Red Letter Christians

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Red Letter Christians began in 2007 as a community of Christian authors and speakers meeting for a time of fellowship and discussion of the pressing issues of the day. Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo gathered together friends who felt strongly that Western Christianity had lost its focus on Jesus and were concerned at the growing misuse of the word “evangelical” to identify a voting bloc. Their desire was a church that looked like Jesus and a recapturing of the term evangelical to mean a people who bring good news to the world.

This group, joined every year by new speakers and authors, continues to meet annually.

In December 2010, Red Letter Christians launched its blog as a home for the RLC network of speakers and authors to promote Red Letter living. On our site, you will find articles that challenge the way we think and live, all with the goal of emulating Jesus’ love, mercy, and countercultural way.

Challenging the popular image of evangelicals is one of the purposes of this movement. As our co-founder, Tony Campolo, says:

I want it to be known that there are millions of us who espouse an evangelical theology, but who reject being classified as part of the Religious Right. We don’t want to make Jesus into a Republican. On the other hand, we want to say loud and clear that we don’t want to make Jesus into a Democrat either.
Transcending partisan politics, Jesus calls us to make judgments about social issues as best we can when we vote, and to do so in accordance with our best understanding of God’s will. In doing so, we are to avoid partisan politics that lead to unnecessary, unproductive, and even dangerous divisions.

So what are Red Letter Christians?

Red Letter Christians hold to the same theological convictions that define evangelicals. We believe in the doctrines set forth in the Apostles’ Creed, which states the central beliefs the church has held over centuries.

Second, we are Christians with a very high view of scripture. The writers of scripture, we believe, were invaded by the Holy Spirit and were uniquely guided by God as they wrote.

Third — and this is most important — we claim that the historical Jesus can be alive and present to each and every person, and that salvation depends on yielding to Him and inviting Him to be a vital, transforming presence in our lives. The same Son of God described in the Apostles’ Creed will spiritually invade any of us who will receive Him (John 1:12) to initiate in us an ongoing process whereby we are transformed into persons who are increasingly like Him (1 John 3:2).

Today, RLC continues in much the same way it began. We continue to bring together prominent Christian speakers and authors every year for our RLC Speakers’ Gathering and through our Red Letter Revivals. The blog continues to be our main space for hearing from our diverse network. Shane and Tony host a weekly radio show to discuss Red Letter living, which is aired on Christian Premier Radio in the U.K. and transmitted via our podcast. And our daily Wake Up! devotionals provide concrete action steps to live out Jesus’ teachings.[1]


Red Letter Christians

Leaders Network

One of the goals of Red Letter Christians is to amplify, connect, equip, and sustain voices of professional communicators whose message is Jesus and justice. The people listed here are a part of our network – some blog here regularly and others don’t. All of them, however, are part of the RLC family and are following Jesus in unique ways. Connect with these professional writers, speakers, and artists. As of March 18 2020.


“Co-Conspirators” are faith-rooted organizations working on a national and international scale to bring about social change that aligns with the core values of Red Letter Christians, which we see firmly rooted in the life and teachings of Jesus, as concisely articulated in our RLC pledge. These are our partners, and we invite you to connect with them as well!


The Red Letter Christians are an organization that intends to offer evangelical Christians an alternative to the old, white, predominantly male, and politically conservative evangelicalism that they believe has led the movement to lose its way. A great political and generational divide has driven a wedge in evangelical Christianity since Trump’s election. More than 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for him, causing many Christians, especially those who are young, to move away from even identifying themselves as evangelicals. Red Letter Christians are committed to combating racism, gun violence, and the death penalty while supporting immigrants and the LGBTQ community. They describe themselves on their website as “taking the words of Jesus seriously.”

“Young evangelicals love Jesus,” explains Shane Claiborne, one of the founders of the Red Letter Christians, “but they’re deeply grieved by white evangelicalism.” The willingness of the prominent leadership to do the bidding of Trump is “one more sign that the old guard evangelicals have really lost sight of what is actually important to evangelicals.” Instead, he believes, the evangelical movement should be organized around the question emblazoned on the T-shirts of the volunteers registering participants at the revival: “What If Jesus Actually Meant The Stuff He Said?”

