A Liberty Dad’s Response to The Red Letter Christians Open Letter to Jerry Falwell Jr


Dear Shane Claiborne and The Red Letter Christians,

Yesterday, in a small Texas town, a man with a gun walked in and slaughtered men, women, and children. As I write this the death count stands at 26, and there are still victims in critical condition. I can’t imagine the horror of this scene or how this will change the lives of the families and friends of those who were shot. I don’t know how communities ever really recover from something like this. How do they learn to even breathe again?

Over the past week we’ve seen the blogs and social media fired up about a situation at Liberty University involving Jonathan Martin, a man who was removed from the campus for wanting to hold a time of prayer and protest over certain political situations he strongly opposes. From his words, he also has problems with the “counterfeit gospel” he believes Liberty University is preaching to its students. From what I’ve read from Mr. Martin’s social media page, I probably could have quoted even harsher terms.

Two of my kids, Max and Kaitlin, attend Liberty and call the school their home for the next few years. I also spent a few years there in the early 90’s. Max is an amazing dude, and even though he was the strongest guy on his football team in high school, there was never an air of entitlement about him. One of the things I love about Max is his deep kindness towards others, no matter how different they might be from him. He would protect anyone who needed his help, and never has been afraid to put a bully in his place, when necessary. He loves the Lord and his life is a testimony of God’s goodness.

Kaitlin spent the summer of 2016 in the Bahamas working with Bahamian children at a Christian camp. Her life was changed forever as she experienced the world in a completely different way. The pictures of her and those kids still rocks my world, and we are all so proud of the young lady she has become. Liberty has made an incredibly positive impact on her life, as she grows in her maturity, knowledge, and faith. When they call me I’m just so thrilled to here the wonderful things happening in their lives and to experience their joy in this time.

These are two of our six kids. The oldest of the bunch, you might say. They are blazing a trail of lives reflecting kindness, love, generosity, humility, and peace and both of them are 100% sold out to Jesus. As a dad, I couldn’t be more proud.

And as a father of two students at Liberty University, I have a lot to say regarding the recent developments with Jonathan Martin and yourself and the Red Letter Christians. A lot of it actually ties into what happened in Texas yesterday and what you could actually do about it. And I’ll get there in a moment, I promise, but there’s something I want to share first.

About six months ago I joined a Facebook group called the Light Writers (now disbanded), which, for the most part, is a group of writers who we would agree are more liberal minded Christians. I paid deep  attention to the writings of other’s who referred to themselves as “Christians”, yet held views a good bit different from my own. I read their writings carefully, and sometimes prayerfully, and compared their teachings against the teachings of Jesus. But can I tell you what I learned the most? These Christians are too often heralders of labeling and name calling anyone who calls themselves a Christian, yet doesn’t agree with them politically. Right now, in just a matter of moments, I could throw up tons of links to blogs and posts from folks you are connected, who save their harshest words for those they disagree with politically and from a theological standpoint. The hostility was shocking, and I was surprised at the unwillingness to sit at a table and break bread with those they disagreed with. The mocking publicly was probably what concerned me the most, much like the mocking of Jerry Falwell Jr as perpetrated by Jonathan Martin.

Let me be as clear as possible. There are videos all over YouTube, hundreds if not thousands of blog posts, and unending posts on social media of what we might call Progressive Christian leaders mocking, taunting, and rudely speaking of conservative Christians. Matthew 18:15 is thrown into the wind, as platforms are built, books are sold, and somebody’s post goes viral. This is the world you have helped to create, Shane. If you think it’s not, I encourage you to open your eyes and drown in the sorrow of Jesus’ heartbreak as you and your friends harass and harangue conservative Christians publicly. And this is done supposedly in the name of Jesus?

Did you know what was interesting about the Pharisees? They weren’t counter culture at all, actually. In fact, they  were right in line with the culture, and very well  would have voted in line with most of America, and not cared about an electoral college. They promoted works, didn’t they? They promoted all the good they did against what other’s didn’t do. 2,000 years ago they were the experts in heaping heavy and confusing moralisms on the followers of Jesus, and they did it by labeling others and calling them out publicly. Do you see what I’m conveying to you and Red Letter Christians? Do you see how it is impossible to ridicule, mock, and harass others, and still be a follower of Jesus?

