Reverend on the right

LINDA CAHILL November 18 1985

Reverend on the right

LINDA CAHILL November 18 1985

Reverend on the right


Rev. Kenneth Campbell arrived at the Toronto Press Club alone —dogging the footsteps of his current archenemy, Dr. Henry Morgentaler. The 62-year-old abortion activist had called a press conference on Oct. 2 to criticize the Ontario government for its decision the previous day to continue prosecuting him for performing abortions. As he talked, Campbell sat at the back of the room and took notes, heckling intermittently. On one occasion he shouted “Murder.” And when Morgentaler demanded that his fundamentalist religious opponents “lay off your concern about embryos when millions of children around the world are starving,” the evangelist minister guffawed loudly. Said Campbell later: “I find it comical when he equates the killing of unborn human beings with a compassionate concern for the hungry.”

In the past decade Campbell, an evangelical Baptist minister and founder and director of the 15,000member Renaissance International, a conservative religious lobby group, has

become Canada’s equivalent of U.S. Moral Majority leader Rev. Jerry Falwell. Over the years he has waged a persistent campaign against Morgentaler, attacking politicians for refusing to close his clinic, and has successfully campaigned to have novels banned in schools because of their sexual content.

The blue-eyed, handsome Campbell has the unerring ability to turn his obsessions into high profile national issues

In 1978 he mounted Toronto prayer rallies with U.S. singer Anita Bryant against gay liberation. In his many fights the blue-eyed, handsome, sixfoot, l1^-inch Campbell has had the unerring ability to turn his obsessions into high-profile national issues. His flattened nose seems more in keeping with the Whitby, Ont., high school

football star that he was in his boyhood than with the preacher he has become. Still, the man whom Falwell calls “my friend for years” presents an enormously compelling image for the cameras.

Last June, in an effort to provide an alternative to the Morgentaler abortion centre on Harbord Street in downtown Toronto, Campbell opened his own drop-in centre and counselling service, called The Way Inn, next door to the clinic. A large room with a fireplace and a soft-drink bar, he called it “a lifeline of hope for expectant mothers in despair.” Several weeks later he notifed police and the media that he would be making citizens’ arrests of clinic staff. The cameras tracked a perspiring Campbell, striding head down and alone through a nearby alley. Finding two women wearing prochoice buttons, he tapped first one, then the other on the left shoulder, announced they were under arrest and called a nearby police officer to take them away.

The officer refused—but Campbell said that he was not discouraged. In fact, he promised to make further citizens’ arrests if no action were taken to shut the clinic. And last month he sent a letter to Ontario Premier David Peterson demanding “in the name of the God of Heaven” that he remove Ontario Attorney General Ian Scott from his post for “collusion with criminals” in failing to stop the abortions.

Not all Campbell’s missions are so volatile. He spreads a message of Christian love through a television show, broadcast live between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., which he hosts on Thursdays on Channel 47. He regularly calls for a return to old-fashioned school discipline, stay-at-home mothers and traditional family life. He also vigorously opposes unilateral nuclear disarmament. His personal habits reflect his conservative beliefs. He does not read novels nor does he drink, smoke, take coffee or tea or approve of teenage dances. He lives with his wife of 25 years, Norma, in a modest bungalow in Milton, Ont., 60 km west of Toronto.

From the top of the Niagara escarpment, the minister’s home features a stunning view of surrounding farmland. The home is technically owned by Coronation College, a currently inactive educational institution of which Campbell is a board member. Campbell gave the house to the college to avoid paying education taxes because he argues that the public school system promotes anti-Christian values, but he claims that the property could probably be sold for $190,000.

The minister’s crusades are funded by the 25-year-old Ken Campbell Evangelistic Association, which now

has an annual budget of $200,000, mostly raised from donations. Campbell launched the association in 1960 when he was a travelling evangelist touring Canada, the United States and Great Britain. But in 1982 Campbell became the permanent pastor of Milton’s Emmanuel Baptist Church, a member of the fundamentalist Fellow-

ship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada.

One of the main reasons Campbell has put down roots is his involvement with Renaissance International, a conservative education lobby which claims that it champions Judeo-Christian values. He founded the group in 1974 after he came home one winter day to

find Norma sitting in the living room weeping with distress over sexual passages in John Updike’s book Rabbit Redux, which was on their daughter Annette’s Grade 11 reading list. The Campbells’ dismay turned to wrath when Annette and her younger sister, Jenny, told them them that their school had also invited four members of McMaster University’s Gay Liberation group to speak to senior students. The minister called a meeting of his neighbors, formed Renaissance and took all five of his children out of the public school system. All now attend private Christian evangelical schools.

Through Renaissance, Campbell claims to have national impact. His achievements include successfully convincing southern Ontario’s Halton Board of Education to ban from its 17 high schools a short-story collection, The Story-Makers. The book, edited by Alberta Mennonite author Rudy Wiebe, offended Campbell because in one story, The Sin of Jesus, Christ is portrayed as fallible. As well, Renaissance claims that it has convinced local school board officials from Richmond, B.C., to Halifax to form “book selection” committees so that library contents will meet parental approval. Currently, the Renaissance Peterborough chapter is working to ban Margaret Laurence’s acclaimed novel The Di-

viners because it features explicit sexual scenes. Said Alan Borovoy, director of the Toronto-based Canadian Civil Liberties Association: “If Ken Campbell had his way the youngsters in our school systems would not read anything more interesting than the phone book.”

But Campbell’s flamboyant style and increasing outspokenness have begun to provoke criticism even among those who share his views. Said one “prolife” colleague who asked to remain anonymous: “The guy is a bit of a media hound.” And former Toronto mayor John Sewell, who was himself raised a Baptist, had a confrontation with Campbell after Sewell supported a homosexual rights aldermanic candidate in the 1980 municipal election. Both Sewell and the candidate lost the election. Said Sewell: “There is no question Campbell thinks he is an arm of God. I have always been taught that that is a heretical belief to have.”

Recently, even some members of Campbell’s own church have begun to reject his crusading tactics. Last spring 30 people left the church’s 150member congregation. One was Helen Penrice, a member for 22 years, whose husband, Thomas, was a deacon at Emmanuel Baptist. Said Penrice: “We lost confidence in him. He is more interested in issues. We wanted someone interested in people.”

Several of the departing families cited another source of division. In September, Campbell opened a Christian school in Emmanuel Baptist’s basement, which some neighbors complained was in contravention of local zoning laws. Former church members said they feared that Campbell’s alienation of municipal officials and local neighbors would deter potential recruits to the church. Currently, the town is awaiting a legal opinion on the school’s status from the town council’s lawyers. Meanwhile, a former public school teacher, Alma Hackett, continues to teach the 32 youngsters, ranging from kindergarten to Grade 8, in the church basement.

Campbell says that he now wants to share those views with a wider public. His plans include hosting a series of Christian television programs from The Way Inn, featuring variety and phone-in shows. Sitting in the study of his cliffside home one recent evening, he stared out the window at the darkening valley below. Then he declared, “There is a strategy that is in the spirit of Christ according to the character of Christ.” It inspired him to be both forgiving and militant, he said: “I can both shake Henry’s hand and say, T will see you in jail where you belong.’ ”

— LINDA CAHILL in Milton, Ont.