World renowned American evangelist, pastor and author, Tony Campolo, was in Australia last week conducting a series of breakfast discussions with World Vision’s Tim Costello on the issues of justice and mercy. He spoke about global poverty, the recent Middle East crisis and that famous quote...

Tony, you’ve been conducting a series of breakfasts with World Vision Australia’s chief executive Tim Costello looking at the question of mercy and justice and whether the two can meet. What did you conclude?
“Of course, we were concluded before we ever started. We went out to convince people that they’re connected; that in reality, justice is nothing more than mercy translated into social policy. Mercy is what the individual shows. I even like the word grace more than mercy. But the truth is that when the Holy Spirit invades us, possesses us; when we are yielded to God, there is generated within us a kind of empathy for people who are in need and we want to respond to them and feed them and clothe them and minister to them when they are sick. But sooner or later we come to the awareness that for every person that we rescue from the obscenities of an unjust political-social system, there are four or five more to take his place. The system grinds out more casualties than we can cure and sooner or later we must not only pick up the casualties, we must change the system so that it doesn’t produce that many casualties.”

Tony Campolo2

 

"The system grinds out more casualties than we can cure and sooner or later we must not only pick up the casualties, we must change the system so that it doesn’t produce that many casualties.”

- Tony Campolo

So it’s about looking at the causes as well as the effects?
“Sure, the Good Samaritan goes down the road, he picks up the guy that was left there on the side of the road, half dead. But if he goes down the next day and he sees it again and he sees somebody else gets mugged and it happens the day after that and the day after that, there comes a point where the Good Samaritan says ‘I’m going to keep on picking up the people that are battered and beaten and left on the wayside, but I think I’m going to have to do something about this road. It’s an unsafe road - we better get some light in here, we better get some police patrolling the road because this keeps happening. So it’s a matter of starting with mercy, starting with the kind of heart that Christ can create within us and then saying ‘Wait a minute, it’s not enough for me to behave on an individualistic level. I must, in fact, do something socially so as to change the system and create a society where there aren’t so many casualties, so many hurt people, so many destroyed people’.”

What does this mean for the “average” Christian living in Australia today? Does it mean preparing to get their hands dirty?
“Yes of course. But...Australia is almost a bad place to come because your government has done a pretty good job of responding to the needs of the poor. The proportion of your federal budget that is set aside to help poor people in the world is 0.28 per cent. They’re thinking of doubling that so it gets over one half of one per cent, which would be enormous. The United States, on the other hand...- this is the richest country on the face of the earth - we’re spending $US2 billion a week on the war in Iraq and here’s what we’re doing - we’re giving 0.04 per cent of our federal budget to help the poor of the world. We’re not doing what needs to be done. 
     “What I think the people of Australia need to recognise is that next year the G8 nations will be holding their meetings in your country. When they were held in Birmingham, England, tens of thousands of Christians turned out and had a silent prayer vigil in front of the building, calling for the G8 nations to cancel Third World debts and it was incredibly successful. Clare Short, (a former Secretary of State for International Development in the UK), says categorically that if it hadn’t been for the Christians - and she’s not a Christian - that if it hadn’t been for the Christians demonstrating as they did with dignity, with peace and with caring and prayer, that cancellation of debts would never have begun. So that’s the kind of thing we need to begin to do. We need to be into that, we need to be increasing aid to Third World countries and I hope your country, which is doing very well, can do even better...I do hope the plan to double (the proportion of the federal budget given in overseas aid) is actualised.”

There’s a quote I want to run past you. You apparently started many speeches in the Eighties with the words: "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 s**t. What's worse is that you're more upset with the fact that I said s**t than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night." 
“Yes, that statement has become rather famous hasn’t it? I think it’s true. I think our Christianity has been reduced into just making us into nice people...I don’t advocate using four letter words unless absolutely necessary but the truth is that being a Christian is more than just being nice and being polite and using the right language, it’s allowing your heart to be broken by the things that break the heart of Jesus...There are thousands and thousands of kids who everyday die because of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition and we could stop it if we had the will. We have the resources, we have the technology, we can stop world hunger, we can make poverty history. The resources are there, it can be done and, the fact is, that if we as Christians do not see that the Christ of history wants to move through us to reach this goal of making poverty history, then we’re not in touch with the Biblical Jesus because in the New Testament there are 2,000 verses of Scripture that call on us to respond to the needs of the poor. So, yeah, I made that statement and it haunts me down through the ages. I first made it at Wheaton College and I went back to Wheaton College 20 years later and, as I’m being driven to the call to speak, a student says ‘Dr Campolo, did you really say s**t in chapel at Wheaton College?’. It was 20 years ago and they’re still taking about it...”

"There are thousands and thousands of kids who everyday die because of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition and we could stop it if we had the will. We have the resources, we have the technology, we can stop world hunger, we can make poverty history."

