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Tony Campolo

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The Reverend Dr.

Tony Campolo
Campolo speaking in Newfoundland on behalf of World Vision in 2009
ChurchSt. John's Baptist Church in Philadelphia
Personal details
Anthony Campolo

(1935-02-25) February 25, 1935 (age 89)
DenominationBaptist (American Baptist Churches USA)
OccupationAssociate Pastor of the St. John's Baptist Church in Philadelphia, since 2019, Professor emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University in St David's, Pennsylvania
Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE)
EducationB.A. at Eastern College,
BD and MDiv at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary
PhD, Temple University (Sociology)

Anthony Campolo (born February 25, 1935) is an American sociologist, Baptist pastor, author, public speaker and former spiritual advisor to U.S. President Bill Clinton. Campolo is known as one of the most influential leaders in the evangelical left and has been a major proponent of progressive thought and reform within the evangelical community. He has also become a leader of the Red-Letter Christian movement, which aims to put emphasis on the teachings of Jesus.[1][2] Campolo is a popular commentator on religious, political, and social issues, and has been a guest on programs such as The Colbert Report, The Charlie Rose Show, Larry King Live, Nightline, Crossfire, Politically Incorrect and The Hour.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

He studied at Eastern College and obtained a Bachelor of Arts in 1956.[4] He was ordained a Baptist pastor in 1957.[4] He also studied theology at Palmer Theological Seminary and obtained a Bachelor of Divinity in 1960 and a Master of Divinity in 1961.[5] He studied sociology in Temple University and obtained a Doctor of Philosophy in 1968.[4][6]


In 1964, he became professor of sociology at Eastern University in St. David's, Pennsylvania.[7] For ten years, he also taught at the University of Pennsylvania.

He became an associate pastor of the Mount Carmel Baptist Church in West Philadelphia, which is affiliated with both the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. and the American Baptist Churches USA.[8]

In 1969, he founded the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE), which works to help "at-risk" youth in the U.S. and Canada, and has helped to establish several schools and universities.[4]

Campolo was the subject of an informal heresy hearing in 1985 brought about by several assertions in his 1983 book A Reasonable Faith, particularly his claim that, "Jesus is actually present in each other person". The book became a hot button issue, and the controversy caused Campus Crusade for Christ and Youth for Christ to block a planned speaking engagement by Campolo. The Christian Legal Society empowered a "reconciliation panel", led by noted theologian J. I. Packer, to examine the issue and resolve the controversy. The panel examined the book and questioned Campolo. The panel issued a statement saying that although it found Campolo's statements "methodologically naïve and verbally incautious", it did not find them to be heretical.[9][10][11]

In 1998, he became spiritual adviser of President Bill Clinton.[12]

In 2007, with Shane Claiborne, he founded Red-Letter Christians, with the aim of bringing together evangelicals who believe in the importance of insisting on issues of social justice mentioned by Jesus (in red in some translations of the Bible).[13][14]

In March 2011, Campolo began hosting the TV show Red Letter Christians, aired on JC-TV. This weekly half-hour talk show features interviews with leaders in the Red-Letter Christian movement.[15]

On January 14, 2014, Campolo announced his plans to retire from leading the EAPE and to close that ministry. The extra money in the ministry will be distributed to offshoot ministries started by EAPE; however, he plans to continue writing and speaking.[16]

Views on religion and politics[edit]

Although he has associated himself with the Democratic Party and several other modern liberal groups and causes, he has publicly stated his opposition to abortion. Campolo holds a consistent life ethic stance in opposition to any human situation that leads to the termination of life including warfare, poverty/starvation (as caused by extreme wealth inequalities), capital punishment, and euthanasia.[17][18][19]

Starting in the late 1980s, Campolo's left-leaning political beliefs began to put leaders of the Christian right, such as Gary Bauer and Jerry Falwell, at odds with him.[20][21] Despite his criticisms of political conservatives in the evangelical community, Campolo has also criticized the more liberal mainline Christian denominations because "they fail to emphasize a personal, transforming relationship with Jesus Christ."

