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Red Letter Christianity

Today's blog is inspired by the April/May issue of CrossLeft Matters, "The Red Letter Christianity Issue".  This issue of CrossLeft Matters heralds a new populist approach to the Bible— a Red Letter Christianity, referring to Jesus’ words, highlighted in red in many Bibles. It is inspired by an emerging progressive Christian movement that honors and exalts Christ’s revolutionary love; where compassion, inclusion, and spiritual courage persist in the face of intimidation and fear, where concern for the least among us is forefront, and where Christ’s sacrifice and forgiveness for humanity is not forgotten.

Specifically, CrossLeft has recently formed a think-tank, the Institute for Progressive Christianity (IPC), which seeks to study, translate, and embody Christ’s example in concrete, accessible public words, thoughts, and deeds. IPC’s flagship project will involve comprehensively researching Biblical passages (starting with the “red letter” subset dealing with Jesus’ sayings) tabulating how many and to what extent these passages are philosophically and practically “progressive.” IPC then intends to cross list these under various policy areas (poverty, environmentalism, etc.) for easy reference in public discussions and debates. This will serve as a basis for summaries, rapid responses, and policy positions to be used by the lay public, policy-makers, and other religious groups. We invite you to extend your spiritual, creative, financial support in helping us with these efforts. Together we will succeed.

The articles in this April/May issue of CrossLeft Matters present a simple choice: compassion, inclusion, and love, on one hand, and judgment, exclusion, and violence on the other

  • “Two Christianities” draws forth the central and neglected teachings of Jesus and shows both how those teachings have been ignored or downplayed by dominionist Christian sects interested in narratives of aggressive power, and how the gentle, true strength of Jesus might be reclaimed and embraced by us.

“Two Christianities”

This article draws forth the central and neglected teachings of Jesus and shows both how those teachings have been ignored by Dominionist Christian sects interested in narratives of aggressive power, and how the gentle, true strength of Jesus might be reclaimed and embraced by all of us. Dominionists call for a vengeance-driven and forceful seizing of the governing mechanisms of the world as a way to establish the Kingdom of Heaven. Progressives call for inclusive, compassion-driven action to establish the Kingdom. The Dominionists’ neo-Inquisition tendencies are not simply “fringe”, as no less than Oklahoma U.S. Senator, Tom Coburn, has called for the death penalty for abortion providers. Dominionists mean business. They are as committed as Progressives, and they believe that their views are morally and spiritually justified. As Ms. Hodges points out: “The question becomes, which path do we wish to follow.  Which path leads to the kind of life we want to have?”


  • “In a CNN interview aired October 24th, 2004, Falwell said, “…you've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops. And I'm for the president to chase them all over the world. If it takes 10 years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord.” The problem with this is that Jesus never killed for the kingdom of God. Nor did he ask any of his followers to kill in his name.  He never started an Army of God. (Citing a progressive Christian bumper sticker) When Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” he probably meant not to kill them.”
  • Progressives Christians do not agree with Jerry Falwell or George Bush.  They look at the stories that Jesus taught and the things that Jesus did and see in them an ethos for living loving and compassionate lives that do not derive from authoritarian means.
  • Though the fundamentalist perspective can be pulled out of various verses, the overwhelming narrative of Jesus is that of love, non-violent resistance to injustice, acceptance of and care for the least of these, and non-judgmental compassion.
  • The practice of justice and love was of paramount importance to Jesus not the outward symbolic gestures of doctrine and dogma.  It was not so much what you believed but how you acted that mattered.  He deliberately ate with outcasts and interacted with women and he touched those considered untouchable showing them a compassion he felt compelled by God to give.  His actions were provocative and offensive to those who lived within the boundaries of traditional conservative thought.
  • The Book of James talks at length about faith (dogmatic belief) and works (caring for the least of these).  “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.  You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder."
  • There are two ways.  One way is building the peaceable kingdom on earth, which is supposed to be a reflection of Heaven. (On earth as it is in Heaven.) This is here-and-now love where the ends do not justify the means. It does not make sense to kill people in order to achieve peace…The other way is apocalyptic fear brought to us by Christians seeking the kingdom of God through annihilation, blood-soaked war, power-filled propaganda, extermination, and obliteration – all in the name of a peace at a future time. 

To see the full article and webzine go to www.crossleft.org.  It will be going live tonight.

Posted by Kety Esquivel on May 22, 2006 at 01:51 PM | Permalink


Thanks Kety for your thoughtful reflections, and for joining us here tonight. The IPC sounds like an interesting, challenging, but somewhat daunting endeavor. How successful have your initial efforts been?
I too see little agreement between my beliefs and those of the current administration whose every move divides neighbors, feeds on fear, and uses aggression to control. They do not speak for me or for millions of Americans, and hopefully the coming elections, both in 2006 and 2008, will make that opinion quite clear.

