The setup is familiar for those who are, or were once, members of the evangelical community. Pastors from out of town, preaching their version of the good news for four hours, raising the spirits and testing the stamina of the faithful. This weekend, the Red Letter Christians are having a revival.
Despite the recognizable structure, the gospel being shared during Friday and Saturday night's events at the St. Luke Community Church in Dallas won't sound anything like what comes from the pulpit of America's white evangelical churches.
For the Red Letter Christians, a group started a decade ago by sociologist and pastor Tony Campolo, following Jesus means aggressively promoting social justice for all people, rather than doggedly pursuing political power, as many members of the Christian right have done since the 1970s and '80s, says Don Golden, the executive director of the group.
"There's always been this tension — especially over the last 40 years — with the intentionality of, say, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins and especially Jerry Falwell to enmesh evangelicalism into the mechanics of Republican politics," Golden says. "There's always been a tension here, but it's really come to the fore in the Donald Trump era."
Eighty-one percent of white evangelicals voted for President Trump in the 2016 election. Trump's presidency and the white evangelical community's apparent support for it have created a sense of urgency for the Red Letter Christians, Golden says.
"This desire to promote Jesus and justice has become much more acute," Golden says. "We think there are some significant things at stake. ... We have a desire to stand for the vulnerable. Who would've thought that we would be mobilizing troops to the border to protect America from migrants, many of them poor and very much the kind of people that Jesus said, 'If you welcome them, you welcome me.'"
People are leaving the church, Golden says, because they see it as being associated with Trump.
"A lot of people want nothing to do with Jesus and the church because they think it is associated with this kind of extremism," Golden says.
In December, at the Red Letter Christians' annual meeting in New Mexico, the group decided to have a series of old-school revivals to promote its alternate vision of what evangelicalism should be.
The group held its first revival in Lynchburg, Virginia, the home of Falwell's Liberty University, in April. Dallas was chosen as the site of the group's second event, in part because of the presence of First Baptist Church Dallas and its pastor, Robert Jeffress, who has been one of President Trump's closest evangelical advisers.
"There is a belief that the public preaching of the gospel is an opportunity for all of us to have our hearts challenged and changed," Golden says. "We want to give an opportunity to anyone to come and hear great preachers like Jacqui Lewis from New York City and Reverend William Barber, the recently named MacArthur Fellow, who has really taken up the mantle of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign."
Anyone who chooses to attend the revival will hear push-back against President Trump's agenda on behalf of marginalized people — like the poor, those who belong to ethnic or religious minorities and the LGBTQ communities — but they won't hear a call to join the Democratic Party, Golden says.
"Even if we are resisting Donald Trump, which we are as a matter of principle and on behalf of the weak and marginal and the threatened, we are not — we cannot — enmesh ourselves into the mechanics of the Democratic Party. We can't allow that to happen," Golden says. "Any sensitive reading of the whole Bible will find that there's consistently a prophetic challenge to power that begins to work against the weak and the marginal. The widow, the orphan and foreigner are the barometer of spiritual authenticity. Whenever power aligns against them, the prophets should stand up."
The Red Letter Revival is scheduled for Friday-Saturday Nov. 16-17 and is free to attend. Workshops run 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Evening revival services follow from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
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