Along with his wife, Peggy Campolo, he has participated in very public debates and discussions about the place of lesbians and gays within church and society. Campolo formerly contended that homosexuality was a sin in practice, although not in orientation, while his wife disagreed, holding that committed, monogamous homosexual practice was not a sin; she supports full equality for LGBT people.[22] Regarding marriage, he stated that all couples should have the right to a civil union with all the legal rights that are associated with such a contract.[23]

On June 8, 2015, Campolo released a statement changing his position on the issue of gay relationships, and stating that he now supported full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church. He cited several reasons including the institution of marriage primarily being about spiritual growth instead of procreation, what he had learned through his friendships with gay Christian couples, and past examples of exclusionary church traditions practiced "by sincere believers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong."[24]

Personal life[edit]

Tony married Peggy Davidson on June 7, 1958.[25] Their daughter, Lisa, was born in 1960 and their son, Bart, was born in 1963.[26] Campolo's son is Bart Campolo, a former evangelical preacher who left Christianity and transitioned to secular humanism. The two have engaged in an ongoing conversation since Bart announced to him that he no longer believes in God. They have co-authored a book exploring the issues at the heart of this conversation,[27] and a documentary film (Leaving My Father's Faith) was released in 2018 which features the conversations between them and tell the story of Bart's journey out of faith.[28] In June 2020, Tony had a stroke which left him partially paralyzed. As of September 2020, his condition improved and he has been undergoing physical therapy [29]

Awards and honors[edit]

Honorary degrees[edit]

Published works[edit]

  • The Success Fantasy (1980, Victory Press)
  • The Power Delusion (1983, Victory Press)
  • A Reasonable Faith (1983, Lightning Source Inc., ISBN 978-0-8499-3634-0)
  • Ideas for Social Action: A Handbook on Mission and Service for Christian Young People (1984, Zondervan, ISBN 978-0-310-45251-5)
  • You Can Make a Difference (1984, Word Publishing Group)
  • It's Friday, But Sunday's Comin' (1984, Word Publishing Group)
  • Partly Right: Christianity Responds to Its Critics (1985, Word)
  • Seven Deadly Sins (1987)
  • Who Switched the Price Tags (1987, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
  • 20 Hot Potatoes Christians Are Afraid to Touch (1988, Word Publishing)
  • Growing up in America : A Sociology of Youth Ministry (1989, Zondervan Publishing House)
  • Things We Wish We Had Said: Reflections of a Father and His Grown Son (co-written with Bart Campolo) (1989, W Publishing Group)
  • Wake Up America!: Answering God's Radical Call While Living In the Real World (1991, Harpercollins)
  • How to Be Pentecostal Without Speaking in Tongues (1991, Word Publishing)
  • Sociology through the Eyes of Faith (1992)
  • How to Rescue the Earth Without Worshiping Nature: a Christian's Call to Save Creation (1992, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
  • Everything You've Heard Is Wrong (1992, Word Publishing)
  • The Kingdom of God Is a Party: God's Radical Plan for His Family' (1992, Word Publishing Group)
  • Stand Up and Be Counted (1993)
  • Carpe Diem (1994, Word Publishing)
  • Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat?: And 14 Other Polarizing Issues (1995, Word Publishing Group) {published as Was Jesus a Moderate? outside the US}
  • Can Mainline Denominations Make a Comeback? (1995)
  • Following Jesus Without Embarrassing God (1997, Word Publishing Group)
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: Life Lessons from Unexpected Places And Unlikely People (2000, Word Publishing)
  • Revolution and Renewal: How Churches Are Saving Our Cities (2000, Westminster/John Knox)
  • Which Jesus: Choosing Between Love and Power (Nashville TN: Word Publishing Group, 2002).
  • The Survival Guide for Christians on Campus: How to be Students and Disciples at the Same Time (Co-Written by William Willimon) (2002, Howard Publishing Co)
  • Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel (co-written with Brian D. McLaren) (2003, Youth Specialties)
  • Speaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid To Face (2004, Word Publishing)
  • The Church Enslaved: A Spirituality for Racial Reconciliation (co-written with Michael Battle) (2005, Augsburg Fortress Publishers)
  • Letters to a Young Evangelical (2006, Basic Books)
  • It's Friday But Sunday's Comin'
  • The God of Intimacy and Action (co-written with Mary Darling) (2007, Jossey-Bass)
  • Red Letter Christians: A Citizen's Guide to Faith and Politics (2008, Regal Books)
  • Stories That Feed Your Soul (2010, Regal)
  • Connecting Like Jesus (with Mary Albert Darling) (2010, Jossey-Bass)
  • Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said? (with Shane Claiborne) (2012, Thomas Nelson)
  • The God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelicalism and Justice (with Mary Albert Darling) (2013, SPCK Publishing)


