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Campolo, Edelman Urge Radical Change at New Baptist Covenant II Jeff Walton November 22, 2011
Marian Wright Edelman, a Yale Law School alumna, took aim at education reform in her speech. (Photo credit: American Academy of Pediatrics)
Taxes should be raised, Christians should be more concerned with racism, sexism and Islamophobia than with same-sex marriage, and America could be facing a new “racial apartheid” according to speakers at a liberal Baptist gathering meeting November 17-19.
“We are eating the seed corn of the future, and we are not leaving opportunities for them [children] and that is why they are there occupying Wall Street -- and that is a good thing -- they are breaking the silence,” declared Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman. Edelman took the podium the evening of November 18 along with fellow Baptist Tony Campolo during the final session of New Baptist Covenant II a gathering at Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. Convened by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, the group sought to provide an alternative to “more strident voices” in unifying Baptist around shared goals.
While only about 250 people were gathered to hear Edelman and Campolo speak in Atlanta, the two paired fiery oratory and the backdrop of a large choir to evoke images of a tent revival, if one centered on a call to political advocacy rather than repentance and personal piety.
“What about the Children?”
“Will the United States be a blip or a beacon in history?” Edelman asked, noting that the United States is experiencing the highest child poverty rate the nation has seen since 1959, and claiming that more than a million children fell into poverty last year.
In her talk entitled “What about the Children?” Edelman indicated that more government was the solution. Demanding that any budget adopted this year “does not widen the gap between the rich and the poor,” the activist asserted “we don’t need a super committee compromise: it cannot work for the poor. We should just let those Bush tax cuts expire.”
“We don’t need any tax cuts for the wealthy,” Edelman judged. “Let’s not talk about a budget compromise that is again going to compromise the well-being of children and the poor.”
The welfare state advocate also warned that “racial apartheid” could return under new guises, identifying incarceration as “the new American slavery” and slamming a “cradle to prison pipeline.”
Announcing her chief worry was due to 60 percent of children produced by public schools at 4th, 8th and 12th grade not reading at grade level, Edelman asked: “What is a child going to do in this economy if they cannot read or write?”
“We need to send those bounced checks of jobs, quality education, food and early childhood development back to Congress and state capitals and tell them to re-fill our nation’s insufficient bank accounts with transfers from the overflowing coffers of powerful corporations and individuals, from unjust tax breaks and subsidies and pay the long-overdue promissory notes of justice and hope that millions of children are waiting to receive,” Edelman demanded from the pulpit.
A “Radical Morality”
Introduced by the Rev. Dr. Daniel Vestal of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, who called himself a “Tony Campolo kind of Baptist,” Campolo took a more pastoral tone than Edelman.
“Young people are asking: ‘Jesus comes across as a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant and increasingly a right-wing Republican’ -- they compare this Jesus to the Jesus of Scripture, and they find a mocking discrepancy between the two,” the Professor Emeritus of Eastern University reported.
Arguing that Jesus provides “radical morality” not “middle class morality,” Campolo took several shots at American conservatives ranging from war, same-sex marriage and poverty alleviation.
“He (Jesus) did say ‘love your enemies’ which probably means we shouldn’t kill them,” Campolo surmised. “Is that an outlandish statement?” The Evangelical Left figure also said he could not believe Evangelical churches were “preoccupied with gay marriage.”
“You know what Jesus says about gays? Nothing,” Campolo declared. “It [focus on traditional marriage] is an attempt to escape the weightier teachings of the law.”
Campolo countered that the only description God gives of judgment day “is how we respond to the poor” and suggested that today the Good Samaritan would instead be cast as a gay man. The reference was one of several in which the retired college professor sought to hold the Epistles and the Gospels in tension with one another.
“Paul calls people to be believers, Jesus says ‘follow me’ – there’s a big difference between a believer and a disciple,” Campolo announced. “Jesus didn’t say ‘go into the world and make believers out of everybody’ he said ‘go and make disciples out of everybody.’”
Campolo explained that disciples are people who are totally committed to the master, and that the church is going to march out of history triumphant, not limp out of history.
“If we’re going to stand up for peace in a war-like world, if we’re going to end this desecration of the environment, if we’re going to stand up against racism, sexism and Islamophobia, if we’re going to do these things we’re going to have to gain a new level of commitment,” Campolo thundered.
“When students give me this junk of ‘oh, the church is full of hypocrites’ I always tell them, ‘that’s why you’re going to feel at home among us,’” Campolo recalled to laughter. “You want to come to my church, it’s full of hypocrites: the minute you walk in you’ll look around and say ‘my kind of people.’ The only difference between people inside the church and outside of church is this: we are people who are aware of our hypocrisy and we are striving by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome our hypocrisy.”
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