COLLEGE PLACE - Revolutionizing Christianity through the power of self-sacrificial love was the message that best-selling author, international speaker, university professor and ordained pastor Tony Campolo had for a capacity congregation on Friday night, during a vespers service held at the Walla Walla University church in College Place.
The sermon was part of a two-day series of social and religious programming at WWU called "The Weekend."
Campolo, who headlined the event and spoke several times Friday and Saturday, has rocked the evangelical community upon occasion during the last few years with the release of books like the recent best seller "Red Letter Christians: A Citizen's Guide to Faith and Politics."
The Pennsylvania sociologist has authored 38 books and has made several appearances on television shows in recent years including "Nightline," "CNN Headline News," and Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," when the prominent Christian activist went head-to-head with the satirical faux-conservative in 2008 during a discussion over what it means to follow Christ's message in today's society.
The two grappled over how Christians should treat the poor and how they should behave toward homosexuals, a topic that Campolo addressed in his talk Friday night. He specifically refuted the idea, widely held in evangelical communities, that successful campaigns, funded by Christian groups, to ban gay marriage in states like California are a victory for the church and for God.
"After that, tens of thousands of gays and lesbians marched in San Francisco and New York and Chicago, screaming their hatred of the church and saw Jesus Christ as their enemy," Campolo said, "If you think that's a victory, you and I are on opposite teams."
Campolo also addressed the importance of reaching out to help those in need, especially children suffering from diseases like HIV/AIDS and the emotional neglect that often accompanies it.
REACH Ministries, of which Campolo is the honorary chair, was one of the sponsors for the event and gave students a chance to sign up for a volunteer opportunity to work with children with HIV/AIDS at a specialty summer camp. Campolo explained that sacrificing one's time, energy and finances to spend time with kids like these is exactly what living a life of Christ-like love is all about.
"It's one of the few opportunities where kids with HIV/AIDS can play with other kids without them shying away," he explained, "This is a very special opportunity to express the love of Jesus."
The message delivered by Campolo, who spoke for Saturday services at the WWU church at 9:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m., was well-received by students in attendance. Some students claimed they were close to tears. Drew Ray, a senior business major, said on Friday that Campolo's sermons might make him temporarily change his sleeping habits for the weekend.
"I might even get up for the 9:30," Ray said, "That's how good this guy is."