My fondest memory from the 1994 ELCA Youth Gathering (other than eating at Hooters every day for lunch) was hearing Dr. Tony Campolo give a passionate speech about something. I can’t quite remember the details of his oration…i just remember a lot of yelling and sweating. Basically, he was fired up about Jesus and he wanted us to be, too. It was the first time in my young life that I had heard a Baptist preach and didn’t immediately disregard who he was or what he had to say.
Fast forward to two years ago when I hard Tony speak again at the 2006 Youth Gathering. He looked a little different – having lost about 70 pounds – but he was still worked up about inspiring young people to be passionate Christians. What struck me at that time was that he appeared, for lack of a better term, liberal. He talked about feeding the poor, visiting people in prison, and giving generously to those who have need. He told about the time he held a birthday party for a prostitute in Hawaii…and about the high-priced lawyer who works pro-bono representing the kind of “scum” who have come face-to-face with Death Row…and about the preacher who cared more about testimonies than he did about titles.
Up until that point, I had largely identified the religious-right with being myopic about two issues: abortion and homosexuality. My eyes were opened when I heard this Baptist minister from a Bible college talking about giving your life away and serving others as Jesus did. I went back to my hotel room and found a clip from Tony’s visit to the Colbert Report earlier in 2006. My favorite line he offers is on the topic of church & state. “Mixing government and religion are like mixing ice cream and horse manure. It doesn’t really affect the manure, but it really messes up the ice cream.” He recently showed up on Colbert’s show again to talk about religious issues.
Campolo has teamed up with Sojourners to form a loosely-organized group of Red Letter Christians. This is something that inspires me as well. Check it out and let me know what you think. Also, if you’re interested in learning more about Dr. Campolo, search his name on YouTube…there are some great sermon excerpts on there.