I wish you were on a plane right now. Sitting next to your new friend, Jerry Falwell Jr. The man you would have reached out to in love and peace. The two of you could be our conservative and progressive Christian leaders on your way to Sutherland Springs, Texas to pray for and sit with those who are broken and fighting off feelings of hopelessness. What would it look like if you two men could walk into a room together, arms wide open and to just be the best of all of us to a broken and hurting community. Sure, you and Jerry Jr might have startlingly tough conversations on the plane there, but it would be worth it, wouldn’t it? Would it be worth it to actually build a real relationship with someone you completely disagree with in so many ways?

But we don’t build relationships on stages and in public forums, do we?

The obvious intent of the Red Letter Christians is to stand in front of thousands and try to one-up men like Jerry Falwell Jr, and then seep your influence to the students of the largest Christian university in the world. As a father of two current students, let me be frank and say you haven’t earned the right to be heard, and if you think you have, you need to go back and really take a look at the toxic narrative you’ve helped build. You have taken cheap shots from the cheap seats, Shane, and so have the Red Letter Christians.

You could stand up today, Shane, and say enough is enough. You could persuade your friends to stop these divisive, harsh, relentlessly belligerent and hate-filled monologues, and fill the air with the goodness of Jesus and a new hope for all Christians in America. You could be the pivotal person in uniting the Progressives and the Conservatives, and be a voice of kindness and compassion for everyone, including those you staunchly disagree with.

Let me be as clear as I can be. Until you and your friends can stop this blindingly toxic narrative against Conservative Christians, you don’t deserve a seat at the table. We want to focus in on those who need Jesus the most, those who want to know more about him. We want to bring hope and goodness and peace to our world, and we know the source for all of that is Jesus. I’m not for Jerry Jr or anyone else wasting their time saddled down in conversations folks who have been so disrespectful before you even  uttered a word face to face. Do you see any of what I am sharing with you?

Let me also share this – there is no scenario Jerry Falwell Jr wouldn’t be about the toughest hombre in a debate. He speaks in front of thousands on a weekly basis, and was a practicing lawyer for decades with a degree from the University Of Virginia Law School. His skill set, education, and experience would make for an excellent debate with you and your friends, I’m quite sure. But, I’m still against it, at least until you can preach peace for all Christians.

I will pray for you, Shane, The Red Letter Christians, Jonathan Martin, and all of your friends. Even though you all have been quite busy as you tie up heavy burdens and lay them on more conservative Christian’s shoulders, and won’t lift a finger to help, it doesn’t mean that I’ve given up hope. And sure, I understand the context of Matthew 23, but go back to what I shared about the Pharisees one more time and ask yourself why so many of us are speaking out against these antagonistic attacks by Progressive Christians. This is exactly what you and your friends have done when you oppress those you disagree with in your toxic and belligerent attacks publicly. Again, if you think I’m exaggerating, I can supply endless links. But you and I both know I just don’t need to.

And this is why you and Jerry Jr aren’t on that plane to Texas today, isn’t it? You have found your enemy, and you want to stand with your “Goliath” and slay him in front of as many people as possible. In front of as many Liberty University faculty and students as possible.

My final thought is from the scripture you reference in your open letter to Jerry Falwell Jr  –

“From Isaiah 58 to Luke 4 and Matthew 25, the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ speaks prophetically against false religion that props up injustice.”

Is this the only Jesus you know?

What about Jesus words, as I mentioned earlier in Matthew 18:15? Or in Luke 6:35 when Jesus says “But love your enemies, and do good to them” or in Luke 6:31 when he says “Do to others as you would have them do to you”.  Do you feel you and your friends have honestly love Jerry  Fallwell Jr and those who disagree with you as Jesus says to in Matthew 22:39 – “Love your neighbor as yourself?”

You aren’t on a plane to Texas today because you haven’t earned it. Your passion for this public forum is proof you care more about a big platform than caring about the hearts of those you could change for the glory of Jesus.

I could go point by point of your letter and refute much of what you said in it, but I won’t. Until you seek peace, I vote you don’t get a forum. Until you can come together with us in love, we will remain divided, though we are ready to speak at peace with you when you are able.

I’ll pray over this, and the entire situation this morning. I promise, and I will lift you and the Red Letter Christians up in God’s love and grace right now.

But first, I’ll pray for Texas.


In Christ’s Love and Hope,


Thad Riley

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