Posted by: Bob | May 22, 2006 2:57:59 PM

Hi Bob, You got it.

Realizing that we were guest blogging on My Vote is My Voice tonight, a few of the members of the CrossLeft leadership team put our heads together and came up with the idea of drafting our blog directly from this issue of the webzine. =-) The contributions therefore should be attributed in large part to Linda Hodges and Zeus Yiamouyiannis.

It really has been an interesting, challenging and daunting effort! No one said this would be easy. But it needs to be done. & we have an amazing team of people committed to making it happen.

The response to our initial efforts has been phenomenal. It seems like there are many people who are interested in becoming involved and/or contributing to our efforts in one way or another.

The IPC is non-partisan.

But like you, I too see little agreement between my personal beliefs as a Christian and many modeled by the current administration.

I think that ultimately this election will come down to voter turn out- if people choose to be in action, then there will be an outpouring of this sentiment come election time.

Unfortunately, I do think that that is still an "if" conversation.

Posted by: Kety Esquivel | May 22, 2006 7:05:19 PM

Kety - elections are interesting things. I'm still not sure the young voter is "there" and aware, or concerned. I see a lot of senior or almost senior citizens concerned and even running for office - but I'm not sure politics is on the mind of the average 20-30 year old. That really hasn't changed much over the years even though the electronic media "appears" to draw a younger voter base - it's still true - will they actually vote. So the challenge is there to meet.

Posted by: Bob | May 22, 2006 7:57:51 PM


We couldn't agree more. The Red Letter Christianity project is going to dissect those differences between the expressed faith of the Religious Right and Bush with the actual policies they pursue. As the bumper sticker says: "When Jesus said 'Love your enemies", I think that means don't kill them."

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | May 22, 2006 8:07:30 PM

Hi Stephen - somehow we got the message all messed up - it's been pointed out by Edward O. Wilson amongst others that we are the only species that kills other species to dominate. The rest of the natural world kills to eat and survive - we destroy other species to have complete control. We will of course pay for this - and perhaps already are. Can a Christian belief reconcile amongst itself to live a more forgiving life - so that we can meet the other religions of the world on a more understanding and caring manner?

Posted by: Bob | May 22, 2006 8:16:25 PM

Kety - explain a little about "webzine" and it's message...is there a target group or region for this?

Posted by: Bob | May 22, 2006 8:26:58 PM


I think CrossLeft and sites that you new technology are engaging a younger audience in politics and faith. There was a lot of talk about engaging faith at the network of spiritual progressives conference this last week. Talk is one thing, but action is another. Disappointingly, there were not a lot young people at the conference.

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | May 22, 2006 8:28:08 PM

Young Voters- that's a big one- a tremendous opportunity. I know that they (we) are out there. =-) It's just a question of our finding ways to becoming involved, stepping into leadership- feeling like there really is a place for us & I think that the role that non-young ppl can play with that is creating a seat at the table.

Posted by: Kety | May 22, 2006 8:32:40 PM

The webzine provides CrossLeft an opportunity for us to get deeper on issues than we would in a normal blog entry. the back issues are here:


Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | May 22, 2006 8:35:08 PM

I think young people are too busy being engaged in themselves - which isn't a bad thing - but doesn't leave much time for politics. Though when I was in college during the Vietnam War there was lots to get angry about and engage with. War these days seems to be a far away thing unless a family member is directly involved. And politics, much like boxing, is at an all time low for peoples sympathy. Still, one would think that they would want to gain some control over this environment - both personal and political. How do you see moral values making them more aware and thus more engaged? And how might this be result in more direct involvement?

Posted by: Bob | May 22, 2006 8:35:49 PM

Kety - I think your expression of "leadership" as a quality younger voters would be looking for is indeed the key. My early political efforts revolved around licking stamps and addressing envelopes to the electorate. I enjoyed talking about politics, and engaged in night long conversations about war, peace, justice and the like. It was "exciting!" That's what we need to tap into again.

Posted by: Bob | May 22, 2006 8:40:18 PM

Building on Steve's comments, a few more thoughts on the webzine- the target audience is the same audience as CrossLeft's:

1.) Progressive Christians
2.) Our Christian brothers & sisters who might not be progressive but who are open to being in inquiry and conversation
3.) Progressives who are not Christian but who could stand a lot by being aware of and inclusive of Progressive Christians

Our focus is national but we get many hits from around the world.

Posted by: Kety | May 22, 2006 8:45:17 PM

Kety - I'm still kind of interested in the regional basis for IPC. Is the group contributing and involved include all regions and sectors of the country?

Posted by: Bob | May 22, 2006 8:49:31 PM


This thing is nation wide. CrossLeft's members come from across the country...red state and blue state.

The IPC will be housed in DC, but contributors will come from across the country.

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | May 22, 2006 8:51:49 PM

OK - so you answered by question. How are you gathering this information and when might the initial results of you efforts be available?

