has been lying the groundwork for the movement in Peru. Don was able to use the Spanish translation of The Red Letter Revolution, written by Shane and Tony, to promote RLC among Peru’s Christian leaders.
Those who have been waiting for a countervailing movement among those progressive Christians and refuse to identify Jesus with either the Republican or Democratic parties should take heart and sign up with the Red Letter Christians at their web site and show up at their upcoming revival meetings. To do so, supporters should go to the RLC website, and then blog with them in the months that lie ahead (www.redletterchristians.org).
There was a time when mainline denominations shied away from conducting what might be called those “old fashioned revival meetings.” In efforts to portray themselves as thoughtful Christians, not carried away by emotional manipulations from the pulpit, mainline church leaders reacted negatively to what they often saw in wild-eye preachers who often came across as demigods.
The good news is that most mainline church leaders have grown beyond those negative stereotypes of revivalist preachers and now make room for what is often referred to as “traditional evangelism.”
Such is the case for Jessica Winderweedle, the pastor of the Kingston United Methodist Church, (located just a few miles north of Princeton, NJ). Jessica is having me speak to her people at 7:00 PM on the evenings of Sunday, October 1st, Monday, October 2nd, and Tuesday, October 3rd. One of the members of her small Methodist congregation and a driving force behind this evangelistic effort is Professor Kenda Dean, a professor at the prestigious Princeton Theological Seminary. These meetings are a daring effort for Jessica and Kenda to attempt at a time when such meetings are generally not the norm for mainline denominational churches, and usually not attempted by a small congregation. What they are doing deserves our support.
Needless to say, I am thrilled to be the preacher for these meetings, and I hope and pray that some really good things come out of this special evangelistic effort.
I know many people in the Princeton area and I hope that many of them will show up to support these meetings. I, personally, need your support. The Kingston United Methodist Church needs your support. If what happens there in early October proves effective, efforts like this one are likely to be replicated in other small but dedicated churches. Pray about this and attend the meetings if you can.
31 Jul 2013
A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD & GLOBAL CALL TO END CORRUPTION!
John Engle, a co-director of Haiti Partners, EAPE’s Core Ministry in Haiti, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from WorldBlu, an organization that promotes democracy worldwide in the workplace.
16 Jun 2013
Over the years, EAPE has created a variety of missionary enterprises that have impacted some of the neediest people in the world. Learn more about Cornerstone Christian Academy for school children who are growing up in “at risk” neighborhoods in Southwest Philadelphia, many of whom come from single parent homes or are being raised by grandmothers.
30 May 2013
Connect Leadership Ministries is a program designed to revitalize dying inner-city churches. EAPE is burdened by the reality that many urban churches are dying and we are committed to work with Connect Leadership Ministries to do something about that.
29 Apr 2013
Learn more about the people behind EAPE who keep track of the various ministries, and the work that is being done by the scores of EAPE’s full-time mission workers across the nation and around the world. They are responsible for making sure that your gifts to EAPE do more for Christ’s kingdom than any of us have a right to expect.
Tony is featured on CNN in an article about 9/11 memorial services. He spoke at Trinity United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Click here to read “With 9/11 Anniversary on a Sunday, Pastors Prepare their Sermons” on CNN’s Religion Blog.
15 Oct 2006
(This article originally appeared in the Orlando Sentinel on October 10, 2006.)
His act? A zing and a prayer. But seriously, folks. A funny thing happened to evangelist Tony Campolo: He’s fired up about politics and materialism.
Mark I. Pinsky, Sentinel Staff Writer
October 15, 2006
LAKE WALES — -Tony Campolo works a room a lot like a veteran Borscht Belt comic, his timing perfect, his punch lines practiced zingers.
Still, the house he is playing this morning — the Lake Wales Church of God, on the campus of Warner Southern College — could be a tough crowd for the fast-talking, left-leaning evangelist.
The conservative Christian school is about as distant from the Catskills as one could imagine, politically, culturally and geographically. Undaunted, the old master has hundreds of students and faculty in the modern sanctuary eating out of his hand within seconds.
Campolo describes himself as a Baptist — “but not a Southern Baptist.” He is definitely not a Pentecostal, he says, although he admits he is sometimes mistaken for one. “I talk so fast they think I’m talking in tongues,” he says, to gales of laughter.
Campolo, the son of a union organizer, talks about how materialism has corrupted Christianity, asking the crowd what Jesus would think about BMWs in church parking lots, in a world of want. “Can you imagine God wanting a status symbol?” he says, his voice thick with sarcasm.