Campolo gives hard-hitting views in Norwich
Renowned American Christian sociologist, pastor and social justice campaigner, Tony Campolo, was in Norwich yesterday (October 22) speaking to Norwich church pastors and at a CompassionUK event. He also spoke exclusively to Network Norfolk publisher Keith Morris in a wide-ranging and hard-hitting interview.
What are you doing in Norwich Tony?
I am speaking to Christian people, encouraging them to join with hundreds of thousands of others in sponsoring children in third world countries - children who won’t get evangelized, children who won’t go to school, who will not have a proper diet or get the medical care they need unless somebody says ‘I will sponsor this child’.
You can change a child’s life, educationally, spiritually, vocationally for just £25 a month. Child sponsorship schemes like Compassion’s have proven to be the most effective way of helping people in the third world. 79% of the money you give ends up directly in the hands of the child.
What was your message to Norwich church leaders earlier today?
What I was really stressing was the significance of church. The church has become the most effective instrument for facilitating help for the poor of the world. 25 years ago, 45,000 children died every day either because of starvation or because of diseases related to malnutrition. Today it is 19,000 a day; and if you ask what has been responsible for this dramatic drop in infant mortality the answer would be programmes like Compassion International, church groups going over and setting up clinics.
In the States, the two people who came back from West Africa having contracted Ebola were missionaries. When Ebola struck the United Nations and the Red Cross pulled out all of their people. Missionaries will stay behind, even at the risk of their lives. This says something about the church.
25 years ago, 80% of the population of the planet was illiterate, today it is down to 20%. Most of the literacy programmes which have brought about this dramatic change have been faith-based. The impact of the church in the poverty stricken areas of the world is unbelievably evident.
What is the biggest issue facing the church today?
We are being manipulated by the media into desperately wanting stuff that we don’t need. In the process we are working longer hours, even holding down two jobs simply to buy stuff that we don’t need; and people’s lives are getting consumed because they are manipulated by the media into thinking that they will be fulfilled human beings if they just have the resources that will enable them to buy the things that the media is telling them that they have to have.
A lot of people say it is secularism. I am a sociologist, I can tell you for sure that it is consumerism.
What is your view of the current situation in the Middle East with ISIS?
Christian people failed at a very crucial point. When the war was about to break out in Iraq they did not stand up and yell ‘no’.
If mushrooms were the main export of Iraq it would never have happened. They tried to say that it was to create democracy. Well we didn’t create democracy. We had the idea that if people had a free election then we would have a democracy. The truth is that they had a free election and the Shiites won and as soon as they got in power, they began to persecute the Christians and the Sunnis.
Democracy is not where the majority rules - democracy is where it is safe to be in the minority. The Christian church has suffered incredibly. There were 1.5m Christians in Iraq prior to the invasion. Today there are less than 200,000 left, they have fled the country. They have had to leave as the persecution has been so severe – churches were being burned down in place.
The truth is that the mess than exists in the Middle East now would not exist had not Bush and Tony Blair got together to invade that country. If ISIS has tanks they are US tanks, if they have guns they are US guns. We left this stuff behind for the Iraqi army and it has all ended up in the hands of ISIS.
There was not a single terrorist in Iraq prior to the invasion. Today it is the hotbed for training terrorists. We have forgotten Jesus. Jesus said ‘before you get rid of the devil be careful less you create a vacuum which is going to suck in other devils that are worse that the ones you got rid of’.
We got rid of one devil, Saddam Hussein and into that vacuum has come ISIS. We have created the mess.
There is not a thing going on in the Middle East that is evil that we in the USA and the UK did not create. So don’t blame it on the Muslims, blame it on the Christians who were willing to go along with war even though Jesus said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’. It is our failure to follow Jesus and live out the teachings of Christ that is the most serious cause of that mess.
And I don’t think that we are going to get rid of that mess by killing terrorists any more than we are going to get rid of malaria by killing mosquitoes. To get rid of malaria you have to get rid of those swamps that breed mosquitoes. My Bible says that if your enemy hungers then you should feed them, if he is naked you clothe him, if he is sick you take care of him. If we spent a fraction of the money that we are spending on war on setting up schools and clinics and feeding programmes for the desperate people in those Middle East countries, or creating employment for them, we would not be in the mess that we are today.
You only need half a brain to realize that every time that you kill a terrorist, you have created more terrorists. Because their family members are so angry with the USA and the UK that they are going to rise up and join a terrorist movement that they otherwise would not have joined.
What do you think of the recent decision by the UK Parliament to legalise same-sex marriage?
I do not want to get involved in UK politics but here is what I do know. In California they made a referendum to prevent same-sex marriages. The evangelicals spent $18m running ads on television and radio. They brought in 10,000 volunteers to knock on doors getting people to vote against gay marriage. The day after the election we were jumping up and down and yelling ‘we won’.
But what did we win. Did Harry and John not climb into bed with each other that night, did Mary and Jane who got married two months earlier say ‘well one of us is going to have to leave’? Of course not. But here is what did change; tens of thousands of gays, lesbians and bi-sexuals and trans-gender people marched the streets of San Francisco and LA, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami and New York screaming and yelling their hatred of the church and that Jesus was an oppressor, and that the Bible was written to beat them down into insignificance. None of which is true. If you call that winning then you and I are not on the same page.
If people are paying their taxes then they should be entitled to the same rights as everybody else. If marriage is to be preserved as we believe it to be in the traditional Christian sense, it is up to the Church to convince people of the vitality of traditional marriage, rather than trying to use law to try to impose upon people what they don’t want to believe in.
The truth is, if we fight the legal battle we lose this. If the churches begin to get people to take marriage seriously, in a Biblical sense, we will be making our best testimony. Marriage is in trouble in your county and mine, but it is not the fault of the gays, it is the fault of heterosexual people who are getting divorces. That’s what killing marriage in America. It is the gays who want to get married and if you cannot see the irony in that then you have no sense of humour whatsoever.
What should the church’s response be to the Ebola crisis in West Africa?
Well I think it is quite good right now. It is sending food, clothing, medicine and donations and missionary medical personnel who are daring to go where others dare not go. I think our testimony is brilliant.
Having said that, the fact that we have this crisis is evidence of the racism evident beneath the surface both in the UK and the USA. Ebola has existing long before the present outbreak and very little was done to come up with a cure. It was indicated on the TV just last night that they do have a cure with blood transfusions of various types and that within three months they will be able to stem this disease. Great, but nobody cared until white people started dying. When black people were dying we kind of shrugged our shoulders and walked away from the crisis. We should have been ready for this but we were not because we thought it would only affect black people in Africa. It was only when it started to affect white people in other countries that we panicked and said ‘let’s pour the money out and pull the stops out to stop this disease’.
There is a lot of latent racism evident in our thinking and this is evidence of some of it.
Compassion supports 1.5 million children in 26 different countries across the world, to find out more, visit: www.compassionuk.org
Read our review of the Campolo and Kendrick Evening to Remember event in Norwich.
Pictured above is Tony Campolo talking to church leaders at Proclaimers Church in Norwich.