Evangelist Tony Campolo likes tackling tough issues

Campolo not afraid to take on topics of controversy

War, homosexuality, terrorism, the Middle East conflict – just ask the Rev. Tony Campolo about an issue and the Philadelphia-based evangelist, educator, and social activist doesn’t flinch an inch.

“I figure I’m pressing 70 years of age. What can they do to me?” Mr. Campolo said with a laugh during a recent interview.

He definitely makes good on the audacious title of his latest book, Speaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid to Face (W Publishing Group, $19.99).

Mr. Campolo, an ordained Baptist minister with a PhD in sociology who is professor emeritus at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, argues that evangelical Christianity has been “hijacked” by the Religious Right.

“I don’t think that John Kerry is the Messiah or that the Democratic Party is the answer, but I don’t like the evangelical community blessing the Republican Party as some kind of God-ordained instrument for solving the world’s problems,” Mr. Campolo said in a phone interview from Washington.

Speaking My Mind
Speaking My Mind

Speaking My Mind
The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid to Face

Tony Campolo

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A spiritual adviser to President Clinton (“When he asked for help, was I supposed to say, ‘I’m sorry, but evangelicals only pray with Republicans’?” Mr. Campolo asked), the evangelist was in D.C. recently to speak with Kerry campaign officials.

“I’ve been speaking to people in both parties and just letting them know what I’m saying in this book: That all evangelicals do not fall into the right wing,” he said. “There are many of us who are pro-life, and there are many of us who are so pro-life that we will discount all other issues and vote for [President] Bush because for that contingent it is an overriding issue.

“But there is a significant number of us who feel that there are other issues that need addressing and that may lead us to vote for the Kerry campaign,” Mr. Campolo said.

One of his primary efforts as a minister and social activist through the decades has been helping the poor, and that’s a topic he believes the Republican Party has been neglecting.

And there also are evangelical Christians displeased with the Republican Party’s track record on the environment, Mr. Campolo said.

“It doesn’t strike a major chord with this administration – but it should. This administration has done a poor job by giving automobile companies carte blanche, allowing automobile companies to consume gas at a great rate, polluting the atmosphere, contrary to what God wills for the planet.”

He also is critical of the President’s handling of the Middle East situation.

“We think this administration has done the right thing in supporting the state of Israel, but it has done the wrong thing in allowing Israel to create injustices toward the Palestinian people,” Mr. Campolo said.

“God loves Palestinians every bit as much as he loves Jewish people. God is ‘quote-unquote’ no respecter of persons,” he said, citing Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Mr. Campolo, who was in Toledo a year ago to speak at St. Mark Lutheran Church, said the White House’s war on terrorism is misguided because “you don’t end terrorism by killing terrorists. Every time you do that, you create more terrorists.”

The focus should be on eliminating the deeply rooted conditions that spur people to become terrorists in the first place, he said. “It’s like malaria: You don’t kill the mosquitoes, you wipe out the conditions where mosquitoes breed,” he said.

As for the war in Iraq, Mr. Campolo believes President Bush should apologize for sending troops into Iraq on a false assumption: to prevent attacks with weapons of mass destruction, which were never found.

He cited the biblical book of 2 Chronicles, Chapter 7, verse 14, which states: “If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

“The President of the United States should go before the United Nations,” Mr. Campolo said, “and this country should humble itself – and if you’re against being humble, you are against being Christian, because as Christians we are called to be humble – and he should say, ‘We sent our troops into Iraq because we believed we were on the verge of being attacked by weapons of mass destruction. We were sure they were there. We were wrong.’?”

The Bible commands believers to repent for mistakes and also to seek restoration, he said.

“If America is too arrogant to face that fact that even a great nation like the United States can make a mistake, then we have wandered too far from God,” Mr. Campolo said.

On efforts to ban same-sex marriage, the evangelist and author said a more serious threat to American society is the ease of divorce.

“If we’re really going to protect marriage, we need to do something legislatively that would make it more difficult to get married and more difficult to get divorced than it is to get a driver’s license,” he said. “Getting out of a marriage is too easy. You need to keep Britney Spears from getting married one night and divorced 24 hours later. The real threat to the American family is not gays wanting to get married, it’s heterosexuals wanting to get divorced.”

Mr. Campolo, whose 28 previous books include the best-seller It’s Friday … but Sunday’s Coming, said when he started working on Speaking My Mind, he wasn’t expecting it to be published in the heat of a presidential campaign. “It really wasn’t planned but the timing could not be better. Let me say that of all the books that I’ve written, it almost seems as though this is perfect timing. I’m dealing with all the issues that have become hot issues in this campaign.”

Mr. Campolo said his hope is that the book will inspire not just evangelical Christians, but all Americans, to take honest and critical looks at the issues and the candidates and not be lulled by broad assumptions or fooled by empty slogans.

“I think it’s about time that people of all political stripes hold politicians accountable on a whole host of issues, demand action, and not allow themselves to be manipulated,” Mr. Campolo said.

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