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Meet Tony Campolo

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Amazingly good article in the Progressive on Tony Campolo...Here are excerpts but be sure to read the whole thing:

"Meet Tony Campolo:

He says it's time to "take the gloves off" and compete against the religious right. He has clashed openly with Jerry Falwell, Gary Bauer, and Rush Limbaugh, and he served as a spiritual adviser to Bill Clinton during the impeachment scandal.

Campolo is currently the associate pastor of the Mount Carmel Baptist Church in West Philadelphia. He's also an emeritus professor of sociology at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. On that campus, there is the Campolo School of Social Change, which consists of graduate programs "aimed at developing Christian professionals who will use their skills to transform urban communities around the world."

That school is part of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, which Campolo founded. It serves inner city schools as well as AIDS hospices and Christian service programs in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Africa, and Canada.

"Our goal is to help build the Kingdom of God by combining evangelism and social justice in the name of Jesus," the association says...

"When I call people to commit their lives to Christ," he says, "it is primarily in order that God might use them in this life to do the work that needs to be done. I try to get people to give themselves over to Jesus so that Jesus can take them and put them into law, business, the arts, and to government, to be agents of change."

For him, the Kingdom of God is a place of justice. When his students ask him to "spell that out," Campolo says he refers to Scriptures.

"I go to the Bible, and the sixty-fifth chapter of Isaiah is the passage I often refer to, starting with the seventeenth verse, in which the Kingdom of God has certain characteristics," he says. "First of all, children do not die in infancy. I want to go to work around the world to do something about the infant mortality rate, the fact that 30,000 kids die of hunger every day. It says that old people shall live out their lives in perfect health. I want to see elderly people cared for, as they should be. It goes on to say that everyone should have decent housing to live in. I've been on the international board of Habitat for Humanity for years, for that reason. It says that everybody has a job, to work in the vineyard out there, and earn a living. I want to see people get a job."

He also finds respect for the Earth in the Bible. "The last verse of the sixty-fifth chapter of Isaiah says, ‘Neither shall they hurt the earth anymore.’ Environmentalism is in there," he says.

Campolo is aghast at the way the right captured the term "moral values" during the 2004 campaign. "It's horrible," he says. "Jesus refers to the poor over and over again. There are 2,000 verses of Scripture that call upon us to respond to the needs of the poor. And yet, I find that when Christians talked about values in this last election that was not on the agenda, that was not a concern. If you were to get the voter guide of the Christian Coalition, that does not rate. They talk more about tax cuts for people who are wealthy than they do about helping poor people who are in desperate straits."

He blames religious broadcasting. "The major factor influencing the evangelical vote was Christian radio and television," he says. "But they did not do what their charters tell them to do, namely preach the Gospel. What they were doing was becoming surrogates for the Republican Party."

And this, he believes, is a treacherous path to take.

"What scares me is that Christianity in America today sees nothing wrong with being allied with political conservatism," he says. "Conservatives are people who worship at the graves of dead radicals. Stop to think about that. The people who started this country, George Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, these were not conservatives; these were the radicals of the time. In fact, conservatives always look back on people who they despised and make them into heroes. If you were to listen to the religious right today, they would make you believe that Martin Luther King was one of their flock. In reality, they hated him and did everything they could to destroy him."

Campolo opposes abortion and gay marriage, but believes that "social justice is the primary purpose of government." And he faults the Democrats for doing a poor job of framing the issues in 2004.

"When you deal with these issues that are plaguing this country," he asks, "do you frame them as moral issues, or as economic issues? The Democratic Party made a very serious mistake. All the issues were framed in economic terms: How many jobs are we going to create, how much money is it going to cost to do this, that, and the other thing. What they should have been saying is, ‘This is what is right, and we're going to do it, because it's right.’ When we begin to frame the issues, as liberals, in moral terms, talking about what is right and what is wrong, rather than what is pragmatically efficient, I think the American people, who are looking for moral leadership, will flock to the side of those who can give it."
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