  1. ^ Price, Irie; Campolo, Tony (February 21, 2011). "Campolo talks about social justice [interview of Tony Campolo by Irie Price]". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Lubbock, Texas. pp. B1, B8. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
  2. ^ Campolo, Tony (November 5, 2010). "What's a 'Red-Letter Christian'? by Tony Campolo-religion right left politics Bush Jesus Christ church Bible". Beliefnet.com. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  3. ^ "American Baptist International Ministries". Internationalministries.org. November 18, 2011. Retrieved January 21, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d Randall Herbert Balmer, Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism: Revised and expanded edition, Baylor University Press, USA, 2004, p. 126
  5. ^ a b Campolo Center for ministry, Tony’s Birthday Trivia Quiz!, campolocenter.org, USA, February 15, 2022
  6. ^ Noel de Bien, Feature Interview: Tony Campolo, abc.net.au, Australia, June 27, 2004
  7. ^ Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans, Eastern University has served as the evangelical left’s laboratory, christiancentury.org, USA, May 5, 2021
  8. ^ CBSNEWS, Pastor Fights To Regain Streets, cbsnews.com, USA, June 8, 1998
  9. ^ "J.I. Packer – General Teachings/Activities". Rapidnet.com. Retrieved October 23, 2012.
  10. ^ John Dart (December 14, 1985). "Move by Campus Crusade for Christ Stirred Debate : Baptist Professor Absolved of 'Heresy' by Evangelical Panel". Articles.latimes.com. Retrieved October 23, 2012.
  11. ^ Ted Olsen. "The Positive Prophet - Christianity Today magazine - ChristianityTodayLibrary.com". Ctlibrary.com. Retrieved October 23, 2012.
  12. ^ Alison Fitzgerald, Clinton Recruits Spiritual Advisers, apnews.com, USA, September 16, 1998
  13. ^ Nick Tabor, Can this preacher's progressive version of evangelical Christianity catch on with a new generation?, washingtonpost.com, USA, January 6, 2020
  14. ^ Michael Gryboski, Tony Campolo Defends Red Letter Christians, Says Jesus' Words 'Raise the Moral Standard', christianpost.com, USA, October 17, 2016
  15. ^ "In-depth interview with Tony Campolo". High Profiles. Retrieved December 12, 2020.
  16. ^ "Tony Campolo to shutter the evangelical ministry he started 40 years ago | Religion News Service". Religionnews.com. January 14, 2014. Retrieved January 21, 2014.
  17. ^ Campolo, Tony (October 18, 2006). "Who is Really Pro-Life?". Huffington Post. Retrieved January 13, 2017. (revised May 25, 2011)
  18. ^ Merritt, Jonathan (December 17, 2013). "Tony Campolo hits hard on abortion, gay marriage, Israel and more". Religion News Service. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  19. ^ Pally, Marcia (December 28, 2011). "The New Evangelicals: How Christians are rethinking Abortion and Gay Marriage". Australian Broadcasting Commission. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  20. ^ "Falwell rejects Campolo TV plea". Christianity Today. 39 (3): 54. 1995.
  21. ^ "Meet Evangelist Tony Campolo". The Progressive. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
  22. ^ "GayChristian.net". GayChristian.net. Archived from the original on October 18, 2005. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  23. ^ Red Letter Christians by Tony Campolo, Chapter 7 Gay Rights
  24. ^ Tony Campolo (June 8, 2015). "For the Record: Tony releases a new statement urging the church to be more welcoming". TonyCampolo.org. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
  25. ^ Kristin E. Holmes, Campolo to slow, but not stop, Christian outreach, inquirer.com, USA, January 31, 2014
  26. ^ Davidson, Doug (2005). "Over the Top for Jesus: A Brief History of the Life and Ministry of Tony Campolo and EAPE" (PDF). TonyCampolo.org. Retrieved January 11, 2023.
  27. ^ Merritt, Jonathon (October 6, 2014). "Tony Campolo's surprise reaction when his son came out as a humanist". Religion News Service. Archived from the original on August 2, 2016. Retrieved July 12, 2017.
  28. ^ "Far from the Tree". Retrieved July 12, 2017.
  29. ^ "Good News About Tony | Tony Campolo". September 10, 2020.

External links[edit]