Tony Campolo, the Baptist minister, evangelical leader and social activist who regularly advises President Clinton on policies affecting the poor and the nation’s inner cities, will be the featured speaker Thursday, Jan. 22, at Wake Forest University’s Founders’ Day Convocation.
Campolo, professor of sociology and director of the urban studies program at Eastern College in St. Davids, Pa., will speak in Wait Chapel during the university’s annual 11 a.m. celebration of its founding in 1834. The title of his speech will be “Glancing Backward, Looking Forward: The Intersection of Culture and Religion.” He also will give a longer address at 8 p.m. in the chapel as part of the Year of Religion in American Life and take part in classes and several other university activities as the designated Year of Religion resident scholar for January. The title of his 8 p.m. speech is “You Can Make a Difference.”
Author of 25 books on public policy, religion and social activism, including “Is Jesus a Republican or Democrat?,” “50 Ways You Can Be ProLife,” “How to Rescue the Earth Without Worshipping Nature” and “20 Hot Potatoes Christians Are Afraid to Touch,” Campolo is also host of a weekly television show, “Hashing It Out,” in which he debates hot-button religious issues with more conservative theologians. The show is broadcast to a cable television audience of about 28 million homes.
Campolo also runs the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (E.A.P.E), which operates programs for the poor in the United States and overseas.
E.A.P.E has 75 literacy centers in Haiti, helps the National Evangelical University of the Dominican Republic, and has a private school in Philadelphia for children from inner-city neighborhoods racked by crime, drugs and other social problems.
In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Campolo said that E.A.P.E has also organized an urban program in 30 neighborhoods across the country, offering sports and other activities for poor children.
“We are recruiting young people to take a year off their university or college training,” Campolo told the Chronicle. “We’re organizing them into groups of five, placing them in inner-city churches to work in the specific neighborhood around that church. We have a very specific plan, and that is, go door-to-door, meet people — every single person in that given neighborhood — find out what their needs are, and connect them with social-service agencies that will meet those needs.”
The effort, which shares many of the aims of President Clinton’s AmeriCorps program, will coordinate 10,000 volunteers nationally within five years, Campolo added.
“Eventually, we hope in the evangelical community to get every kid who’s a church member to say, ‘Putting in a year of service is necessary if I’m going to be a responsible citizen.'”
Campolo said that the aim of E.A.P.E’s programs are to eliminate what he calls “apathy” among members of younger generations, and to relieve racial tension and economic distress at the same time. “The ‘X’ generation has demonstrated itself to be most enthusiastic about volunteering,” he said. “What we’ve done to young people is, we’ve challenged them to act, and we have generated great emotion — but then, what we have failed to do is follow that up with a specific plan of action.”
In religious circles, Campolo’s role as spiritual advisor to President Clinton has drawn criticism from Focus on the Family and other conservative religious groups.
But Campolo, a registered Democrat, has also drawn fire from the left for his pro-life views opposing abortion and partial birth abortion.
One of his recent jobs for the administration was to help write speeches and draft an Op-Ed column for the White House on President Clinton’s effort to generate a national dialogue about race.
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