Popular author and preacher Tony Campolo urged Baptists to help care for the needs of others by making systemic changes to American society and churches. Campolo spoke April 4 during the final plenary session of the Baptist Border Crossing at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in the Kansas City area.
The Baptist Border Crossing is the second regional meeting modeled after last year’s Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta. The first regional gathering was in Birmingham, Ala.
Campolo also urged Baptists to push for fair trade instead of free trade. He explained that American subsidized products were hurting the farmers in Africa, which results in unsold food in the markets that is wasted and thrown out. He added that such an economic system also undermines the efforts of agricultural missionaries who try to help local people improve their economy.
“I don’t know how blind we can be!” Campolo declared. “You see what the problem is, don’t you? That we produce food but people don’t have the money to buy the food. And the answer is not increasing production but helping the poor and the oppressed to have the means of buying those things.”
Campolo talked about the efforts of students from Eastern University in St. Davids, Penn., the Baptist college where he has taught for decades, to help reduce poverty in other nations. He told stories of some of the successful efforts in countries like the Dominican Republic.
“You can’t get rid of poverty unless you create jobs,” Campolo explained. “So we have young men and young women going to Third World countries starting small businesses and cottage industries—entrepreneurial ventures that these people can own and run themselves.”
“We’ve got to enable people to get jobs,” Campolo added.
Campolo also urged those present to get out of the church and reach the needs of those in the community. He said to focus first on praying for people’s needs and helping connect them with others who can help.
“You can’t carry out the Great Commission until you first carry out the Great Commandment,” Campolo explained.
Wallace S. Hartsfield II, pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, spoke during the session to address the question “Where do we go from here?” Hartsfield, who served as one of the two co-chairs of the Baptist Border Crossing Network that planned the gathering, noted that the session was being held on the 41st anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Hartsfield then read without commentary King’s address titled “Where Do We Go From Here?”
In the speech, King calls for greater systemic changes in American society in order to respond to problems of racism, poverty and war. King uses the story of Jesus telling Nicodemus to be “born again” as an example of what is needed in American society.
“He said, in other words, ‘Your whole structure must be changed,'” King said of Jesus. “A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will ‘thingify’ them—make them things. Therefore they will exploit them, and poor people generally, economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together. What I am saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, ‘America, you must be born again!'”
Campolo began his remarks by thanking Hartsfield for the “powerful reading” that is still relevant “to our contemporary situation.” He also noted that “following the words of Martin Luther King” made him feel that he would be “totally superficial” by comparison.
“Martin Luther King was absolutely brilliant,” Campolo added later in his sermon. “He understood that you couldn’t solve the problem of racism and sexism and militarism unless you began to restructure the economy.”
Visit www.baptistbordercrossing.org to learn more or watch archived videos of the plenary sessions.
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com and an editorial assistant for the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.