Rev. Yme Woensdregt
“Red–Letter Christians” (RLC) is a movement of followers of Jesus who live out Jesus’ counter–cultural teachings. Their goal is simple: “To take Jesus seriously by endeavouring to live out his radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.”
They call themselves red–letter Christians because some editions of the Bible have the words of Jesus printed in red. For that reason, they write on their website, “we have committed ourselves first and foremost to doing what Jesus said. Jesus calls us away from the consumerist values that dominate contemporary America. Instead, he calls us to meet the needs of the poor. He also calls us to be merciful, which has strong implications in terms of war and capital punishment. After all, when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he probably means we shouldn’t kill them.”
Their values include nine statements, including the following three: “All people are made in the likeness and image of God.” “We respect and fight for the well–being of all people as children of God — especially those with whom we differ.” “We embrace and work alongside people of different faiths, erasing the lines of ‘us vs. them.'”
Shane Claiborne is one of the founding members of RLC. He also founded “The Simple Way,” a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in Philadelphia. In an article entitled, “Jesus is for Losers,” Claiborne writes,
“A few months back as I was getting ready to speak to a group of folks, the pastor approached me beforehand to point out that a couple of gay men were sitting on the front row, holding hands. He felt the need to point it out. ‘Are you going to say something about that, about homosexuality?’ he whispered. I laughed, and said, ‘I’m not sure what you have in mind. I could begin by saying I praise God that they felt welcome enough to come into this place, that I am glad they are here.’ That is not what he had in mind.
“I wondered to myself, following his logic, if he would then want me to ask everyone who had been divorced and remarried to stand up so we could give them a little firm rebuke. In fact, maybe we should just station folks at the doors of the church like bouncers in clubs — sort of a sin patrol. They could ask people as they enter the building: ‘Have you been prideful or greedy this week?’ And we could bounce all the nasty sinners out of the service. We’d be left with much smaller crowds to deal with. In fact, I would probably end up preaching to a small handful of proud saints, whom I could point my finger at, call them all liars, and tell them to leave as well. What in the world has become of us?”
Claiborne tells about a video project in which he went out onto the streets of Philadelphia with a video camera, and asked people to respond with the first word that popped into their head. He began with a few words to break the ice … like “snow” or “teenagers”. When people heard the word “Christian”, they stopped in their tracks.
Claiborne writes, “I will never forget their responses: ‘fake,’ ‘hypocrites,’ ‘church,’ ‘boring.’ One guy even said, ‘used–to–be–one’ (sort of one word).”
What a biting indictment of the church. The thing is that we follow Jesus, who was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. He ate with outcasts and sinners, tax collectors and hookers. So why don’t good Christian people have that kind of reputation? Why isn’t the church seen as a community of people who care about the “losers” of society? Why have we become known as joyless party–poopers, rather than joyful life–of–the–party types?
Jesus reached out to include all people. Period. Full stop.
Jesus expressed unconditional love towards everyone. Period. Full stop.
Jesus reached out to welcome everyone into the reign of God’s love. Everyone. Period. Full stop.
I also want to live like that. I want to be a red–letter Christian in that sense, to live in the same kind of exuberant, joyful, welcoming, loving, compassionate way that Jesus modelled.
One of the practical results of this is that I will be proud to be at a “PRIDE & Spirituality” Table with folks from other churches at PRIDE Day on May 28th in Rotary Park. We will join with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, saying that God’s love is so large that it encompasses everyone, without exception.
The example of Jesus shows us that whenever we embrace another, we will find God. Whenever we include and welcome another, we will also be welcomed. As Jesus did, we must continue to foster a climate of inclusiveness, knowing that all people have value and dignity as people of God.
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will, surely, perish together as fools.”
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook