As a Christian teenager, I remember watching Tony Campolo preach many times. He’s an evangelical leader who didn’t have the rough edges of so many of the more stridently fundamentalist preachers. Now he’s finally come out and publicly expressed his support for same-sex marriage:
From this foundation I have done my best to preach the Gospel, care for the poor and oppressed, and earnestly motivate others to do the same. Because of my open concern for social justice, in recent years I have been asked the same question over and over again: Are you ready to fully accept into the Church those gay Christian couples who have made a lifetime commitment to one another?
While I have always tried to communicate grace and understanding to people on both sides of the issue, my answer to that question has always been somewhat ambiguous. One reason for that ambiguity was that I felt I could do more good for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters by serving as a bridge person, encouraging the rest of the Church to reach out in love and truly get to know them. The other reason was that, like so many other Christians, I was deeply uncertain about what was right.
It has taken countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil to bring me to the place where I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church…
One reason I am changing my position on this issue is that, through Peggy, I have come to know so many gay Christian couples whose relationships work in much the same way as our own. Our friendships with these couples have helped me understand how important it is for the exclusion and disapproval of their unions by the Christian community to end. We in the Church should actively support such families. Furthermore, we should be doing all we can to reach, comfort and include all those precious children of God who have been wrongly led to believe that they are mistakes or just not good enough for God, simply because they are not straight.
As a social scientist, I have concluded that sexual orientation is almost never a choice and I have seen how damaging it can be to try to “cure” someone from being gay. As a Christian, my responsibility is not to condemn or reject gay people, but rather to love and embrace them, and to endeavor to draw them into the fellowship of the Church. When we sing the old invitation hymn, “Just As I Am”, I want us to mean it, and I want my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to know it is true for them too.
Rest assured that I have already heard – and in some cases made – every kind of biblical argument against gay marriage, including those of Dr. Ronald Sider, my esteemed friend and colleague at Eastern University. Obviously, people of good will can and do read the scriptures very differently when it comes to controversial issues, and I am painfully aware that there are ways I could be wrong about this one.
However, I am old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases for keeping women out of teaching roles in the Church, and when divorced and remarried people often were excluded from fellowship altogether on the basis of scripture. Not long before that, some Christians even made biblical cases supporting slavery. Many of those people were sincere believers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong. I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again, which is why I am speaking out.
And so it begins (actually, it has already begun, but this is a pretty big name that will get more attention). As much as many Christians like to pretend that their religion contains immutable, unchanging truth, the beliefs and dogmas of Christianity have always been very diverse and have evolved in ways big and small from the very beginning of the religion. And the pattern remains the same:
1. Furious, sometimes violent opposition to attempts to change in order to bring about greater justice and equality.
2. After they lose that fight, even more furious opposition and pledges to remain forever opposed to the new reality.
3. Their opposition fades until only a small portion of believers still take that original position.
4. The more liberal minded Christians construct theological arguments that say the change is okay after all.
5. That position becomes the new orthodoxy.
6. They spread the myth that Christians were the ones who came up with the idea in the first place.
We’re currently between 2 and 3 in that process and 4 is already well under way. In another 10-20 years, support for equality will become the new orthodoxy among Christians, with only the most fundamentalist among them still holding to their previous bigotry. 30 years from now, they’ll be claiming they were behind the fight for equality from the start. And they’ll quote people like Campolo, failing to mention the howls of outrage and accusations of heresy they’ll be throwing at him tomorrow.