Why is it, do you think, that we Christians have often missed the wood for the trees in the sense that we’ve been very good on some issues, yet issues like global poverty - and, as you say, there are 2,000 references in the Bible - are often missed. Why do you think that’s the case?
“I think there are a variety of reasons. First of all, there’s the whole ethos that exists in a country like the United States and in Australia. I find that of all the countries I visit, no country is more similar to the United States than Australia. We’re both very similar in our attitudes towards life. And both of our countries have been created through rugged individualism. People came over here and, as individualists, they made their way, they worked hard, they invested and they created life for themselves and so their prosperity has been the result of individualistic achievement. Consequently, they look at the rest of the world and they say ‘We did it as individuals, why can’t you?’ We expect people as individuals to solve the problem. 
     “The truth is that your country and my country are incredible countries when it comes to natural resources and land...- the very nature of our countries offers us opportunity. What a fantastic place Australia is and you would say the same about the United States. (But) you go to these land-locked countries in Africa where they don’t have adequate drinking water, where it hardly ever rains, where they have dictators that have prevented people from ever emerging out of their poverty - when you begin to put all of these things together, you begin to say ‘Hey, we were able to do it individualistically because we didn’t have a corrupt government that kept us down, we didn’t have the kind of oppressive environment(al) situations that these people have - things were very different for us’. So we have achieved individualistically and (so) we look at poor people and we say ‘They’re poor because they didn’t want to work or they’re not honest or they’re corrupt’. It’s far more complex than that and what we have to do is recognise that an ethos was created that creates a negative disposition towards poor people. We blame poor people for their own poverty.”

You’ve also been quoted as saying Christianity has two emphases, one “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” and the other “to bring people into a personal, transforming relationship with Christ, where they feel the joy and the love of God in their lives” and that while “fundamentalism has emphasised the latter, mainline churches have emphasised the former”, “we cannot neglect one for the other." In your travels around the world - and particularly in America and in Australia - are you seeing that churches are successfully combining the two?
“Yes, they are beginning to understand that the two are interrelated. As a matter of fact, when I evangelise - and I spend about half of my time just doing that... - I invite people to accept people as Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, but when they come down the aisle to accept the Lord, my major plea is this: ‘Don’t you want you life to count for something? Don’t you want your life to have meaning and purpose? Don’t you want to look back on your life when you’re hanging up your sneakers at the end and say “Woah, I lived a meaningful life and my life had purpose to it”?’ Jesus wants to take you and wants to do something magnificent through you. Jesus has a plan for your life. Jesus wants to use you to transform this world into the world that ought to be. Will you surrender to Christ and let Christ make you into a change agent that will give you meaning and affect the world in such positive ways that people will call you “blessed”?’ I find that people respond to that invitation. People say that if that’s what being a Christian is all about, I want to be a Christian. I want my life to count. I want to have significance. I want to have purpose. I want to be able to say at the end of my life, ‘People were blessed because of me’. I’ll give my life to Christ if that’s what it’s about; if Christ is going to take me and use me to build His Kingdom on earth. So I get people to respond and give their lives to Christ, surrender to Him as Lord, Saviour and God not just so that they can go to heaven when they die but so that God can use them in this world to change the world that is into the world that ought to be.”

That hunger for changing the world - with campaigns like Make Poverty History, we’ve seen a really broad response to such things in recent times and not just among Christians...
“Well, John says in his writings in The Gospel, that if we don’t say what needs to be said, the very rocks will cry out and they will do it. In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul writes that if the church, which is the in-grafted branch, does not do what it’s supposed to do in carrying out its mycological responsibility to the world, God will work outside the church. And I’m glad to say that God has been working outside the church to stand against the injustices and the evils of this world and what is happening is that the church says ‘Wait a minute you’re taking our responsibility away from us and we’re going to step in and take back this calling’ and I’m glad to see that the church is doing just that.”

"I’m glad to say that God has been working outside the church to stand against the injustices and the evils of this world and what is happening is that the church says ‘Wait a minute you’re taking our responsibility away from us and we’re going to step in and take back this calling’ and I’m glad to see that the church is doing just that.”