Posted by: Bob | May 22, 2006 8:52:05 PM

I think that feeling like what they are up to is really making a difference in the world is what it will take to rally our generation.

Although we are very different from those who came before us, we are also very similar and I know that many young ppl get jazzed when they realize that they have a role to play in creating a better world. It's the shift from cynisism to empowerment. & the shift from being talked down to to being included and choosing to be the leaders that are envisioning & driving the solutions. & I think it will take the support and mentorship from those that came before us. But not in a top down way.

Posted by: Kety | May 22, 2006 8:52:53 PM

Hi, All -

I think the third point you make Kety is important. Progressives who are not Christian can get something from Progressive Christians.
Fundamentalist Christians have done such a good job of declaring themselves to be the only real Christians that other progressives are fearful of engaging with anyone who calls themselves by that name!
CrossLeft is doing a great job of letting the public know that there are other Christians out there with a differnt message -- one that will resonate with them!

Posted by: Linda | May 22, 2006 8:56:31 PM

Kety - Wow, that's great. I try to do that in my classes and the comment usually comes about that they're part of the conversation, their ideas do count - they can pursue their own ideas and dreams. Now that's the real route to travel. Empowerment from the ground up! Great!

Kety, Stephen, Linda and Zeus - our time is about up. Thanks for being part of MViMV - and thanks for all your efforts with WebZine and CrossLeft - it's a great message and I hope we're all successful in the upcoming elections and the word of truth and peace prevails. Thanks...

Posted by: Bob | May 22, 2006 9:01:28 PM

The Institute will launch in early September. Before that time, we're doing calls for papers, innovative ideas, and thoughts from folks around the country. We've instituted an academic review panel to edit and review papers that are coming in. Our first journal should be out in the fall.

CrossLeft will be continuing to organize progressive Christians online. This summer we're launching our offline efforts organizing in communities around the country.

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | May 22, 2006 9:04:27 PM

Stephen - please keep us informed of your progress with the journal and grassroots efforts throughout the country. This is an interesting and vital endeavor. Thanks...

Posted by: Bob | May 22, 2006 9:08:38 PM

Bob, Thanks for moderating. I always like the conversations on My Vote is My Voice! Check us out online.

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | May 22, 2006 9:09:34 PM

Empowerment from the Ground Up.

That's the whole idea behind the Dean inspired movement right?


& that's definitely our approach at CrossLeft-
Giving people a place to not only stand but also step into leadership.

Thank you Bob for inviting us to My Vote is My Voice for a wonderful night of guest blogging!

We look forward to joining you again in the not too distant future.

Posted by: Kety Esquivel | May 22, 2006 9:27:31 PM

Young voters repel after many references to Biblical Scripture. How important is it to go deep and heavy into the specifics of the Bible? I see young people tuning out when they hear religious/Bible speech and the same can be said when they hear dull political speech. I think the theological and political experts need to adjust their tact first. These younger voters need to feel that the public square is conducive to their level of thinking as well. We are all voting adults. However, people in their late 30s and up are into very different patterns of thought, of which I'm not so sure are any healthier (we all tend to become more conservative by nature as we grow older, right?).

Posted by: Danny | May 22, 2006 10:41:23 PM

Danny - you're right on both counts. Younger people tend to perceive religion and politics as something that has nothing to do with them. When obviously as Kety has pointed out - if they become part of the process and see themselves as leaders - there's a huge amount of energy ready to be tapped. And yes, we all do tend to become more conservative with age - all the more reason to "shake the tree" early on in life. The real challenge later becomes maintaining that idealistic view of the world and oneself all through life.

Posted by: Bob | May 23, 2006 9:20:24 AM

Thanks, but I think you're missing my point a little. What I was saying is that the process isn't inclusive for them (younger adults). ARe they less mature, less experienced? I'd say probably yes, they are. However, they are well on the way in recognizing leadership skills. Younger adults well below the age of 30 are still adults and function better than people over age 60. I'm almost beyond the point of worrying about all this "faith" rhetoric. What I'm bothered by is inflexible "dialogue" and undisciplined “LEADERSHIP.” There is a vital element in intro of organizational communication here that reeks – frankly. If you’re a proud parent of suburban America, you’re time is here to pitch in like ya neva have befo.

The truth is that we can’t keep up socially or otherwise. On the flip-side general processes of our body politic nowadays have become AS narrow and stodgy. What have we if not our GOVERNMENT to lead in simple citizenship and patriotism? The only time I remember an elderly group “storming the Bastille” (that’s pretty sarcastic) for tough, smart government was the last time I pulled out my VHS copy of ‘Cocoon’ and watched it. This younger adult’s base transcends the hippie generation of the late 50s and early 60s. And that’s exactly how important they are to you and me in 2008. As someone who just turned 30, it makes sense.

Posted by: Danny | May 23, 2006 6:11:44 PM

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