At a stage in life when many people might start looking to wind down, one of the pro-life movement’s more colourful figures is still going strong.
Ken Campbell, the 62-year-old Milton, Ontario evangelist and founder of Choose Life Canada, is engrossed in a whirlwind of activity these days –standing in the midst of controversies over the federal government’s pro-homosexual rights legislation, Linda Gibbons’ imprisonment for pro-life picketing, prayer in public schools, the use of an obscene novel as a study subject in a Milton public high school and Ryerson University’s former employment of a pedophilia advocate and male prostitute as a journalism teacher, among other things.
In between it all, he’s found time to air a daily radio commentary and challenge Sheila Copps as a candidate in the 1996 Hamilton East by-election.
“People ask me, ‘Don’t you get discouraged?”
Campbell says during a brief respite at his rented Milton cottage. “No. If my mandate was to go out and change the world, I’d get frustrated because I’m not seeing the world change. But my mandate is to be a witness faithful to Christ and His truth.”
Being such a witness has been a key component of Campbell’s life ever since Feb. 16, 1974, when he says he gave “a blank cheque” to God to do with him what He pleased. The date marked a departure from what Campbell calls the comfort-zone brand of Christianity he had been following until then.
“I kept hoping you could combine the winsomeness of a non-controversial, Billy Graham evangelism with apostolic confrontation evangelism…(but) I realized I had been evading my responsibilities as a Christian parent and citizen for the sake of a successful career as an evangelist, I couldn’t live with that unresolved tension.”
Born in the hamlet of Hartford, Ontario, Campbell attended university at Bryan College in Dayton, Ohio and began his ministry work in 1957 in the Ottawa and Stouffville areas. During the 1960s and 1970s, he switched his emphasis to “a crusade ministry of global evangelism” by traveling around the Canadian Prairies and in the U.S.
He founded Renaissance (a pro-family movement dedicated to preserving traditional values) in 1974 and so he began his involvement in some of the most controversial and emotion-laden social issues of our time.
From exposing homosexual agendas in public schools, to contesting the opening Henry Morgentaler’s then-illegal abortuary on Harbord Street in Toronto in 1984, Campbell has been there. But the stands he has taken have not come without a price – he has often been subjected to abuse and seen cells of prison cells several times.
I’ve been arrested and jailed a number of times in Toronto and Montreal.” he says . I’m prepared to be authentic and fullfils my responsibilities. I’ve left behind my concern for reputation and resources. Let the Lord take care of that.”
Campbell has also been a favorite target of the mainstream press, which rarely misses the opportunity to paint him as a right-wing extremist. “If they can find a statement, tear it out of context and make you look like a buffoon, they’ll make it front page,” he notes ruefully.
His Choose Life Canada organization sponsored The Way Inn, a pro-life counseling facility which for five years stood right next door to Morgentaler’s Harbord Street abortuary. The facility was effectively closed because of court injunctions in 1989, but was resurrected in a new location as Aid to Women in 1990.
Despite locking horns with Henry Morgentaler several times, Campbell’s Christian orientation is manifested clearly in how he has related to the abortion crusader over the years. “I hove everybody. I couldn’t be in this space if I didn’t. I even tell Henry Morgentaler, ‘I love you, Henry, and I look forward to visiting you in jail where you belong.”
In 1995, Campbell turned over the reins or Choose Life Canada to Gloria Lawrenson, former executive director of Halton Pro-Life in Burlington, Ontario.
“I don’t think there’s a more credible voice than Gloria Lawrenson,” says Campbell. “She uniquely conditioned, knowledgeable and has come out of the rough-and-tumble herself after being exploited by the abortion industry … she speaks with great compassion and sensitivity.”
By delegating the leadership of Choose Life Canada to Lawrenson, Campbell has freed himself up a little to deal with numerous other issues. He was, for example, a vocal opponent of Gerald Hannon’s continued employment at Ryerson University’s school of journalism Hannon became known for his pro-pedophilia views and admitted he works as a male prostitute on Toronto streets.
Campbell’s efforts were rewarded not long ago when Ryerson announced it would not be renewing Hannon’s part-time teaching contract.
Campbell has also been a staunch supporter of jailed pro-life activist Linda Gibbons, who has been imprisoned several times for breaking bubble zone court injunction protecting Toronto abortuaries. He has arranged the publications of a booklet, A Letter From Prison, detailing Gibbon’s experience and some of her writings in jail.
“We also put $5000 into an ad presenting Linda Gibbons as a political prisoner a few days before the provincial election.” He says. “We ran Linda as an independent candidate…I think Linda is the best evangelist in Canada today. She addresses the silence of the Church in its comfort-zone Christianity”
Campbell has long been a critic of the churches and their silence on, or reluctance to deal with moral issues—a stand which doesn’t endear him to the Christian community in general. “Churches won’t have me come and speak,” he says. “The inclination is to put a halo of respectability on secularism. Protestant liberalism has gone bellyup downstream with secularism. Evangelicalism has put a ‘Jesus Stave’ pin on hits underwear with a little bit of hot rod stuff on Sunday morning…We’re let the secular culture define why we are and where we fit.”
Gospel of Life
On the other hand, Campbell applauds Pope June Paul 11’s strong stands on moral issues and the writing of the Gospel of Life. I’m able to say ‘Amen’ to that kind of thundering from the Vatican.” he says.
The key to arresting the moral slide in Canada, today lies in overcoming indifference among Christians, he believes. “If you’re going to reverse the perverse, you’ve got to overcome enormous inertia and apathy. The Church began by challenging what’s sick in the civil order of thins. That is its mandate. Counter-culture Christianity is what’s needed in Canada today.”
Despite numerous setbacks for the Judeo-Christian point of view in recent years. Campbell notes there are reasons for optimism and he points to the election of conservative government. This is a government willing to listen to the people rather than special interest lobbies. That’s a major thing. A tide is imperceptible when it turns, but there is perceptible evidence that it is turning.”
When new social and moral controversies lie ahead? No one knows for sure, but one thing is likely. Ken Campbell will be in the centre of it all.
“I continue as an unmuzzled voice for Christ and His Church in public life.” Rev. Campbell says.