Tony Campolo and what causes offense

Fr. Greg posted the following quote from Tony Campolo in response to my web post yesterday. It was said on a college campus when he gave a talk there:

“I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a sh*t. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said sh*t than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

Most of you gasped at reading that quote and, if you notice, I did not dare put the full word he used on this blog post. But, in defense of Tony Campolo, he was addressing a particular problem at that Christian campus. Look at this next quote:

“I think that Christianity has two emphases. One is a social emphasis to impart the values of the kingdom of God in society – to relieve the sufferings of the poor, to stand up for the oppressed, to be a voice for those who have no voice. The other emphasis is to bring people into a personal, transforming relationship with Christ, where they feel the joy and the love of God in their lives. That they manifest what the fifth chapter of Galatians calls ‘the fruit of the Spirit’. Fundamentalism has emphasized the latter, mainline churches have emphasized the former. We cannot neglect one for the other.” (Source:

And here is the challenge for all Christians, not just the Orthodox. How do we maintain the balance in an appropriate fashion? As we enter into Lent, we are called to fulfill both parts of that calling. On the one hand, our fasting and the thrice weekly services during most of Lent are deliberate steps in the direction of growing in our relationship with Our Lord and Savior. Particularly the first and last week of Lent hammer at our bodies, our minds, and our souls, with services that repeatedly call us to the commitment of attending every night, praying every night, and opening ourselves to God in repentance every night. The last week takes us on the journey of our sins and the last week before his death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In extensive verses, we are called to meditate, to reflect, and to remember all the reasons why Our Lord Jesus had to come to save us. At the end, we are brought to our lowest pitch.

But, we are also called to increase our giving to the poor during this time. When we fast, we are not only supposed to abstain from certain foods, but also to eat less so that we might be able to give the money we did not spend on food, to the poor. That is why several jurisdictions have the Lenten boxes that urge you to put money in them to be given to the poor. They are aids that remind us that Lent is not simply about growing in our “personal, transforming relationship with Christ,” but is also about relieving “the sufferings of the poor.” For us Orthodox, it is not sufficient to simply grow in our personal holiness apart from the rest of the world. Even the most remote hermit is enjoined to pray for the peace of the world, for those who are sick, who hunger, who travel, etc. (Look at the Litany of Peace.). Orthodoxy has no room for navel-gazing Christians. Even our hermits look outward and join themselves to the world in prayer of intercession. And, many are the stories in the writings of the Desert Fathers of hermits who were encountered by thieves, travellers, seekers, etc., and who responded in grace, love, and even with the uncreated light of Mount Tabor.

But what about the speech, you ask? Well, let me point something out. Saint Paul does speak against wrong language. “?Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. … But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” So, clearly Saint Paul does wish us to control our tongue, as does Saint James.

But, here is the interesting point. Though Saint Paul wishes us not to joke about those things, because those who do them are bound for hell, nowhere does it say that a coarse mouth will send you to hell. Yet, more than once it says that a lack of empathy toward the poor, the sick, the suffering, and those in jail, may very well send you to hell. (Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.) So, Tony Campolo was right. It was and is horrid that more Christians would be offended by one four letter word than by 30,000 people who die.

Lent calls us to return to an appropriate balance.


  1. briank says

    That has always been my favorite Tony line.
    He shows that there is no humanity in statistics & we often worry about things that have no eternal value.

  2. John says

    May the intent of Great Lent be accomplished for those moving through it, and may we truly begin to take heed to the teachings of the Lord.

  3. says

    I will leave a discussion of the ethnocentricism involved in finding words like the one used above objectionable while being okay with words like “feces”. I think St. Paul had something a bit different in mind in the quote above, but that, too, we can talk about another time.

    Tony Campolo’s theology is perhaps limiting, forcing him to discuss these two things as if they were separate. They are not. When we pray, fast, and give alms, strategies we pursue to get out of ourselves, to open us more profoundly to the healing activity of god, we also make the world a better place. Further, we enhance our witness to the world, calling all we encounter to come to Christ in the context of the Church.

    I am posting a link below to a piece on a blog written by a Wesleyan pastor that is relevant (I have also cross-posted this piece over there.)

  4. doug boals says

    why does Tony assume that people do not care? How does he know? What is he doing to alleviate hunger in the world, other than accusing others of doing nothing?

    • Fr. Orthoduck says

      That is a very fair question. So, let’s take a look at Dr. Tony Campolo’s resume. Yes, he has an earned Ph.D., no, not a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.), or other “work-oriented” degree, but a full university-level research degree. Note: For other readers who may not know, in the university system, degrees such as the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) and even that of a physician (M.D.) or a lawyer (J.D.), though they are doctorates, are not considered “research” degrees but work-oriented degrees. They are higher than a Master’s, but lower than a full research degree. A Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) is a research degree, but not a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.).

      He taught sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. He also has graduate ministry degrees. His sociology background and his pastoral background are what give him the recognized research-level training that allow him to analyze data in order to reach the sociological conclusions that he uses in his talks and sermons.

      He founded the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE), which works to help “at-risk” youth in the US and Canada, and has helped to establish several schools and universities. He is also a frequent speaker for organizations, such as World Vision, to help them in fund-raising.

      So, I would suggest that he both does have the background and contacts to “know” and the history to show that he does do his part.

  5. WenatcheeTheHatchet says

    Ah, yes, the 6th was Forgiveness Sunday. I may be Presbyterian but since I have relatives who are Orthodox I know the word about forgiveness is not random. Please humor this Protestant making that observation for the sake of people less familiar with the calendar. :)

    Even without context it’s clear Campolo is saying “most” not “all” don’t care about people dying and that of the “most” those are more offended by the language than the deaths. When a certain pastor declared that the reason Westerners will go home and eat chicken rather than human is because of the influence of Christian missionaries that’s a polemical statement that can be considered to create a wildly false dichotomy comparable to Campolo’s (and, arguably, a bit more extreme and less defensible than Campolo’s polemic since there’s more to the Christian influence on civilization than the West!). Even as a Protestant I’m willing to say that one of our shortcomings is an assumption that issues have to be framed in dialectical ways.

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