There is a new movement happening among Evangelicals.
“Behold,” God says through the prophet Isaiah, “I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
The old movement was based on excluding gays and lesbians from the church, using the Bible in an idolatrous way that demeaned and rejected them. But now Evangelicals are waking up to the new thing that God is doing in the world. Fortunately, more Evangelicals are perceiving that God is making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the dry desert heat for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
Tony Campolo is the latest Evangelical to come out of the closet to support full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church. He posted a statement on his website yesterday that created quite a stir among Evangelicals.
He ends his statement by saying, “I hope what I have written here will help my fellow Christians to lovingly welcome all of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters into the Church.”
Tony Campolo is a major voice in American Evangelicalism and he is pointing to the new thing that God is doing within the Evangelical movement. But there are those who want to hold onto the old way of exclusion.
One critic claims that Campolo’s acceptance of gays and lesbians “is significant as another prominent leader moves away from the faith once for all delivered by the saints.” And that American Christianity is going through a winnowing process that “is going to reveal whose consciences are bound by the authority of scripture and whose aren’t.”
This critic hits the nail on the head. Unwittingly, he reveals the very thing that’s wrong with the old version of Evangelicalism. To claim that accepting gays and lesbians into the church is to move “away from the faith once for all delivered by the saints” is ludicrous.
Do you know how many of the saints talked explicitly about gays and lesbians? Zero. In all of Scripture, in all the writing of the ancient church fathers, the words gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, heck, not even the word homosexuality appears in the Hebrew or Greek. Any modern translation of the Bible or an ancient church writing that uses those words is not a literal translation. It’s an interpretation.
And I’m all for interpretations. We have to interpret the Bible. In fact, there is no literal interpretation of the text, which is why people of faith have always debating the meaning behind scripture.
The point is that we need to take responsibility for our interpretation of scripture, which is what Campolo is doing. After all, we know that the devil can quote scripture just as much as anyone else. And what’s the devil’s role in scripture? As Rene Girard has taught us, the name Satan means Accuser. Satan’s role is to divide humanity through the principle of accusation. Any time someone points the finger at another person, or group of people, to exclude them, you can be sure that they are being influenced by the satanic principle of accusation. For many of us, it’s getting old.
Which is why I’m grateful for the new thing God is doing. The new thing is summed up by Jesus when he talked about the Paraclete. The Paraclete is the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, the word Paraclete means “called to one’s side” and has connotations of “advocate or helper.”
The distinction between Satan and the Holy Spirit couldn’t be more evident. Satan’s role is to accuse people of being evil. Satan will use any resource available to make that accusation, including the Bible. When we use the Bible as a means to accuse others of immorality, we have turned the Bible into a satanic idol. The Holy Spirit on the other hand, stands with those who are accused by the satanic principle of accusation. The Holy Spirit doesn’t use the Bible to accuse or exclude people; that’s Satan’s job. The Holy Spirit uses the Bible to lead us away from accusing our neighbors and toward loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
But I don’t want to do away with morals. Evangelicals are right to be concerned about them. But we should be concerned about morals in the way Jesus was concerned about morals. Jesus didn’t use morality or religious principles to accuse those whom the religious elite deemed immoral. Rather, Jesus flipped morality on its head. For Jesus, morals was about standing alongside those who were accused of being sinners. He fellowshipped with them, not in order to change them, but in order to love them just as they were. Loving others just as they are. That is the essence Christian morality.
Tony Campolo is being moved by the Holy Spirit. He is showing us how to be a moral Christian. He will continue to take heat for doing it. And that’s okay. He will, I hope, continue to love even his enemies.
I’m grateful that other Evangelicals have already discovered the new thing God is doing. I pray that many more will do the same.