The Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell is an ordained minister with standing in two Christian denominations, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the American Baptist Church. Like many women in her generation, Rev. Campbell was first a wife, mother & community volunteer. At age 50, Rev. Campbell was ordained. She was already a leader in the ecumenical interfaith movement where she gave leadership for over 30 years.
Dr. Campbell is truly a “first woman.” In every job she held, she was the first woman to carry that responsibility. She was the first woman to be Associate Executive Director of the Greater Cleveland Council of Churches; the first woman to be Executive Director of the U.S. office of the World Council of Churches; the first ordained woman to be General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA; and today, she is the first woman Director of Religion at the historic Chautauqua Institution. Her daughter, Jane Campbell, follows in her mother’s footsteps as the first woman mayor of Cleveland.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, speaking about Joan Campbell, referred to her as “a woman of courage and compassion.” He pointed out that Rev. Campbell was the only woman in the clergy procession of over 200 for his enthronement as Archbishop of South Africa. “Her voice helped to bring an end to the evil of apartheid.”
As General Secretary of the National Council of Churches and as Executive Director of the U.S. office of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Campbell participated in some of the great historic events of the last century. She led a delegation to present the Catholic edition of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible to Pope John Paul II. She organized volunteers to work for the election of Carl B. Stokes as the first black mayor of a major American city. She worked with Martin Luther King and brought him to her own congregation, the first white church in Cleveland to receive Dr. King. Dr. Campbell served as an honorary election monitor with President Kaunda of Zambia in the election of Nelson Mandela as the first African president of South Africa, and she negotiated with Fidel Castro and President Clinton the return of Elian Gonzales to his father. Today they live in Cuba.
During her time as General Secretary to the NCC, Rev. Campbell in concert with Paul Gorman, Carl Sagan, Dean James Morton, and Albert Gore was a founder of what is today the National Religious Partnership on the Environment. In addition, she was the co-director with Rev. Jesse Jackson of the mission to Belgrade where, with the help of the Serbian Orthodox church, they successfully negotiated the release of American soldiers held captive. She serves as a member of the board of Rainbow Push. Dr. Campbell traveled with President Clinton to the funeral of Rabin in Israel. She has led peace missions to the Middle East including meetings with the major leaders in the region.
Today, Dr. Campbell is the Director of the Department of Religion at the Chautauqua Institution, a center for religion, the arts, education and recreation. She holds numerous national and local offices, including: past member of the U.S. State Department advisory committee on Religious Freedom Abroad, Trustee for the Council for a Parliament of the World Religions, the Fund for Education in South Africa, the advisory committee for Americans for Humanitarian Trade with Cuba, life member of the NAACP, Chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women and many others. As Chair of the Global Women’s Peace Initiative, she has given leadership to the Initiative’s important work with women in the Middle East. In this capacity, she chaired a conference in Jordan that brought together 97 Israeli women and 77 Palestinian women to explore with international peace leaders the hope for justice reconciliation.
Her accomplishments and achievements are many and varied, including eleven honorary doctorate degrees. Her work has been published widely and she is a sought after lecturer and preacher. Her most recent book, Living Into Hope – A Call to Spiritual Action for Such a Time as This, was published in 2010. Rev. Campbell is mother of three grown children and grandmother to eight.