Tony Campolo blasts Religious Right as 'frightening'
Robin Russell, May 3, 2006
Christian author and speaker Tony Campolo is so fed up with the Religious Right's stronghold on U.S. media and politics that he is calling for a new movement to better represent evangelicals.
"The answer to the Religious Right is not a Religious Left," he told religion writers April 24 at the Associated Church Press convention in Orlando.
Instead, Dr. Campolo and fellow progressive evangelicals, including the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine and emergent church movement leader Brian McLaren, have come up with a new name: "Red-Letter Christians," referring to the verses in the New Testament believed to be Jesus' own words.
He hopes the new progressive movement will transcend party politics and focus on the issues that were important to Jesus, not Pat Robertson.
"What Jesus spoke was very radical," he said. "It strikes at the very values that the church holds dear. Theologians have a great capacity to water things down."
The Religious Right's takeover of U.S. media as representative of Christianity has been embarrassing, at best, and at times even frightening, Dr. Campolo said. Not only do Religious Right spokesmen such as Mr. Robertson and James Dobson misrepresent Christianity -- and especially evangelicals -- they are not held accountable regarding truth in broadcasting, he said.
"The National Religious Broadcasters has no ethics committees, unlike secular broadcasters. Whether there's truth that goes out is almost secondary," said Dr. Campolo, who has been a frequent target of conservative commentators.
The Religious Right often rants on hot-button issues that Jesus said nothing about, such as abortion and homosexuality. Instead, Jesus focused his attention on poverty and the needs of the oppressed.
Christian media, Dr. Campolo added, often repeats a weak Freudian case for homosexuality that has been discounted by contemporary scholars: that homosexuality has its roots in a weak father and a domineering mother. That theory, he said, would be disproven by a cursory study of the population of Camden, N.J., a city with a 90 percent rate of single-mother families.
"You would expect homosexuality would be the norm (there)," said Dr. Campolo, who is a sociologist at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa. "The theory propagated by Christian radio has no basis. But once Focus on the Family says it, it's repeated everywhere. You dare not go against James Dobson."
The real harm comes, he added, when it heaps hurt upon hurt. Parents who feel distraught over the fact their son or daughter is a self-proclaimed homosexual may already be suffering guilt or shame, he said. "The last thing we need is some radio preacher saying, "And it's all your fault."
As for abortion, Dr. Campolo said prolifers need to recognize how the economy influences a woman's decision to terminate a pregnancy. Abortion rates declined under pro-choice President Bill Clinton, he said, because the economy was in better shape.
"When the economy is good, abortion goes down. But when the economy goes South, abortion rates go up. It' as simple and direct as that."
The same political conservatives who oppose abortion are also opposed to raising the minimum wage, providing better day care and insurance, Dr. Campolo said, adding 13 million children in the U.S. have no medical coverage.
"It does take a village. We are all responsible for the poor and the oppressed."
What really gets him stoked, however, is how the hugely popular Left Behind books have put a damper on social action causes. Dr. Campolo says the novels' end-times, dispensationalist theology is so pervasive that "anyone who questions it is seriously called into question about being a Christian."
"Left Behind has set a tone in this country against social action. The only thing that really matters is getting people saved and ready for the Rapture," he said.
"But Scripture talks about the transformation of the individual under the power of the Holy Spirit and a transformed society marked with justice. Once again, go to the Bible. Itís a great source of theology."
While Left Behind adherents focus on how bad things have gotten (which hence, makes them feel ripe for something like the Rapture), Dr. Campolo pointed out Jesus' parable of the wheat and tares explains that good and evil will co-exist until God sorts it out in the end.
"Evil is horrendous, but please people, realize the Kingdom of God is growing also," he said. "Just because things aren't so hot in America doesn't mean it's not growing around the world. Fifty thousand people a week are being baptized in Third World countries."
Dr. Campolo said he is also disturbed by the "incredibly pro-Zionist" stance of the novels, which have sold more than 62 million copies. Dispensationalists believe that Jesus Christ will not return until the Jews reclaim the Holy Land. Some adherents, he said, even justify using mortal force to accomplish that end.
"When you are willing to promote genocide to uphold your version of Scripture, you're dangerous," Dr. Campolo said.
"They act as if Jews are the only children of Abraham. What I want for the Israeli people, I also want for the Palestinian people. I want justice for all people."
Some evangelicals may be ready to push the pendulum back from the far right. The Pew Research Center recently reported that although white evangelical Protestants still are the bedrock of the GOP, only 55 percent of them now approve of President Bush's performance in office, compared to 72 percent at the start of his second term.
Dr. Campolo said evangelicals who become engaged in social justice will be closer to fulfilling Jesus' message.
"When we're being faithful to what Jesus said, we will transform society," he said. "Some people tell me that what I've been saying is 'dangerous.' When did Christianity become not dangerous?"
Tony's rants on other topics:
* The Da Vinci Code: "I'm not even Roman Catholic and I'm furious. To say that the church is one gigantic, lying conspirator doesn't help anybody. I contend we're all hurt when that happens.
"It raises questions on Scriptural authority. But what people get upset about is the idea that Jesus got married and had a child. I have to tell you, that part doesn't bother me at all. Is Jesus' divinity somehow contingent on his celibacy? This gives us the opportunity to talk about the Christian view of sex and marriage."
* Same-sex marriage: He recommends separate civil and religious ceremonies. "Church is the place where marriages should take place. Why do we have to get a divorce over this? Parties on both sides have to entertain the notion that we could be wrong."
"We are consumed by this, and we seem to forget there are other issues, like the AIDS crisis and poverty. Localism is the way to go. It's not going to be resolved on the denominational basis. After the General Conference is over, local churches do what they want anyway."
* Racial reconciliation: "On a latent level, there's still a mindset that black people aren't as intelligent as whites. What's worse, black people believe that. It goes back to the Greek notion of the mind/body dichotomy that says the flesh is evil and the spirit is good. That's perpetuated in racism. It's up to the church to change that mindset. I really do believe the Holy Spirit transforms individuals."
* Postmodernism: "The postmodern world is good news. The modern era was an enemy of faith because the scientific view was truth. Now people are questioning science. When science has failed, where do people turn? They turn to Benny Hinn. I want to know why mainline churches don't have healing services."