Red Letter Politics

A review of Red Letter Christian by Tony Campolo

Red Letter Christians is a book about a Christians response to political issues. The title refers to the red letters used for the words of Jesus in many Bibles. Dr. Campolo implores his readers to follow the red letters of Jesus rather than aligning our political views with a party or tradition.

In recent years there have been several books that have attempted to separate Christianity from right-wing politicsasking us to examine important issues in light of biblical teaching. Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne, The Myth of a Christian Nation by Gregory Boyd, and A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren have all had a tremendous effect on the way I look at American politics. Red Letter Christians stands out from these other books because of its simple and practical take on important issues.

The book examines seventeen issues that are central to all of today’s political discussions (the environment, war, abortion, gun control, Palestine, education, minimum wage, government waste, etc) and challenges readers to take a “red letter” approach. As Campolo looks at these important topics, he comes to some conclusions that are very different from the typical Evangelical. At first glance we might say that Campolo leans toward liberal politics. The fact is, though, that many of his solutions are quite creative and would not be quickly embraced by either Republicans or Democrats. I found Mr. Campolo’s thoughts about gay rights to be especially compelling. He proposes that we should treat homosexual people with the same dignity, respect, and protection that we should afford any individual. While he does not believe that gay marriage would have a damaging effect on the institution of marriage, Dr. Campolo does offer a fresh solution to the issue of gay marriage by proposing that the government get out of the business of marriage, leaving it to churches to decide who they will marry.

Red Letter Christians also cuts through the hysteria that surrounds many issues and many solutions that have been proposed by various elected officials. Campolo examines the Kyoto Protocal (international treaty to address environmental concerns), the Roadmap to Peace (plan for peace between Palestinians and Israelis), the Brady Bill (gun control legislation), and Senate bill 1105 (extending hate crime laws to include sexual orientation). Campolo brings balance to these discussions and helps us overcome the fear tactics and partisanship that are so often central to political debate.

Since Red Letter Christians was written in 2008, some of it can feel slightly dated. While some of the situations that Tony Campolo cites are past, the heart of the discussion is still incredibly relevant. Red Letter Christians can be an important addition to your election year reading.

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