Claiborne sits behind a podium at the revival chatting with other speakers. The Tennessee native is hard to miss: tall, almost gangly, very thin, in his early 40s, dressed as if he threw on some comfortable clothes that just happened to be there. Claiborne’s laugh is big and contagious, and sometimes it’s possible to make it out over he noise of the crowd. Soon, the lights dim, and preachers, poets, musicians, and writers take to the stage. They talk about LGBTQ rights, feeding the hungry, caring for immigrants, being responsible for poor people, and the state of politics. The crowd becomes more and more engaged, shouting “Amen” and cheering their approval.

After another prayer, Micah Bournes, a poet and hip-hop artist from Long Beach, California, who describes himself on his website as “a creative man of faith” who “often speaks and teaches on creative writing, pursuing justice, and the way of Jesus,” makes his way to the center of the stage. Tall with a neatly-trimmed beard, he reads a powerful poem about militarism and violence while holding the Bible. “Live by the sword, die by the sword,” he says, alluding to the Gospel of Matthew. “Say you want peace, but forever make war.” At these words, Claiborne jumps out of his seat and pumps his fist in the air.

Claiborne is an author and one of the public faces of a new, young, progressive evangelical movement. He and his wife live in a religious community in North Philadelphia called the “Simple Way,” where believers live, eat, and pray together while partnering with a local food bank and helping neighbors in need. He has written more than a dozen books; his most recent one is Still Evangelical?, a collection of essays by Christians that takes a look at the state of the evangelical movement during the age of Trump. But Claiborne, who grew up in Maryville, Tennessee, in a religious family, attended Eastern University near Philadelphia, and majored in sociology and youth ministry, is mostly on the road, speaking at college campuses and other religious events. He has also traveled to several countries, including India and Iraq, to pray with the poor.

“The places that following Jesus has led Shane are not exactly the comfortable suburban environs that many evangelical Christians inhabit today,” Jim Wallis, the founder and editor of the Sojourners, another organization and publication that focuses on peace and social justice, wrote in the foreword to Claiborne’s 2006 book, Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. “Worst of all, his notions of fidelity to the gospel seem to directly counter the political loyalties that many conservative on the religious right have made into an almost doctrinal litmus test of faith.”

“His notions of fidelity to the gospel seem to directly counter the political loyalties that many conservative on the religious right have made into an almost doctrinal litmus test of faith.”

Claiborne’s version of evangelical Christianity is at odds with the type at Liberty University, which flourishes just a few miles away from the E.C. Glass High School. With 110,000 students, it’s the largest evangelical Christian university in the United States and was founded in 1971 by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who has a parkway named after him in town. Today, his son Jerry Falwell, Jr. is president of the university and one of Trump’s biggest supporters. Not letting allegations of sexual abuse and infidelity dampen his enthusiasm, Falwell told Fox News last year, “I think evangelicals have found their dream president.”

Choosing to hold the revival in Falwell’s backyard was no accident. Last year, after a bill to defeat Obamacare failed in the Senate, Falwell tweeted his disappointment in the three Republican senators whose votes ensured that it didn’t pass.

Falwell ignored Claiborne’s request, so the Red Letter Christians decided to hold a religious revival in Lynchburg and planned to hold prayer meetings on campus with students, faculty, and anyone who wanted to join. Falwell’s adulation of the twice-divorced, foul-mouthed millionaire during the campaign made some students on campus uneasy with Liberty’s embrace of Trump. “I made our intentions very clear,” Claiborne explains. This was by no means going to be a protest. They simply wanted to pray—something Liberty students do regularly.

