- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

In recent years, the term “evangelical Christian” has been closely identified with conservative Republican “values voters.” But evangelical author Tony Campolo sees no contradiction between his liberal politics and his evangelical faith.

Mr. Campolo is professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa. His newest book is “Letters to a Young Evangelical.” The following are excerpts of an interview with Mr. Campolo:

Question: Why did you write this book?

Answer: A lot of young evangelicals were turning away from evangelicalism because they saw evangelicalism as being synonymous with gay bashing and anti-environmentalist, anti-women, pro-war, pro-gun. They were saying, “If that’s what evangelicals are, then we’re out. We’re not going to be part of that movement.” I felt it was time to say, “Hey, wait a minute. There are a whole mob of us out here who believe in the Apostles’ Creed, who believe the Bible is an infallible thing, who believe that Jesus is the Savior and you can have a personal relationship with Him who are not into those kinds of attitudes.”

Q: How do you define an “evangelical”?

A: The doctrine of the Apostles’ Creed carefully delineates our theology. Secondly, an evangelical believes that the Bible wasn’t just written as a human document, but the writers were inspired by God Himself, by the Holy Spirit, so what they produced was an infallible book for faith and practice. The last thing is that salvation comes by surrendering your life to Jesus, who we believe not only died on the cross for our sins, as the creed says, but is alive and you can have a relationship with Him and that relationship transforms you.

Q: Why do many Christians label themselves as part of the “religious right”?

A: I think there are two issues that have arisen over the last 20 years: the abortion issue and the gay marriage issue. They have been sufficient for church leaders to join in the political fray and say, “If you’re going to be Christian, you have to vote Republican. You have to align yourself with the religious right.” Not all Republicans are religious right. I don’t want to communicate that idea, but I do want to communicate that, in fact, religious leaders were willing and able to sweep a large percentage, I would say close to 80 percent of the evangelical community, into the religious right camp, simply by contending that these two issues took precedence over everything else.

Q: What does it mean to be a “red letter Christian”?

A: The word evangelical in the secular society at large and even in the Christian community connotes religious right. … If I go on a campus and they announce me as an evangelical speaker, I know what the reaction is going to be and so does everybody else. They will immediately assume that this man is articulating a religious right agenda. … The old Bibles always had the words of Jesus printed in red letters. We started calling ourselves “red letter Christians” — the values of Christ, the teachings of Jesus take precedence over everything else. We take seriously the rest of the Bible, but we have to say that we understand the rest of the Bible in light of what Jesus said and did and is. Jesus becomes the lens through which we focus ourselves on the rest of the Scriptures.

Q: Why do you refer to America as “Babylon”?

A: In America, this is particularly true of the religious right, much to my chagrin, they have created a kind of idolatrous characteristic of America. They have made patriotism into a religion all and of itself and have attached Jesus onto it, perhaps symbolically represented as I rolled through Georgia not too long ago and saw two different churches which had crosses out in front with American flags draped over them. When in fact Christianity becomes synonymous with Americanism, we have distorted Christianity. I think America is the best nation on the face of the Earth, but it is not the kingdom of God. Babylon in the Bible, in the book of Revelation, is described as a society that seduces people into worshipping it. I’m afraid that people have gotten to the point where they are worshipping America. I want to be loyal to America as a nation, but my loyalty ultimately belongs to Jesus. I respect America and want to serve American interests, but if those interests run contrary to serving Jesus Christ, then in fact I must stand against my nation. I think that the religious right has become blinded to the fact that America, at this stage in history, may be committing some hideous sins against the rest of the world and has lost its ability to critique our country and look at it as the Hebrew prophets did.

Q: What do you think the proper role of women in the church should be?

A: In my understanding of the New Testament, that when Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected, one of the consequences of the work of Christ was to abolish all differences between people. In Galatians 3:28, we read that there is neither “Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female,” all are equal in Christ Jesus. I believe that women have the right to exercise any role in the church, including being pastors and being preachers. I point out in the book, where Philip had three daughters who were preachers. In the book of Romans, we read that a woman named Junia ended up being an apostle, the highest role of leadership in the life of the church. If a woman could become an apostle in the first century, then it’s obvious that she should be allowed to become a bishop in the 21st century.

Q: What do you think the view of the church should be toward abortion?

A: I think one of the great disillusionments that’s taking place in the evangelical community these days is this sense of betrayal by the Republican Party. They were promised if they had a Republican president, a Republican Congress and a Republican [Supreme Court] that Roe v. Wade would be overturned. Well, they had all three, and for two years, they not only failed to do it, they did not even try. … Suddenly, people like James Dobson began to say, “I think we’ve been taken to the cleaners. I think we’ve been betrayed.” I think there is a sense in which the Republican Party has left evangelical leaders who supported them, without question, totally disillusioned. … We’ve got to address the problem by really dealing with the things that are driving people to abortion. A second factor is the church has to stand up and begin to talk to its own people about having abortions. [Christian researcher George] Barna in his studies indicates that the rate of abortions in the religious community is not far different than those in the secular community. If the church cannot keep its own house in order in this matter, it has no right yelling at the feminists and saying, “You’re a bunch of baby killers.”

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