Tony Campolo, a progressive evangelical leader who has counseled President Bill Clinton since the Monica Lewinsky scandal, has announced that the organization he founded nearly 40 years ago will close on June 30. Pictured here, Campolo speaks with guests after the Northminster Baptist Church Preaching Conference. Photo courtesy Tony Campolo

Tony Campolo, a progressive evangelical leader who has counseled President Bill Clinton since the Monica Lewinsky scandal, has announced that the organization he founded nearly 40 years ago will close on June 30. Pictured here, Campolo speaks with guests after the Northminster Baptist Church preaching conference. Photo courtesy Tony Campolo


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(RNS) Tony Campolo, a progressive evangelical leader who counseled President Bill Clinton through the Monica Lewinsky scandal, announced Tuesday (Jan. 14) that the organization he founded nearly 40 years ago will close on June 30.

Campolo, 78, plans to retire with the closure of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, but he will continue to write and speak, with nearly 200 engagements scheduled for 2014. He said his health is fine and he wants to write one more book on how Christianity fits with the social sciences.

By June, Campolo said he anticipates there will be about $300,000 left to distribute to the offshoot ministries started by the larger EAPE. The 22 ministries that were started under EAPE now operate independently and will continue, including Red Letter Christians, where Campolo plans to spend most of his time.

Campolo, who ran for Congress in 1976 as a Democrat, considers himself to be theologically conservative but socially progressive. He is against legalized abortion and gay marriage while being progressive on issues related to poverty, race and American diplomacy.

While not embracing same-sex marriage, Campolo has said the two sides could find a detente if the government would “get out of the business of marrying people and, instead, only give legal status to civil unions.”

He still maintains his counselor relationship to Clinton, speaking with the former president about prayer and Bible study every couple of months. He said he is not in touch with the current Obama administration, despite being invited to an initial gathering of clergy. “To pastor one great leader in America at a time is enough for any person,” he said.

Several evangelical leaders have passed their ministries on to their children, including Billy Graham, Oral Roberts and Jerry Falwell. But Campolo said that wasn’t the case with his son, Bart, who left EAPE in 2011 to start his own urban ministry in Cincinnati.

“My son made it clear to me that he didn’t want to be responsible to carry on the old man’s work. I think I can understand that,” Campolo said. “My son’s theology has drifted to the left when EAPE is definitely evangelical.”

Campolo said he expects to partner more with Shane Claiborne, a Campolo acolyte at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa., who is an activist advocating for nonviolence, serving the poor and living simply.

“Too often, we old guys hang on too long and steal the spotlight from the new, bright, shining stars emerging as speakers and leaders,” Campolo said. “We keep occupying leadership without stepping aside and getting behind these speakers.”

Campolo and other progressive evangelicals like Ron Sider and Jim Wallis have taught evangelicals how to speak the language of social justice, said David Swartz, a history professor at Asbury University and author of the book “Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.”

In the 1970s, evangelicals often emphasized personal holiness and salvation, Swartz said. “Campolo’s biggest legacy is to reinsert social holiness into the evangelical imagination,” Swartz said.

Campolo estimates that 95 percent of the giving to EAPE was due to his speaking engagements, a trend that would be difficult to pass down to a successor.

“A lot of these evangelical organizations are built by big gregarious personalities like Tony Campolo’s,” Swartz said. “You can’t really pass down a personality.”

Campolo has been a dynamic speaker, startling people to make a point.

“While you were sleeping last night, 45,000 children died due to malnutrition. Most of you don’t give a s**t,” he would say in a variation of his talk to Christian groups. “What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said s**t than that 45,000 children died from diseases related to malnutrition.”

Campolo believes evangelicals have woken up to issues related to social justice. He said the last time he checked, the number of children who die each day due to malnutrition has gone down to 19,000. And more people have access to clean water due to well digging, thanks in part to the work churches have done.

KRE/AMB END BAILEY

22 Comments

  1. It is a testament to how poorly both organized and run is any ministry which cannot survive the either retirement or death of its founder. Either that, or Compolo is saying, in effect, that if he can’t personally go the good, then NOBODY gets to do the good. I’m sorry, this bothers me.

    __________________________________
    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

    Veritas nihil veretur nisi abscondi.
    Veritas nimium altercando amittitur.

    • I meant “do” the good, not “go” the good. Typo. Sorry.

      __________________________________
      Gregg L. DesElms
      Napa, California USA
      gregg at greggdeselms dot com

      Veritas nihil veretur nisi abscondi.
      Veritas nimium altercando amittitur.

      • Considering that Tony Campolo has been a huge force in reminding evangelicals that justice is core to the message God has been communicating to us for thousands of years… and that — at 78 years old — he’s continuing to speak 200 times this year… and that he’s continuing to mentor new leaders like Shane Claiborne… and that EAPE is leaving behind $300,000 and 22 (!) offshoot ministries that are doing dynamic ministry… considering all that, I’m not sure that I would be proud enough of my discernment of what was “hidden” to speculate about motives of who gets to do what, or how EAPE was organized or run. Stop nitpicking at a brother in Christ. Organizations aren’t made to continue forever. They are hopefully created and run for a time and a purpose. EAPE has done incredible ministry, and its 22 offshoot ministries, and the millions of people that Tony Campolo and EAPE have reached are pretty good indicators that Tony Campolo has been – and continues to be – a good and faithful servant.

