Joan Campbell: First Lady of the Charter for Compassion

Joan Campbell: First Lady of the Charter for Compassion

Joan HeadshotRev. Dr. Joan Campbell has been involved with the Charter for Compassion since it was a "seed," and along with Karen Armstrong has helped to nourish and grow the initial idea of the Charter, the embodiement of the Golden Rule, into an international organizaton. Today the Charter for Compassion (CFC) is a worldwide network that works to connect and nurture the heart of the global compassion movement. CFC fosters a peaceful world where all are treated with dignity, equity and respect and recognizes that everyone is born with the capacity for compassion. There is no one better suited than Rev. Joan, to have guided the Charter for Compassion through its early years, to serve as the first Chair of the Board of Trustees, and to act as its most cherished ambassador.

Rev. Joan Campbell was born Nov. 13, 1931, in Youngstown, Ohio. She received a bachelor's degree in English and speech and a master's in education from the University of Michigan and studied urban ministry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Until she was 40 years old, Joan was a full-time mother, wife, housekeeper and community volunteer. Joan has a daughter, Jane Louise Campbell, and two sons, Paul Jr. and James. Of the time spent raising her family, Joan says "It taught me patience, perseverance and risk-taking," Joan's daughter, Jane, the mother of two children of her own and the 56th and first female mayor of Cleveland, Ohio said of Joan: "She gave us a sense of social responsibility and a sense of responsibility to the family and home."

Rev. Joan was ordained at age 50 with standing in two Christian denominations, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the American Baptist Church. She was already a leader in the ecumenical interfaith movement where she gave leadership for over 30 years.

A Leader of Firsts

Dr. Campbell is truly a woman of "firsts."  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 the first woman Director of Religion at the historic Chautauqua Institution.

Rev. Campbell has participated in some of the great historic events of the last century. In 1965 Campbell worked with Martin Luther King and brought him to her own congregation, the first White church in Cleveland to receive him. "Those of us who knew and worked with King knew him as a preacher," says the Rev. Dr. Joan Campbell, "But as the years go by, people see him as the great civil rights leader and ignore the thing that most drove him - his faith."

Rev. Campbell is a devoted activist for peace and social justice, believing that citizens in a democracy must act on their conscience. This commitment was crafted during her life changing work with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Rev. Joan recounted along with Otis Moss Jr. her being friends with Martin Luther King Jr.), and was deepened in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. She 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. Archbishop Desmond Tutu 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 installation as Archbishop of South Africa, commenting, "Her voice helped to bring an end to the evil of apartheid."

Rev. Campbell, in collaboration with Paul Gorman, Carl Sagan, Dean James Morton, and Albert Gore, founded what is today the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. In October 1993, the National Religious Partnership for the Environment formally began its activities as an alliance of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and the Evangelical Environmental Network. The National Religious Partnership for the Environment brings together a diverse alliance of faith institutions and leaders in order to bring voice and action on behalf of caring for God's Creation. NRPE offers resources and accounts of how people of faith are acting upon God's mandate to be stewards of God's Earth. NRPE also fosters the religious voice on environmental issues. (Photo: NRPE Board of Directors Meeting in June, 2014)

7aed15c0eec6780801cf15fe872dd63a LIn 1999, Rev. Joan Campbell negotiated between Fidel Castro and President Clinton the ultimate return of Elian Gonzales to his father in Cuba. Elian Gonzalez, who was rescued in waters off the Florida coast after his mother drowned while fleeing Cuba, became the center of an international custody battle. Campbell supported Elian's father and his desire to return with his son to Cuba. She even became something of an adopted grandmother to the then 6-year-old boy, who she stayed in touch with through the years. "I was born and brought up in Youngstown, Ohio," Campbell said. "This is not the plan I had for my life, to sit across from Fidel Castro and negotiate the return of a child to his family." (Photo published in CubaSi.  Taken in conjunction with Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell's visit to Cuba.)

From 1999 to 2013, the Rev. Dr. Joan Campbell served as the director of religion at the Chautauqua Institution, a center for religion, education, the arts, and recreation.  Preparing worship services and writing prayers at Chautauqua was life-changing for her. These very personal tasks, Campbell said, forced her to examine the deepest core of who she is. “I did not give up social issues,” she said. “I learned that times of prayer and reflection don’t  make you less of an activist, they make you more of an activist. Those times gave me a basis for what I believe, and I became more deeply committed to those things I have done all my life.”

Joan Campbell is the recipient of 14 honorary degrees, including one from the University in Monrovia, Liberia sponsored by the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  In 2010 she was awarded the Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award.  Rev. Campbell is the author of Living Into Hope: A Call to Spiritual Action for Such a Time as This, and Prayers From Chautauqua, a collection published in 2013. 


The Charter for Compassion Board of Trustees has established a Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell Campaign. While the future is hard to predict, we know that Rev. Joan has helped pave the way to solidify the mission of the Charter for Compassion’s future.  The Campaign named for Joan will help sustain the Charter for Compassion’s mission to work with city initiatives around the world in years to come.  

Your gift, at any level, will help the Charter’s commitment to change our future story to Dr. Joan’s story of “a compassionate world is a peaceful world in which every man, woman and child is treated with dignity, equity and respect. Please consider giving.



About Us

  • charter brand transp blue mediumCharter for Compassion provides an umbrella for people to engage in collaborative partnerships worldwide. Our mission is to bring to life the principles articulated in the Charter for Compassion through concrete, practical action in a myriad of sectors.


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