Tony Campolo wants to take back the evangelical movement from the religious right

EDMONTON – For many activist Christians on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, Tony Campolo represents a breath of fresh air.

Campolo, who lives with his wife in a suburb of Philadelphia, contends that the evangelical movement has been hijacked by the religious right.

The 71-year-old Baptist preacher and widely acclaimed author will deliver the keynote address tonight at the Shaw Conference Centre, to more than 11,000 delegates at Break Forth Canada 2007.

Organizer Arlen Salte said Campolo has twice before spoken at Break Forth. “He has always elicited a strong response,” he said of Campolo, best known to many as the spiritual adviser to former U.S. president Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky crisis.

“There is no doubt that while Tony is strongly evangelical, he is also strongly committed to the needs of the poor and oppressed around the world,” said Salte, founder and executive director of New Creation Ministries.

In an interview, Campolo said that while the religious right likes to focus on hot-button issues such as homosexuality and abortion, Jesus was more concerned with the injustices of poverty, violence and intolerance.

In his latest book, Letters to a Young Evangelical, Campolo calls on all Christians to challenge the “monolithic and doctrinaire” religious right, and also to rethink their political commitments through a return to the words of Christ himself. [Read Chapter 3PDF fileRNB]

Because of the negative connotations associated with the term “evangelist,” Campolo and a group of about 15 socially conscious evangelists got together and came up with their own label, red-letter Christians, to describe Christians who strive to live by the words of Jesus.

Salte said the name Break Forth is actually taken from scripture. In Isaiah, chapter 58, God chastises his people for going through religious ceremonies without first taking care of the needs of the poor and oppressed.

This year marks Break Forth’s 10th anniversary. It has grown from a little gathering at a local Lutheran church to one of the largest events of its kind in the world.

Break Forth Canada bills itself as the largest equipping and renewal conference in North America.

The conference is designed to help Christians explore and embrace innovative new ways of expressing faith through worship.

But Salte said there’s more to the conference than just to refresh Christians.

“We also want them challenged to make a profound difference in the world, even though it costs us our personal comfort,” he said.

“We believe that Tony will speak to this issue as he always does, challenging Christians to live a life imitating Jesus, who emptied himself and became a servant, even though he was God.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday January 31, 2007.
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