        • Question? How much is Campolo being paid for all those speeches? Why can’t preachers, like everyone else, even popes recently, recognize that there’s a time to stop working and smell the roses for a while before taking the long trip from which there is no return? Retirement should mean a time for reflection, contemplation, meditation, preparation to die.

          Jesus was such a trouble-making prophet that he was done in by those who were “holier than thou” at 33. There are at least as many with whom to be making trouble today, but let the younger ones take your place.

          • Did you know that Tony and his wife only keep something like $50k a year to live on and donate the rest?

            I’m confident that Tony has continued to work this long in this capacity because he knows what he can do, given strength from the Lord. Let’s let him alone so he can decide about his own life. And didn’t you read about him helping up younger people to lead other ministries?

  2. Gregg, I think your “either/or” options are too limited. Focus on “poorly organized and run” as the main explanation for the cessation of an organization is a bit limited. We’re dealing with definitions of success and failure. We’re dealing with the breadth of support an organization has, and the demand for its “product.”

    And as for your “or” option, it sounds to me like Tony Campolo would have loved it if his son Bart would have decided to head the EAPE. Problem is, the EAPE was designed to channel money from Tony’s speaking engagements into organizations. Bart was literally unable to head the EAPE because his spiritual gifts and calling are simply different from those of his father’s.

    The EAPE was a vehicle to channel the proceeds of Tony Campolo’s speaking engagements. If Bart is not a gifted speaker, then the actual purpose of the EAPE cannot be fulfilled. Sounds like the EAPE was a temporary structure established for a particular moment in time, a particular opportunity, whose time has passed.

    A mechanism for succession is a valuable thing in many situations, yet the demand for the perpetuation of an institution through time is also problematical. Remember how the disciples wanted to set up three tents, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. They wanted to preserve a passing spiritual experience in an institutional, concrete form.

    Instead of preserving experiences in institutional form, we need to pursue spiritual reality so that God can work in new ways. People say that God never does the same thing twice. People, on the other hand, often want to conjure up old spiritual moments and experiences. They don’t open themselves to an unpredictable God, who will keep you off balance and dependent upon him, if it’s really God who is making something happen.

    I admire Tony Campolo for seeing that the time for his “baby” has come to an end, and not demand that others perpetuate his temporary non-profit organization.

  3. Tony is a great man. I admire the hell out of this guy.

    “While you were sleeping last night, 45,000 children died due to malnutrition. Most of you don’t give a s**t,” he would say in a variation of his talk to Christian groups. “What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said s**t than that 45,000 children died from diseases related to malnutrition.”

    That is how a humanist talks. That is also how an atheist talks.

    If Christians would really use the pulpit this way, maybe I could be convinced that religion could be useful.

    Unfortunately, his interpretation of Christianity is extremely rare – too rare – and that alone argues against the existence of a real god.

  4. He isnt giving up !!. He is saying.” I did what I was told to do.. Now instead of waiting on a rooftop with me for God to take me home.. let us see what the younger generation is going to step up and do”…
    He is still sharing, he is still leading, Most wise of all, he is allowing new blood with a word from the Lord to step out of the wilderness and take up the mantle and lead
    Thanks for kicking us all the the butt, Tony, Go with God, we are right behind you.

  5. Tony retiremnt shd be planned along side wth succession,Bart may have different idea or talent, tony can still groom frm members of his ministry.However, except on health problem, tony shd continue, there is purpose why God called him, as Jesus,Elisah,Moses etc. did it till death.

  6. I guess Jesus was also a self-appointed evangelist, a prophet as they were called. Each should be measured by the good they attempt to do for humanity in general and the efforts they use to expose all the “false prophets” of whom there are always so many.

    If nothing else, history proves that religion can be for evil just as much as it can be for good. The same is true for politics and government. That is precisely why religion and government are such a dangerous, awful mix.

    We are seeing that danger again in the United States in spite of the wisdom of those who framed our government and added the separation of church and state as our very first right in an effort to attain democracy. That struggle for democracy, with all its setbacks, many caused by religion, continues to this day.

  1. […] “My son made it clear to me that he didn’t want to be responsible to carry on the old man’s work. I think I can understand that,” Campolo said. “My son’s theology has drifted to the left when EAPE is definitely evangelical.” More: <a href="http://www.religionnews.com/2014/01/14/tony-campolo-shutter-evangelical-ministry-started-40-years-ag…;http://www.religionnews.com/2014/01/14/tony-campolo-shutter-evangelical-ministry-started-40-years-ago/ […]

  2. […] Earlier this week, 78 year-old Dr. Tony Campolo announced he would be closing the doors of the ministry he launched three decades ago. I appreciate his faithfulness and consistent voice on behalf of the marginalized, and applaud his wise words in the RNS piece about his retirement from the organizational part of his speaking and writing ministry: […]

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