Saturday, February 27, 2010

Shabbat with Campolo

...for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

Isaiah 65:18b-22

Last night, progressive evangelical Tony Campolo visited University Synagogue in Irvine for Shabbat. Campolo is a professor of sociology at Eastern University in Philadelphia and the author of many books with political and theological themes. He spoke for 45 inspirational minutes, detailing his work in Haiti, the common heritage of Jews and Christians and key political issues for our country (without ever mentioning Obama). For his text, he chose Isaiah 65, the Hebrew prophet's vision of the coming "reign of God." Christians and Jews believe that God will bring heaven to earth someday soon. It will be a time when we all stop crying and fighting and hoarding and we live in solidarity and generosity towards one another. This "reign of God" is what we Christians believe Jesus inaugurated and modeled for future disciples. When we embody compassion, peace and justice we anticipate the final culmination of God's reign.

Campolo told the story of a trip to Haiti where he was confronted by 3 teenage prostitutes who told him that he could have them all night for $10 a piece. He threw down $30 and told them to meet him at his room at the Holiday Inn in an hour where he bought banana splits and rented every Disney movie he could get his hands on. For one night, Campolo heard God tell him, he gave these girls their childhood back. This creative construal of the reign of God is what makes Campolo so unique.

As he reasoned through current political issues, he offered a third way that transcended rigid, over-simplified solutions on the left and right. He argued for a higher wall (to keep our drug dealers, terrorists and other criminals) on the border with Mexico with a wider gate to let in those destitute workers longing for opportunity. Instead of mandating that illegal immigrants go home to their country of origin and pay a fine before applying for legal citizenship to the US (the George W. Bush proposal), Campolo articulated that these "undocumented workers" living in the US should be given the opportunity to register with our government and receive a green card by paying a $10,000 fine (amount that Bush proposed). Although steep, these newly legalized immigrants would be able to pay it over time, mandating that 10% of their paycheck go to erasing it.

He was astonished and mortified that Evangelicals spent $84 million to fight against gay marriage in 2008, while poverty issues engulf our world. He proposed that we use the Dutch model of marriage, mandating that all couples (gay and straight) register with the government for full rights and if a couple wants to get "married" on top of that, they have the option of doing a ceremony in a church or synagogue. Religious leaders would not be forced to administer vows to gay and lesbian couples if their convictions did not align with that. The real threat to the sanctity of marriage, Campolo protested, was the skyrocketing divorce rates within the Body of Christ.

Campolo pinpointed a major theological weakness in the current health care debates, strategically reminding Evangelicals of the opening sentence in Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life: "It's not about you." If we truly believe that greatness is defined by what we do for others (Luke 22), then shouldn't we Christians be leading the charge to ensure that these 47 million Americans without health care get basic medical coverage? Instead, Campolo points out, we hear the same refrain over and over: "I'm happy with my coverage," implying that the government had better stay out of this altogether.

But Campolo was preaching to the choir with these progressive solutions...until he brought up the Israel-Palestine question. Always a sensitive topic in a synagogue, Campolo pleaded for a two-state solution with Jerusalem serving as a double-capital for Jews and Palestinians. He supports "the condominium option" which would allow for Jews and Palestinians to live anywhere in the Holy Land, but that Jews and Palestinians would have separate governments (West Bank and Gaza Strip "belonging" to the Palestinians and Israel would claim everything else) and Jewish settlers would be allowed to stay put while border walls are knocked down to allow Palestinians the freedom to move and visit relatives they haven't seen in quite sometime. This issue is quite current here in California where GOP Senatorial candidate Tom Campbell is in hot water over his similiar stance on Israel that veers away from the usual hard-line pro-Israel jargon from Republicans, Jews and Evangelicals.

In short, Campolo's gift of story-telling and communicating pigeonholed political issues clearly and creatively, while possessing the moral courage to boldly talk about Israel in a Jewish Synagogue in the heart of Orange County made this an inspiring and challenging night.

--Theological Autopilot


  1. awesome...can you just take the micro trek to all these events. You know Dale's recorder thing.

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