A well-known progressive pastor who is in the headlines after announcing his support for the inclusion of same-sex couples in American churches is being accused by some of his fellow faith leaders of abandoning scripture by green-lighting committed homosexual relationships without offering any specific biblical corroboration.
Tony Campolo (Twitter via Tony Campolo)
Tony Campolo, a left-leaning preacher and former adviser to President Bill Clinton, previously taught that the Bible precludes homosexuality, though he reversed his opposition to same-sex marriage in a post published on his website earlier this week.
In a statement, Campolo said that he has been "ambiguous" on sexuality over the years, as he's been "uncertain about what was right," but that he now has a different view when it comes to welcoming into the fold gay and lesbian couples who have committed to one another.
"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," he said in the statement. "For me, the most important part of that process was answering a more fundamental question: What is the point of marriage in the first place?"
Campolo said that there is a spiritual dimension when it comes to marriage, and that the institution should be "primarily about spiritual growth."
He credited his own wife, Peggy, with helping him get to know gay couples who have relationships similar to theirs — a key factor in transforming his views on the matter.
"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," he said. "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."
Despite his open embrace and change-of-heart, Campolo said he's open to being wrong, though he mentioned issues like keeping women out of teaching roles and slavery that he said people once used the Bible to tout.
"Many of those people were sincere believers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong," he said of those who condoned slavery. "I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again, which is why I am speaking out."
Campolo had, in the past, taken a more conservative view on homosexuality, writing in a 1999 piece for Sojourners — a publication of the Christian left — that the Bible bans same-sex relations.
"I believe that the Bible does not allow for same-gender sexual intercourse or marriage. Peggy believes that within the framework of evangelical Christianity, monogamous gay marriages are permissible," Campolo wrote, describing his previous disagreement with his wife. "Each of us is an evangelical with a high view of scripture. We believe in the doctrines outlined in the Apostles Creed, and know that to be a Christian is to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ."
But, as Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler pointed out, Campolo's past statements about slavery, among other issues, appear to contrast deeply with what he said in his most recent release on same-sex relationships.
During a speech at Calvin College back in 1999, Campolo reportedly proclaimed that the church has shunned homosexuality for 2,000 years and that no issue, including female leadership and slavery, was ever spoken about from a biblical perspective in such unison.
So, with his most recent embrace of same-sex relations, it's no surprise that some, like Mohler, are speaking out against Campolo's flip-flop.
Mohler recently said on his podcast, "The Briefing," that he, among many others, wasn't surprised by Campolo's new view, considering his progressive ideology, and that this isn't the first time that Campolo has been at the center of debate over a contentious issue.
"Tony Campolo says that he’s identified his entire life, since his conversion that is, as an evangelical and that he has in terms of the label, but he’s also identified himself very much on the evangelical left and he’s been involved in controversies with other evangelicals for most of that time as well," Mohler said. "Controversies over the inerrancy of Scripture, controversies over the exclusivity of the gospel, controversies over any number of issues."
The Baptist leader also took aim at the fact that Campolo offered no "serious engagement with scripture" in his release stating his newfound views, though he pointed to the fact that Campolo has, indeed, pointed to scripture when voicing his past opposition to homosexuality.
"To put the matter bluntly, Tony Campolo was right then and he’s wrong now," Mohler said.
Others, too, have piled on. In an open letter to Campolo, Pastor David Robertson of St.Peter's Free Church in Dundee, United Kingdom, decried the lack of scripture in Campolo's statement announcing new newfound stance; he also doubted Campolo's sincerity.
"I'm sorry but I don't believe you. I don't believe that you ever believed that marriage was just about procreation. I don't believe that you've only known gay couples for the last couple of years. I don't believe that these arguments which you have known about for years caused you to change your mind in the past couple of months," he wrote. "The truth is that for years you have accepted homosexual relationships and SSM and when you said you didn't you were I'm afraid being 'economical with the truth'."
Campolo's announcement may not be all that surprising in itself, but it has led to come other discussions and debates as well, including former Christianity Today editor David Neff's praise for Campolo's view — a development that startled some.
"I think the ethically responsible thing for gay and lesbian Christians to do is to form lasting, covenanted partnerships.
Neff told his former outlet. "I also believe that the church should help them in those partnerships in the same way the church should fortify traditional marriages."
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Current Christianity Today editor Mark Galli responded to these comments by claiming that the outlet is "saddened."
"At CT, we’re saddened that David has come to this conclusion. Saddened because we firmly believe that the Bible teaches that God intends the most intimate of covenant relationships to be enjoyed exclusively by a man and a woman," he wrote. "We’ve stated this view explicitly in many editorials, and it is implicit but clear in many of our feature stories."
On the flip side, blogger Kimberly Wright, a progressive Christian, doesn't feel as though Campolo's statement goes far enough to include all gays, lesbians and transgender individuals, as it speaks mainly of gay Christians who have embraced a commitment to one another.
"For a man of words, the words in his statement seem very carefully chosen," she said. "As such, they do not indicate full inclusion, they do not leave room for queer folks who are single/dating, they do not leave room for queer seekers, they do not indicate affirmation of bisexual or transgender people."
The issue of homosexuality continues to be debated in evangelical circles. While Campolo and some others have come forward in support, most evangelical churches do not welcome gays as lesbians as members or leaders.
Campolo's announcement comes as Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City — arguably among the most well-known and respected theologians — offered a detailed defense of traditional marriage, with the Rev. Franklin Graham also speaking out against same-sex unions.
Front page image via Shutterstock.com.