Tony Campolo has always been one of my heroes. He is a courageous Christian who is not afraid to take a stand that most of The Church wouldn't agree with. Many Christians could not understand how he could be willing to be a spiritual advisor to Bill Clinton. After all it is a know fact that Clinton is the antichrist. (Or maybe that's Hilary . . .)
Anyway, Campolo was recently interviewed in the Australian newspaper, The Age, in an article titled, Finding faith in the Oval Office. Although you can link to the article if you want, here is a lengthy excerpt:
Tony Campolo challenged the most powerful man in the world - and then became his spiritual adviser.
Bill Clinton is the most biblically literate President to have occupied the Oval Office, Tony Campolo says categorically. "He studies Scripture; he's into the Bible. He's a regular church-goer; he grew up in the church. He takes the faith very seriously, which, of course, makes the Lewinsky scandal all the more horrendous."
It's an unusual claim, but Campolo is well placed to make it. The controversial sociologist theologian was Clinton's spiritual adviser throughout most of his presidency. The job broke into two clearly defined roles: pre and post-Monica Lewinsky (the White House intern with whom the President had sexual relations of a sort).
"Before the Lewinsky scandal, he would talk about the biblical implications of various policies - such as the Middle East; the biblical responsibility to the poor. I really pushed him on the need to cancel Third World debt."
However, after the Lewinsky scandal, the focus changed.
"We began to deal with what Jesus expected of him in his personal life; how he was going to let Jesus lift him out of the morass; how he could find forgiveness, how he could get back on track with God."
Campolo would spend two or three hours with Clinton just talking about the Bible, praying, and trying to help him sort through the pain and strife.
"I'm not going to say more than that because he mentions it in the book and he doesn't say more about that."
Clinton's book, My Life, published last week, hasn't had rave reviews, but Campolo is happy - the references to him are all positive. (He raced out to a Melbourne bookshop to grab a copy to see what it said about him.)
The peripatetic professor - wife Peggy estimates he spends 80 per cent of his life on the road - has been in Australia for a fortnight, promoting Opportunity International, an Australian-based aid organisation that Campolo believes is doing a near-miraculous job. Of that, more later.
Campolo, whose leftish political views have made him a controversial figure in a country where evangelical Christians are convinced that God is a Republican, got the spiritual adviser's job after a disagreement with Clinton, then a newly elected President. It was at a breakfast on policy to help young people.
"I thought I was being very courageous, but I realised he appreciated the confrontation rather than the yes people that were there. Beyond that, we hit it off very well and became friends almost immediately."
President Clinton began to call, saying, "Next time you're in Washington, stop by and see me". Campolo didn't take him seriously - "You don't just drop by for lunch with the President" - but Clinton kept at it. Eventually, that's precisely the sort of arrangement it became, and then it became more formal. Philadelphia-based Campolo felt the responsibility acutely.
"I always felt when I went down to the White House that I needed to say the things that Jesus would say to him if he were in my place. And to not do that was to fail. So, in addition to the fun and the joking and the messing around, I would have to speak out some times."
Did he rebuke the President?
"I can't tell you that. Obviously, he called upon his spiritual advisers to correct him after the Lewinsky scandal, so that required some degree of confrontation. Repentance isn't something you do once and walk away from. A lot of people were hurt; lives were destroyed; his family was on the brink.
"The question is, does repentance translate into a course of action in which you try to make things right again, new again, good again? That's where counselling really comes in - how do you do that?"
Campolo admires Clinton greatly.
"He is perhaps the most sophisticated intellectual that we've had in the presidency. That's a strong statement. His encyclopedic knowledge is almost overwhelming. No wonder he won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford."
Yet, paradoxically, what Campolo admires most is not Clinton's intellect but his instincts. He paid little attention to political advisers or polls.
"He's a genius instinctively. He says the right thing instinctively. He tends to feel his way to the right position instinctively.
"It's a brilliant thing to watch."