But a few days before the revival was set to begin in April, Claiborne received a letter from the Liberty University Police Department informing him that he was barred from setting foot on campus or in the Thomas Road Baptist Church. If he did, he would be fined or arrested. “I’ve been arrested plenty of times in direct actions and protests and such,” Claiborne says. “I’ve been banned from places, but I’ve never been banned from a church.”

“I’ve been arrested plenty of times in direct actions and protests and such. I’ve been banned from places, but I’ve never I been banned from a church.”

The rejection by Liberty University is unusual for Claiborne. On Christian college campuses all over the country, “he’s basically a rock star,” says Randall Balmer, a religious historian from Dartmouth and a member of Red Letter Christians.

The group was founded in 2007 by Tony Campolo—a writer, sociologist, and minister to President Bill Clinton—and Claiborne. During an interview between Sojourners‘ Wallis and a country music DJ, the DJ said he had read some of the Bible, and while he didn’t always like what it said, he always agreed with the words in red. Some Bibles often print the words of Jesus in red, and the DJ thought a good name for the group would be “Red Letter Christians.” His suggestion stuck.

At the revival, after hearing from a gay pastor and a Native American woman, Claiborne takes the spotlight and tells a story. Before leaving Philadelphia to head to Lynchburg, a journalist asked him, “What are you all going down there to protest?” Claiborne replied, “We’re not going to protest, we’re going to pro-testify!” he exclaimed with the soaring delivery of a pastor getting fired up during a sermon. “We’re going to proclaim Jesus!” The crowd explodes in applause and “Amens.”

After the revival, Claiborne talks about the future of the evangelical movement. “The old guard is fading out,” Claiborne says. “White churches are hemorrhaging and struggling. But the church is flourishing in ethnic communities and immigrant communities.” But he doesn’t need to waste time in battles over the soul of the evangelical movement. “We want to stay focused on Jesus and want to stay focused on justice,” he says. What’s important to him is what was important to Jesus in the Bible when he reached out to help the poor, the sick, and the marginalized. “We’ve used our faith as our ticket to heaven,” he says, as opposed to using faith to help others. “We’ve promised people life after death when people are asking if there is life before death.”[4]

Red Letter Christians in support of the impeachment inquiry

At a circa October 2020 gathering of “Red Letter Christians” in Goldsboro, North Carolina, over 100 Christian leaders from across the country signed a letter supporting the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

Statement of Red Letter Christians in support of the impeachment inquiry as a search for truth

As Christians in the United States of America, we join together as people of faith to express our conviction that an impeachment inquiry is necessary to reveal the truth, hold President Donald J. Trump and other public officials accountable, and bolster democracy in the United States. We welcome the light of truth, honesty, and transparency that this moment affords our country, whatever may be revealed. We call for an open inquiry that shines light on this administration’s dealings behind closed doors and petition people of faith and integrity to join us in calling forth this light.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,” Jesus said (John 8:12). Jesus’ words and ministry highlight the connection between truth and the well-being of the poor, the sick, the immigrant, the imprisoned, and the earth. Likewise, we who follow Jesus must make visible that any President’s violation of his oath of office would harm the most vulnerable among us.

The current impeachment inquiry is focused specifically on whether President Trump solicited help from a foreign government in his 2020 re-election campaign, buried evidence of that solicitation, and then attacked the whistleblowers and Congressional representatives who brought evidence to light. The constitutional process that gives the U.S. Congress power to investigate and try a sitting President is needed in this moment, because none of us can know the full truth apart from this process. But we have already seen enough to know that the accusations are both serious and credible.

While President Trump claims there is an evangelical revival supporting him, we know there is also a revival of people of faith whose commitment to truth remains strong and vigilant. We are Christians who resolutely affirm Jesus’ teachings of justice, love, and equality — echoed in the basic values at the heart of our democracy. This is not a matter of partisanship, but of deepest principle.

For the sake of our nation’s integrity and the most vulnerable in our society, we call on fellow Christians to support the current impeachment inquiry. Now is the time to shine the light of truth. Please join us in praying that the truth will be revealed and set us all free.