Do you think that you’ll live to see the day when poverty is history?
“Well, I’m 71, I don’t know. I think that realistically we’re probably talking about 20 years. But you know, when I made that statement about ‘You don’t give a s**t’, the figures were actually that ‘While you were sleeping last night 45,000 children died of starvation and diseases related to malnutrition’. (But) if I were to make that statement today you know what I’d have to say - ‘While you were sleeping last night 30,000 children died of starvation and diseases related to malnutrition’. We have made so much progress in a eliminating hunger and poverty that instead of 45,000 children dying every day we’re down to 30,000. I was looking at the World Vision video today that we showed at the breakfast when we were up in Brisbane and they pointed out that there was something like 400 million people had no access to clean drinking water. That’s a horrible figure but may I point out that 10 years ago, it was 800 million. We’re making tremendous progress and the church has been at the forefront; the people of God have been at the forefront.      “When Katrina hit the United States - that horrible hurricane that had devastating effects on the Gulf States - the government responded in such an inadequate way, it was disgusting. The richest, most powerful state on the earth - we were so inefficient...it took the US Army over four days to get down there. The Canadian Army was down there in six hours...The US Government was going through so much bureaucratic red tape they couldn’t move. But I’ll tell who was there and doing the greatest work even until this day and that was the churches. If you go down to that area today, everywhere you look you’ll see church groups building houses, cleaning up messes, rebuilding this community. The church is really the greatest thing in the world when it comes to attacking the problem of poverty. 
      “I think World Vision here in Australia has to deal with something and that is that the church here is small and it doesn’t see itself as the power it is in some other places like in the United States. Well, it’s time that this changed and World Vision is working hard through it’s faith in action program to stir the people of Australia to the awareness that the church is a sleeping giant - even though we’re numerically small, we can exercise incredible influence over what goes on here.”

You've been a spiritual advisor to former US president Bill Clinton and have been associated with the political left...
“No, I’m not the political left - although I’ve been sympathetic to a lot on the left, I’ve very sympathetic to a lot on the right. For instance, I’m a very conservative guy with something like abortion but I’ve very, very leftist on an issue like poverty. But when somebody asks me ‘Are you a Democrat or a Republican?’, my answer is always the same: ‘Please name the issue because on some issues I’m with the conservatives on the right and on other issues I’m on the left’. It depends on what the issue is - each issue I evaluate in terms of what the Scripture teaches. Sometimes Scripture leads me to go with one party, sometimes with the other. I think it’s idolatry to tie up Christianity with any single political party...

     “There’s a tendency that I get a little nervous about when I come over here and that is that you’ve got a kind of Christian political party beginning to emerge and I would rather Christians say ‘We’re going to go into the existing parties and transform them rather than create a party of our own’. Because I want Christians on both sides of the political aisle. As I said a moment ago, sometimes God is moving through the ideology and platform of one party and sometimes through the ideology and platform of the other party. And we’ve got to be aware that no single political party owns God.”

"(Y)ou don’t get rid of terrorism by killing terrorists, any more than you get rid of malaria by killing mosquitos. You get rid of malaria by destroying the swamps that breed those mosquitos. We’ve got to get rid of the poverty and humiliation of people in Arab nations if we’re going to deal with the whole terrorist issue."

One of the big issues today is the ‘war on terror’. How do justice and mercy play into how we should be responding to this?
“Two things. Number one is, we have to be aware that when Jesus says ‘Love your enemies’, He probably meant we shouldn’t kill them. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that we have to believe Jesus wants us to overcome evil with good. I’m saying this quite poignantly - you don’t get rid of terrorism by killing terrorists, any more than you get rid of malaria by killing mosquitos. You get rid of malaria by destroying the swamps that breed those mosquitos. We’ve got to get rid of the poverty and humiliation of people in Arab nations if we’re going to deal with the whole terrorist issue.
    “You know what we’ve done in Iraq is just absolutely the wrong thing. For every terrorist we kill, 10 more take his place. There weren’t any terrorists in Iraq prior to our invasion. Now it’s become the biggest training camp for terrorism in the world. We’re creating terrorists instead of destroying terrorism. So the first thing is we’ve got to change is the social conditions that generate terrorists. That’s the first thing.
     “The second thing is there is no way of solving the problem of terrorism without attacking the problem of the Palestinian-Israeli issue. I am one who believes that the people of Israel must and should have a land of their own and they should have safe borders and mothers shouldn’t have to worry that their kids are going to be blown up by some terrorist...on the way to school. On the other hand, I also believe that the God who loves Israel also loves the Palestinians and I believe that God would want the Palestinians also to have a secure nation with secure borders with no fear of the Israelis coming in with tanks and levelling their villages. We must stand up for both the Jews and the Arabs in the Middle East and we must demand justice for both parties. I think the United States has been too uneven in it’s support of Israel - too much support of Israel, not enough support for the Palestinians. We must protect both Jews and Palestinians because God is no respecter of persons.”

Do you think in that regard the US - and the international community generally - was too slow to respond to the current Israel-Lebanon crisis?
“The issue is quite simple - not only were they too slow to respond but we now know from inside information that the United States deliberately did not respond because we wanted to destroy Hezbollah violently. I don’t think it was the right thing to do, I think we have strengthened Hezbollah - every political strategist says we have. We’ve turned the Lebanese people who loved Israel against the Israelis. More damage was done than good was accomplished through that invasion. The United States strategically made the wrong decision and we’re suffering the consequences and will be suffering the consequences for years to come.”

www.tonycampolo.org
www.worldvision.com.au/getinvolved/faithinaction/index.asp