I was raised in a conservative Evangelical church. Southern Baptist style.
We watched a lot of Tony Campolo videos in youth group. We heard him at a conference once, too. He was funny, energetic, powerful. He inspired a lot of young people to believe in God, to believe in grace, to believe that being a follower of Jesus meant living a life of love. Not everyone knows about Campolo through his early days as a youth speaker. Back then I had no idea he had a Ph.D. in sociology, or about his left-leaning political beliefs, or about some of the controversies around him in the Christian world (honestly, my youth pastor probably didn’t either–or he might not have exposed us to so much Campolo). I just knew him as an engaging speaker who could connect young people to the power of God’s love.
As progressive and controversial as he’s been (for Evangelicals, anyway), Campolo has–until now, it seems–taken a more conservative stance on sexuality: that is, while homosexual orientation is not a sin, acting on that orientation is. But today, Campolo has announced what appears to be a change of heart and mind. Here is a paragraph from his statement (you can read the whole statement here)
…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.
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.
So, did Campolo become the latest domino to fall in a movement–however small–within progressive, Anglo-American evangelical Christianity toward LGBTQ inclusion? (Although Eliel Cruz has suggested that his statement needs a bit more clarity, so that people can know for sure the extent of the inclusion he now advocates). Baptist ethicist David Gushee’s announcement last fall, of his theological shift on the issue, caused quite a stir, signaling that more would follow. Campolo’s was the next major one (that I recall, anyway). In any case, it’s doubtful that Campolo’s public shift will erupt in a Gladwell-esque “tipping point.” Historians, blogger (and former colleague of mine) Chris Gehrz pointed to today’s Pew announcement which shows that 70% of white American Evangelicals oppose gay marriage. In other words, we shouldn’t rush to any conclusions about evangelical Christian attitudes on the basis of the shifts of a few influential leaders. However, if we look at the discrepancy by generations, we’d see that younger Evangelicals are, more and more, siding with the shift toward inclusion and equality (as this article points out). The times, they are definitely changing. What will come of Evangelical Christianity as more and more of its influential leaders change their minds–and out themselves after they’ve done so?
But for my part, remembering how Campolo compelled me with a picture of a loving, grace-filled God, and feeling the power of that love in his voice, it’s easy to believe that there are many more dominoes to fall on the way toward a more inclusive, grace-filled church.