By Asia Nail
The Truth Reporter
Bishop Robert Culp, DMin, is a name that resonates deeply within the community, especially among those who have the honor of meeting him or benefiting from his tireless work as a community activist and religious leader. So integral is his presence and impact that he is affectionately known as ‘The Bishop of Toledo’.
From his early days as a young, passionate leader and NAACP Toledo Branch president, to his more recent years as an elder statesman, Bishop Culp has been a driving force in advocating for civil rights, education and economic empowerment in Toledo and beyond. His unwavering commitment to social justice and his dedication to empowering those around him have earned him a place in our hearts across generations.
Bishop James Robert Allen Culp was born in Sharon, Pennsylvania to Fred and Esther Culp. He is a graduate of Sharon Public Schools, receiving his BA from Anderson University and his Master of Divinity from Anderson University School of Theology.
Bishop Robert Culp has received many early honors, including being named a Distinguished Alumni of Anderson University in 1976, and going on to receive his Doctorate of Divinity from Anderson University in 1989.
As chairman of the General Assembly of the Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, Culp had a strong foundation in faith that he used to guide him in all aspects of life. He is a man who believes in the power of education. His leadership extends far beyond the church, as he served on the Ministries Council and the Board of Trustees of Anderson University.
“While in graduate school I pastored the Williams Street Church of God in Danville, Illinois,” says Bishop.
“Then in 1961 I was called to the First Church of God right here in our very own Toledo.”
Under his leadership, First Church of God located on Collingwood Blvd. has thrived, reaching the community through their Christian school, the Four Corners Project serving youth and children and the FACTS and FORWARD program.
In response to the increasing need for support for those struggling with substance abuse, Bishop Culp founded F.A.C.T.S and F.O.R.W.A.R.D, two housing programs that offer support, counseling, and shelter to those in need. He also founded Sparrow’s Nest, a homeless shelter operated by Cherry St. Mission Ministries, which provides shelter and resources.
Bishop Culp’s efforts to empower the community extend beyond his charitable works. He also co-chairs the Toledo Community Coalition, a group that focuses on improving community-police relations.
His work with the Lucas County Fatherhood Committee, CASA/CRB (Court Appointed Special Advocates & Citizen Review Board), and Hope for Toledo Board has had a tremendous impact on vulnerable children and families.
“We must always remember that the children are our future,” shares Bishop.
In the freedom era of 1966, Bishop was nominated as the Toledo Young Man of the Year, recognizing his early potential and commitment to serving others.
The 1960s was a decade of tension and upheaval in America, marked by the Civil Rights Movement and the push for affirmative action. For Black Americans, the struggle for equal rights was a long and arduous one, filled with protests, marches, and violent clashes with police and white supremacists.
The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were major victories of the time, but the fight was far from over. In many parts of Ohio, discrimination and segregation were still rampant, and the implementation of civil rights laws was met with resistance and hostility.
“All it takes is one small action from one person,” says Bishop Culp. “I convinced the Toledo City Council in the late 60s to pass a fair housing ordinance against redlining. The voters overturned it but progress had begun!”
In recent years, the term “redlining” has become shorthand for many types of historic race-based exclusionary tactics in real estate. Federal law helped reduce the discriminatory redlining housing practices in Ohio, yet Affirmative Action which aims to level the playing field for minorities and women was, and is still today, a particularly contentious issue.
“I’m often an early supporter of unpopular opinions,” says Bishop. “I generally choose what helps those most underrepresented and Affirmative Action is necessary to rectify past injustices and provide opportunities for those historically marginalized.”
After many years of dedicated service Bishop Culp’s work in promoting diversity and affirmative action was recognized. He received the Pace Setter Award for Affirmative Action in 2001, and the Goldberg Award in 2003.
“Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a profound impact on my life,” explains Bishop. “He helped me grasp the relationship between Christianity and civil rights.”
The city of Toledo has always been a beacon of hope for those who believe in the ideals of social justice and equality. The spirit of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. permeates through every aspect of our city, from Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge to the MLK Kitchen for the Poor. Toledo is a place where people of all races and religions are welcomed with open arms, and where the words of the great civil rights leader are still being echoed to this day.
At the heart of this movement was Bishop Robert Culp, a man who has been for the rights of African Americans for over six decades. He is a man who has seen the worst of humanity but has never lost faith in the power of the human spirit. “I met Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. just months before his assassination,” explains Bishop Culp. “I have been inspired by the great leader’s words to keep fighting for what was right ever since.”
Bishop Culp is a man who understands the power of community. At First Church of God, he built a family out of his congregation, and inspired them to dream bigger than the world would ever expect of them. He has been and continues to be a mentor to countless young men and women, helping them to see that they are capable of achieving anything they set their minds to.
In 2011, Bishop Culp received proclamations from many influential individuals and groups, including the President of the United States, Barack Obama, the governor of Ohio and the mayor of the City of Toledo.
Most recently Bishop Robert Culp received the 2023 Governor’s Humanitarian Award. This award seeks to selfless advocates who promote the welfare of humanity and the elimination of pain and suffering through service, often without recognition.
Bishop Culp’s influence continues to extend far beyond the walls of his church. As an advocate for African Americans telling our own stories, he works tirelessly to ensure that media outlets hire capable African American journalists. Bishop also stands side-by-side with other Toledo area ministers and community leaders pressuring those in power to make real change and has never lost sight of his ultimate goal: a world where everyone is treated with respect and dignity.
For Bishop Culp, the fight for justice is a lifelong pursuit. He is a living legend, a testament to the power of the human spirit and the importance of standing up for what is right.
Bishop Culp has enjoyed being married to his wife Maggie for 61 wonderful years. They are the proud parents of four children and six grandchildren.
“Although I’m retired as lead Pastor, we are just as active in the Church of God as ever. Come join us,” he says.
Bishop’s work spans a wide range of fields. “We continue to be a driving force in the efforts to improve public transportation,” shares Bishop. “We are working on that while increasing access to fresh and affordable groceries in our food deserts, too.”
Bishop Culp served as senior pastor of the First Church of God in Toledo for 61 years. Since his retirement last September, Bishop Culp remains committed to his community and the causes he has fought for throughout his career. He is now helping to transform a closed satellite campus of the University of Toledo into a hub for community services and programming.
He sees community and connection as vital parts of his work, recognizing that residents often have the most valuable insights into what the city truly needs. He plans to continue his involvement in community organizations and projects, working to ensure that Toledo remains a vibrant and inclusive city for years to come. “I’m 81 years young and have a lot left to do,” he shares smiling.
Bishop Dr. Robert Culp is a titan in our Toledo community; a shining star whose light brightens the lives of countless individuals. His achievements are many, each one a testament to his unwavering commitment to equality, diversity and community service.
Thank you for your dedication to social justice and the numerous community organizations and initiatives you’ve supported specifically aimed at improving the lives of African Americans.