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Campolo makes Hudson stop to promote ‘social justice’

Tony Campolo, tabbed one of the nation’s top evangelists, spoke in Hudson last week. (Submitted photo)

Internationally known evangelist Tony Campolo was in Hudson and spoke to a crowd of more than 600 people at Bethel Lutheran Church Wednesday night, Feb. 19.

Although he doesn’t like to use the label, Campolo is known as a somewhat liberal evangelist. Campolo's ongoing passion is for combining evangelism and social justice.

“I don’t like to use that word liberal,” Campolo said during an afternoon interview. “In soul and political causes I’m a progressive. I value a system that overcomes poverty, racism and I am against militarism.

“Jesus said love your enemies, not kill them.”

Campolo served an advisor and counselor to President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. He served on the Democratic platform committee for the 2012 election. Although he favors many liberal causes, he is pro-life and not a real fan of gay marriages.

His focus

His focus is the love of all people and especially children.

“Will the church say anything meaningful about poverty?” Campolo asks. “This is my big issue.”

He said the United States is dead last among 17 industrialized nations when it comes to spending money (per capita) on poor people.

“Norway is number one and the U.S. is 17,” he said. “That’s scary.

“The country spends $250,000 per minute in Iraq -- has that effectively ended terrorism? What if we had spent all that money reaching out to the people of Iran and Iraq? We could have weaned support away from terrorism.”

Campolo said Hezbollah and Hamas are winning the people in the area by doing more humanitarian work than the United States.

“We could, and should, be doing so much more.”

He said the same is true in our own country.

“We could be doing so much more to help our own people,” Campolo said. “Instead we’ve poured too much into the military. The good news is that the American people are the most generous; as a nation, however, we are not doing enough.”

Regarding organized religion, Campolo said too many churches focus on doctrine.

“I call for congregations to become connected to Jesus,” he said. “Love your enemies; overcome evil with good; and never try to demonize another person. Jesus was concerned about people; we need to change things in the world to the way we want it to be.”

Campolo said that when he is dealing with people he will often make three points:

--What does Jesus want you to be?

--What does Jesus want you to do?

--What does Jesus want you to say?

He said he is concerned about the American lifestyle of consumerism.

“Jesus calls for a sacrificial life style – not a lifestyle that makes us buy a new car to impress the neighbors,” Campolo said.

He said he believes the Apostle’s Creed and believes the Bible to be no ordinary book.

When asked if he believed the Bible was literal, he said “literal” is not a good word.

He pointed out a verse in Luke 14:26 that reads: If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.

“I don’t believe he is literally saying to hate your mother and father – he preaches the contrary in many places,” Campolo said. “What he is saying is love Me (Jesus) more than anyone in the world.”

Bill Clinton

Regarding his days with Bill Clinton, he said he met Clinton during the president’s first term at a breakfast.

“After that we would meet for breakfast about once a month and I would offer advice on various policies,” Campolo said. “For example, I might question subsidizing farmers, most of which are corporate farms who don’t need the help while food stamps might be cut. I would ask, do you think that’s what God would want you to do?”

During the Monica Lewinsky incident, Campolo said his role changed from advisor to counselor.

“I worked to help hold the family together,” Campolo said. “I continue to be in touch with both Bill and Hillary.”

He said he served on the Democrat Party Platform Committee for the 2012 election at the request of Howard Dean, a former Democratic National Committee Chair 2005-2009.

“He asked me because I am pro-life and he wanted that voice to be heard,” Campolo said. “I try to rise above the political ideology. The politicizing of Jesus is a church problem. The right wants Him to be a Tea Party Republican; the left want him to be an extreme liberal. Neither is right.”

Regarding gay marriage, he has spoken against it, but does not want to hurt the people involved.

“I’m trying to distance myself,” he said. “The church has demonized the gays. God loves them. They don’t have to become what they are not.”

Other thoughts

The evangelist has sometimes been criticized for saying that “I’m not convinced that Jesus only lives in Christians.”

Campolo, however, says it is his job to preach Jesus and to make the call for people to take Jesus Christ seriously.

“It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to witness and it’s God’s job to judge.”


Campolo, 79, announced earlier this year that the organization he started 40 years ago, Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, will cease operation on June 30.

Under the leadership of Campolo, EAPE has developed and nurtured 22 organizations. Among them are elementary and secondary schools, universities, adult and child literacy centers, tutoring programs, orphanages, AIDS hospices, urban youth ministries, summer camps, and long-term Christian service programs in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in various African countries, and across Canada and the United States. One of the most recent and last organizations formed under the EAPE label was the Red Letter Christian movement.

“Many of these organizations will continue to operate,” he said. “All we’re asking is that supporters shift from donating through EAPE and go directly to the organizations themselves.”

But the evangelist isn’t exactly retiring. He has over 200 speaking engagements planned this year and he will continue writing and broadcasting a United Kingdom radio program than is sent around the world.

“I will continue to recruit bright young men and women into ministries,” Campolo said. “We need to give hope to young people. We need to change people’s hearts and change what they do.”


Named by Christianity Today as one of the 25 most influential preachers of the last 50 years, Campolo is an ordained minister and has served American Baptist churches in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and is a frequent commentator on religion and politics.

He is professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. The author of 32 books, his most recent titles are "Speaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid to Face," "Which Jesus," "The Church Enslaved (co-authored by Michael Battle)," and "Letters to a Young Evangelical." Campolo is presently an associate pastor of the Mount Carmel Baptist Church in West Philadelphia. Campolo and his wife Peggy have two grown children and four grandchildren.


Bethel Lutheran Pastor John Lestock said he booked Campolo about a year ago. Lestock, who served in Owatonna, Minn., before coming to Hudson, said he had worked with the evangelist at that congregation.

“Wherever he (Campolo) speaks, he has representatives from Compassion International,” Lestock said. The organization seeks sponsors for underprivileged children around the world.

Lestock said he likes to bring in speakers.

“It gets people involved in important issues,” Lestock said. “Whether you agree, or disagree, it gets people thinking.”

Doug Stohlberg

Doug Stohlberg has been part of the Hudson Star-Observer since 1973 and has been editor since 1987. He worked at the New Richmond News from 1971 to 1973. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

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