Today, well-known and widely traveled Christian social activist, Tony Campolo, released a statement saying he is now calling for the full acceptance of gay and lesbian couples in the church. While this will certainly seems like a very belated and insubstantial concession to many, Campolo’s stature in the evangelical community makes this a significant move.
Tony Campolo, father of the post-theist, USC Humanist Chaplain, Bart Campolo, has long been a champion for the oppressed and marginalized, calling upon Christian communities to follow Jesus into service to the “least of these.” Unlike his Episcopal priest wife, Peggy Campolo, however, Tony has been unable to reconcile his understanding of the Bible with acceptance of gay and lesbian couples. Until now.
In explaining his newly revised position Campolo writes,
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.
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I am very happy to see any part of our society move toward more acceptance and equality for oppressed and marginalized people. Any progress toward equality is certainly good news.
On the other hand the pragmatic nature of Campolo’s shift seems like more accommodation and public relations from the Christian church while avoiding the underlying issues. Evangelicals who change their views on this and any number of other issues are motivated largely by pragmatism. They see the handwriting on the wall. The goal is to “endeavor to draw them into the fellowship of the Church,” as Campolo says. You certainly can’t do that while simultaneously rejecting the core of their personhood. With Christian affiliation declining in America and a Supreme Court decision about same-sex marriage just around the corner, church leaders are struggling to know what to do.
I have always found it curious that the church lags so far behind these ethical issues. Did Campolo just discover a new interpretation of the Bible that motivated his change? No. In fact he says,
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.
Yes! But the problem is much deeper. When the church is consistently behind the curve on major social and ethical advances in society it’s time to take a deeper look at what is creating this moral malaise. Is it not the veneration of the Bible that is the culprit? If prominent Christian leaders like Tony Campolo make late-in-the game changes on important issues not because of what the Bible says but in spite of it, the real issue is with the Bible and the way the church relates to it.
Meanwhile, Matthew Vines, a gay Christian activist, continues to try to shore up the Bible and argue that “LGBTQ Christian” is not an oxymoron, even among the most fundamentalist groups, such as Biola University. Laurie Goodstein, reporting for the New York Times on a meeting Vines had with “influential evangelials” at Biola, writes,
As acceptance of same-sex marriage has swept the country and as the Supreme Court prepares to release a landmark decision on the issue, a wide variety of evangelical churches, colleges and ministries are having the kinds of frank discussions about homosexuality that many of them say they had never had before.
There it is. The church is running to catch up with the culture while claiming to own the moral high ground. There are definitely ways of being a Christian and supporting LGBTQ equality, but it takes some theological gymnastics. I wish Christians could get down the core of the issues rather than trying to revise their way into being ethical in an ad hoc, ex post facto way.
(Photo retrieved from TonyCampolo.org)