Americans need to commit themselves to lives that transcend career and self-interest to save the nation from losing its soul to individualism, Tony Campolo said today at Wake Forest University in a speech for its Founders’ Day Convocation and Year of Religion in American Life celebration.
“I weep for a generation that grows up with so many options that it’s hard for them to make commitments,” said Campolo, the Baptist minister, social activist and author who regularly advises President Clinton on federal policy affecting the nation’s poor. “Soren Kiekegaard said it well. ‘This age will die,’ he said, ‘not because of sin but from lack of passion’ … And to all of those cools, a voice echoes down the corridors of time and says, ‘I wish that you were hot or cold but if you’re cool, I spew thee out of my mouth.'”
Campolo told students to use their degrees from Wake Forest to equip themselves for service to others who would one day testify of their love and faith along with the God who made them.
“People of God, so live out commitments and love in the world, that when it’s all over, they will gather around your grave and give testimonies,” Campolo said. “I wish for you both: titles and testimonies. But if it ever comes down to making a choice, hear me out. You go with the testimonies.”
Campolo traced the increasing lack of commitments and listlessness among the nation’s youth to the nation’s shift from the farm to city. At the turn of the century, he said that 70 percent of the population lived on the farm and engaged in farming; now only 4.5 percent do.
He said that the demographic swing from city to farm has produced smaller families that encourage self-absorption and individuality among their young so much that the children have difficulty adapting to the “mass society” that awaits them after high school or college graduation.
So many youths have trouble “finding themselves,” Campolo said, because they are looking in the wrong places. He said that one’s worth and purpose is not found through introspection but through commitments — life goals parents should help shape.
“Self is an essence waiting to be created through commitments,” he said. “And if you say I am uncommitted, then — in fact — I contend you have no identity.”
Campolo said that his commitment is to live as Christ would have him live — a commitment his mother helped form when she took him to church shortly after he was born and committed the years that God would give her son to Christian service.
“Families are afraid to define ‘mission’ for their children,” he said. “People ask me sometimes, ‘Reverend, how were you called to the ministry?'” he added. “I never was called. My mother decided.”
Citing a survey of mothers, Campolo said that Japanese mothers want their children to be successful; American mothers want their children to be happy. In the ethnic Italian neighborhood in which he grew up, Campolo said that his father wanted him to be “good” instead. “This idea that somehow you’re happy all the time has got to be challenged,” he said. “May God save us from the nation that has made the pursuit of happiness its raison d’etre.”
Campolo, professor of sociology and director of the urban studies program at Eastern College in St. Davids, Pa., is also founder and director of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (E.A.P.E). Using volunteers, E.A.P.E operates literacy centers and provides economic development and other assistance to those in the inner cities of America and the Third World.
Author of 25 books, including, “Is Jesus a Republican or Democrat?” and “The Kingdom of God is a Party,” Campolo is also the co-host of “Hashing It Out” — a weekly cable television show on religious and social topics that airs on the Odyssey cable television network and is broadcast to 22 million homes.
Campolo’s speech was the latest event in Wake Forest’s Year of Religion in American Life, which has included speeches by Rabbi Harold Kushner, journalist Bill Moyers, nonviolence advocate Arun Gandhi, a national conference on religion in higher education and a film series. A symposium on religion and the media is scheduled for Feb. 7.
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