Saturday, October 28, 2006

He Wants Our Vote

Cartoonist Glenn McCoy reads Osama's mind:

Red-Letter Christians

Mark D. Tooley writes a mostly straightforward and informative piece on "Red-Letter Christians" for Front Page Mag. The term Red-Letter Christians refers to the fact that in many Bibles the words of Jesus are printed in red and, Tooley informs us, "these new 'red-letter' communicators and activists want to steer Christians away from concerns about marriage and abortion and towards anti-war activism and environmental causes":

Red-Letter evangelist Tony Campolo, in a column for, explained earlier this year what this new activist group is all about:

"We are evangelicals who are troubled by what is happening to poor people in America; who are disturbed over environmental policies that are contributing to global warming; who are dismayed over the increasing arrogance of power shown in our country's militarism; who are outraged because government funding is being reduced for schools where students, often from impoverished and dysfunctional homes, are testing poorly; who are upset with the fact that of the 22 industrialized nations America is next to last in the proportion of its national budget (less than two-tenths of 1 percent) that is designated to help the poor of third-world countries; and who are broken-hearted over discrimination against women, people of color, and those who suffer because of their sexual orientation."

Campolo insists that his fellow Red-Letters are not Republicans or Democrats but are simply people of faith who want to "jump-start a religious movement that will transcend partisan politics."

Toward the end of his essay, Tooley expresses his own concerns about the movement:

In short, Red Letter Christians want to demote the issues to which the Bible speaks directly in favor of other issues dear to the secular Left that rely on a grossly expansionist interpretation of the Bible. For the Red Letter crowd, Jesus' concern about the poor means a larger federal welfare state. The Bible's story of God's creation of the earth must mean that the U.S. has to endorse the Kyoto Accord. Messianic prophecies about world peace are interpreted to demand disarmament and abrogation of U.S. sovereignty.

In reality, the Bible and Christian tradition outline the plan of salvation and a code for decent living. They offer broad principles for ordering human life; they do not, as the Red Letter crowd wants to claim, offer specific legislative policy demands that conform conveniently with the platform of the Democratic Party.

In other words, the Bible commands us to do justice and care for the poor. It doesn't instruct us on what, in our particular socio-historical circumstance, is the most effective or just way to carry out that mandate. Good people can disagree on whether tax cuts for the better off are, or are not, an effective way to deal with poverty. The Red-Letter folk, however, seem to impose their liberalism on Scripture, interpreting it as demanding of us pretty much what modern liberals want to see enacted into law. They sometimes seem genuinely puzzled by the fact, for example, that other Christians don't see in the Bible a mandate for the modern social welfare state or for pacifism.

The irony of this is that Leftist Christians often complain that Republicans identify conservative ideology with the will of God which, they rightly say, is a form of idolatry. But then they turn around and write books like God's Politics in which they argue that if God were president he'd run the country pretty much the way Ted Kennedy would.

I think this is a problem people like Jim Wallis and others who claim to be offering a political third way create for themselves. Their ideological alternative, when articulated, sounds very much like a Nancy Pelosi speech and, as such, causes some to wonder whether their third way follows from a faithful rendering of Scripture or whether Scripture is being interpreted to conform to their political convictions.