Bart Campolo is a secular community builder, counselor and writer who currently serves as the Humanist Chaplain at the University of Cincinnati.
Born and raised in suburban Philadelphia, Bart became an evangelical Christian as a teenager and was immediately attracted to urban ministry. After graduating from Brown University and serving as an urban youth pastor in Minneapolis, he returned to Philadelphia to found Mission Year, a national service organization which recruits young adults to live and work among the poor in inner-city neighborhoods.
As he became an influential evangelical leader, however, Bart increasingly questioned his faith. In 2005 he returned to street-level ministry in inner-city Cincinnati, where he eventually completed his gradual transition from Christianity to secular humanism. In 2014 he moved to Los Angeles to become the first humanist chaplain at the University of Southern California, and it was from there that he launched both his podcast and his counseling practice, both of which now reach people around the world.
Since moving back to Cincinnati in 2017, Bart’s work has remained focused on inspiring and equipping people to make the most of their lives by actively pursuing goodness and meaning in an openly secular way.
Yes, Tony Campolo is my Dad. He’s also one of my all-time favorite people and the best in person communicator I’ve ever met. We’ve worked together on lots of ministry projects and at the end of my Christian career I served as the executive director of his ministry, EAPE. While my deconversion has been very difficult for him, my dad has been incredibly understanding and our relationship is still strong and mutually supportive. In fact, we wrote a book about it, Why I Left, Why I Stayed, which truly captures the spirit of our ongoing conversation about his faith, my values, and the wisdom of loving people even with whom you seriously disagree.
Whoa there! I call myself a secular humanist these days not because I’m angry with God or fed up with the Church, but rather because I simply can’t and don’t believe in supernatural forces. Rest assured, I’m still grateful for Christianity, since that’s where I learned almost everything I know about community building. Just as I no longer live in Philadelphia, but still speak with that accent and follow the Eagles, I’m proud of where I came from spiritually and I still root for the best kinds of Jesus followers. I know those folks are praying for me, and I’m grateful for that expression of their love.
Every label has its drawbacks, but I avoid “atheist” and “skeptic” because they carry so many negative connotations and are often mistaken for anti-theism, which simply doesn’t work for someone like me. Technically I am agnostic about the existence of God, but that word suggests much more uncertainty than I actually feel. I’m too aware of my cognitive biases to call myself a freethinker, and even if I wasn’t, my inner marketer tells me that moniker is too old-fashioned. So then, as unfortunately anthropo-chauvinistic as it sounds, calling myself a humanist is the best way I know to immediately communicate that a) I don’t believe in God and b) I’m actively committed to a positive, life-affirming value system.
Well, according to my job description, I provide regular inspiration, pastoral care, and supportive fellowship and service opportunities to UC students, faculty, and staff members who are exploring or actively pursuing secular goodness as a way of life. All of which means I do most of the same things more traditional clergy members do, like showing up in times of trouble and officiating at weddings and funerals. I also interact with lots of other people around the world, most of whom have nothing to do with UC.
Thanks for asking! I think this work is important too, and I’m always looking for help. First of all, you can spread the word by sharing links to my podcast and blog articles on social media, thereby introducing me to your friends. You can also make a donation or become a monthly supporter at the link HERE. Honestly, I believe our message is hugely valuable, especially in this moment, and it thrills me that we’re reaching so many people. Thanks for being part of it!