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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tony Campolo and the Essence of the Gospel

When he was fresh out of seminary, Baptist minister Tony Campolo climbed into the pulpit and blurted out:
"I have three things I'd like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don't give a $%^&. And what's worse is that you're more upset with the fact that I said $%^& than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night."
Not that I'm advocating cussing in the pulpit, but I dare say that Tony was probably right. We often confuse what's central to the Gospel and what's peripheral, and I'm relatively confident that God is more concerned with the plight of children suffering from malnutrition than whether a Baptist minister slips in a swear word into his sermons every now and then (those of you from the Bay Area may be familiar with Father Jim Mifsud, who experienced similar "difficulties" in his youth).

Campolo is an interesting character. An evangelical Baptist minister with a liberal bent who ran for State Senator as a Democrat and served as one of President Clinton's counselors after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he is unapologetically pro-life and consistently opposes same-sex marriage (although his wife Peggy supports it). His views tend to align with what is known as the "completely pro-life" stance associated with the Sojourners Community, which means that he opposes warfare, abortion, poverty, capital punishment and euthanasia, which in turn puts him at odds with many political groups (Wikipedia, Tony Campolo).

He speaks at numerous Christian conferences (in the past his appearances in a given year have sometimes outnumbered the number days in the year), and he is probably best known for his sermon, "It's Friday, but Sunday's Coming!" and book by the same name (the "Friday" in the title refers to Good Friday, while the "Sunday" refers to Easter Sunday). He is at his best when telling stories (like how he through a birthday party for a hooker in downtown Waikiki) and uttering memorable quips. To wit (mostly from Wikipedia):
"How many people are working in Valley Forge (where American Baptist Churches USA headquarters is located)? About half of them."
"I think that Christianity has two emphases. One is a social emphasis to impart the values of the kingdom of God in society - to relieve the sufferings of the poor, to stand up for the oppressed, to be a voice for those who have no voice. The other emphasis is to bring people into a personal, transforming relationship with Christ, where they feel the joy and the love of God in their lives. That they manifest what the fifth chapter of Galatians calls 'the fruit of the Spirit'. Fundamentalism has emphasized the latter, mainline churches have emphasized the former. We cannot neglect one for the other."
"There are 2,000 verses of Scripture that tell us we must be committed to protecting the poor and the oppressed... There is no concern of Scripture that is addressed so often and so powerfully as reaching out to the poor."
"A person is as young as their dreams and as old as their cynicism."
"Jesus transcends partisan politics. That's what's wrong with the religious right... they have made Jesus into a Republican, and he's not!"
"I have serious problems with fundamentalist Christians and their creationist theories. Although I believe that scripture is divinely inspired and infallible, I have a hard time going along with the belief that the whole creation process occurred in six twenty-four hour days. My skepticism is due, in part, to the fact that the Bible says that the sun wasn’t created until the fourth day of creation (Genesis 1:16-19). I have a hard time figuring how twenty-four hour days could have been measured before that."
"Those in favor of Darwin’s theory usually act as though his explanation of evolution has empirical validation. It doesn't! It’s just a theory. A very reasonable theory, to be sure, but still a theory. The highly-touted biologist, Kenneth R. Miller, supports evolution and not ID. But even he claims that rabid Darwinists go 'well beyond any reasonable scientific conclusions that might emerge from evolutionary theory.' To prevent discussion of any other explanations of human origins is hardly what I would expect from open-minded educators."
"When you were born, you cried and everybody else was happy. The only question that matters is this: When you die, will YOU be happy when everybody else is crying?"
"I've always been skeptical of those television healers who are bald. I mean, if I had that gift, that would be the first thing I'd fix."
He's written a number of books. My favorites include, The Kingdom of God is a Party, A Reasonable Faith and 20 Hot Potatoes Christians are Afraid to Touch. His sermons and other talks are available from his website as well ("Tony Campolo").

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