Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Being Christian requires commitment, Baptist theologian tells Lutheran kids

Tony Campolo spoke to a full house at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi, Minnesota.

Everybody wants to be a Christian up to a point, Baptist theologian and Christian stump theologian Tony Campolo told a roomful of Lutheran young people and their parents on January 24. But, he added, “Jesus wants more than that from you and me.”

St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Mahtomedi, Minne-sota, hosted the religion professor from Philadelphia at an event designed to inspire and motivate youth and adults who worship at the 9,000 member east suburban ELCA congregation.
The pews were filled when Campolo took the podium and declared, “There’s a difference be-tween believing the right stuff about Jesus and surrendering to him so his Spirit can flow through you.”

Jesus wants a commitment from us, he said, and challenged those in his audience by asking, “Are you ready to make a commitment to the poor?” He invited everyone in the room to approach the podium after his message and give him their name and mailing address. He said he’d send each one who came forward the name of a third world child whom they could sponsor for $32 a month.

Backing up the invitation, he said, “I’m really tired of mainline church people [including Lutherans] who are unwilling even to make minimal sacrifices for the poor.” He scanned the virtually-all-white crowd and added, “The kids in this suburb are the most privileged on the planet.”
“Christ wants to be in you,” he said, drawing on an image from the Apostle Paul. “Are you ready for that? I’m asking you to make that commitment. Make Christ a living part of your life. If it hasn’t happened yet, go into a quiet room somewhere, get rid of the distractions, and ask for it.”

One of the rewards of living in Christ, Campolo maintained, is a spirit of joy. “Young people aren’t joyful enough,” he argued, citing his own experience in an elevator. “I got in, turned around and faced the door. When the elevator stopped, the door didn’t open. I was a little nervous about that, so I started pounding on it. (I’m Italian, you see.) Two tee-nage boys standing behind me calmly declared, ‘Hey, mister, there’s two doors to this elevator. You have to go out the other one.’”

Said Campolo, “I looked at them and started laughing. They looked at me like I was a lunatic. I told them, ‘What’s the matter with you two? Laugh! This is funny!’”

The professor from Eastern Baptist College also challenged the parents in the room. He said, “Don’t be seduced by that line in the Declaration of Independence about the pursuit of happiness. That’s highly overrated.” He said, “Japanese parents hope for their children, more than anything else, that they’ll be successful.” Then he asked, “What do American parents want more than anything else for their kids?”

As if on cue, the audience responded in one voice: “Happiness.” The son of Italian parents, Campolo said, “Here’s what Italians want for their kids: they want them to be good.”

He told of growing up in a house where his father would come to breakfast, take a look at his son and automatically swat him. “Every time I’d say to him, ‘What did you do that for? I didn’t do anything.’ His answer came back, ‘I know. But you will. This is for that.’”

It wasn’t child abuse, he maintained. “My parents honestly wanted me to grow up to be a good person.”

What’s wrong, he asked, with parents going countercultural and telling their kids, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”? (He received spontaneous applause with that question.) “Of course, a lot of parents want to know, ‘But won’t they rebel if I tell them that?’ Of course they will. Rebelling is what kids do for a living! It’s the parents’ job to tell them the right things to rebel against.”

Focusing squarely on the young people in the room, he said, “You don’t have to do the things I’m asking you to do tonight — but if you don’t, all the elastic in your underwear will snap before you get out to your car.”

He contrasted his congregation, a black Baptist congregation in inner-city Phil-adelphia, with most Luther-an parishes, which are typically white, reserved and polite. “When our pastor preaches, if it’s good, the deacons, sitting in the front row, shout out, ‘Keep goin’, brother!’ When Lutheran pastors preach, their members look at their watches and say, ‘God, it’s been 20 minutes! When’s he gonna stop?’”

Said Campolo, “You don’t have to wait for a ‘call to serve the Lord.’ I never got a call to ministry. My Italian mother decided it for me. She drummed into me, from early on, ‘Your purpose in life is to serve other people in Jesus’ name, especially the poor.’

“That’s your purpose too, you know.”