Editorial, Friday, April 16, 1999

CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Editorial, Friday, April 16, 1999

Dr. Tony Campolo’s visit to Tupelo ended Thursday night after a 24-hour chorus of laughter, tears, amens, and hallelujahs, figurative and literal, as a wide spectrum of the community came together for spiritual nourishment and fellowship.

It was a display of Christian unity rarely seen in Tupelo or anywhere else, crossing racial lines and involving so-called mainline and evangelical churches of many denominations. The overriding theme at each of four worship events was what all share in common a belief in the saving love of Jesus Christ.

Campolo’s blend of humor, passion and prophetic insight made for lively, enjoyable and yet challenging messages urgent pleas, in fact, to make joyful obedience to God and caring hearts toward others a reality.

There was the call to young and old alike to become not just believers but disciples of Jesus, agents of compassion and change in the world in his name. To some that message is troubling, but so, too, was the message of Jesus himself in his day. Campolo’s emphasis on social justice as a Christian mission is thoroughly grounded in scripture, and while unsettling, needs to be heard.

But Campolo is hardly an angry, scowling preacher. His fun-loving exuberance he talks of life with Jesus as a party is a refreshing antidote to the dour, long-faced piety that so often masks what should be the joy of Christian life.

Christians often wonder why many people don’t come to church, why many have rejected the gospel. Rarely is there sufficient self-examination to determine that it might just be because Christians can leave the impression that their lives are grim and drab, that all they’re interested in is setting themselves apart as more pious or correct than others. Nothing could be or at least should be further from the truth.

The communication of the joy of the gospel, and the changes that joy can forge in human lives and relationships, is the core of the message Campolo left with this community.

It’s a challenge for Christians in Tupelo and Northeast Mississippi. It involves asking ourselves what can be done, not only to bring people to Christ, but to do the work that Christ would have us do in the world.

Are we working for unity or are we fomenting division? Are we responding to the needs of others, or are we focused solely on ourselves? Are our hearts moved to action on behalf of the poor and marginalized, or are we indifferent or even hostile toward them?

Are we feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick all the things that Jesus says we do or don’t do to him as well?

And what do the answers to these questions say about us not only as individuals but as a community?

Through Christ, God and humanity have been reconciled. That is standard Christian theology. It’s a theology that has ramifications beyond the piety of our personal lives.

Empowered by Christ, the mission of his followers is to be reconciled to one another and, yes, even to enemies and antagonists. Imagine what would happen in a community that took that mission seriously.

The Campolo visit, if it does nothing else, can help this community focus on what unites us instead of what divides us, and to more clearly set before us our Christ-ordained task of reconciliation.