Liberal evangelist Tony Campolo and his wife Peggy have publicly debated homosexuality for years, he usually somewhat defending the biblical stance, while she urged acceptance of homosexual practice. They brought their debate to the Wild Goose Festival in June outside Durham, North Carolina.
Both Campolos assume that “sexual orientation is not a choice and there is little likelihood that a person can change.” At the Wild Goose, a festival for liberal Christians, they highlighted their divergent views on scriptural references to homosexuality and their personal experiences with the “lesbian-bisexual-gay-transgender-queer” (LGBTQ) community.
The scriptural arguments against homosexuality often center on St. Paul’s writings in the first chapter of Romans. Tony recalled: “I read [these verse] conservatively; I respect Paul and believe he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and when I read that passage, I say, that precludes same gender erotic behavior…for people who are Christians.” But he did not end there, adding: “Two things: I make no prescriptions for anybody other than myself, that’s number one. Two, I think Christians need to consider this passage, and the last thing we have a right to do is to impose our personal convictions on the rest of society.” Seemingly he believes Christians must quietly submit to social whims on this issue.
Peggy agreed “that Paul was inspired to write these verses.” But she added: “I think he wrote them about the orgies in the Temple where Aphrodite was worshipped in the city where he wrote them, and they don’t have anything to do with my gay and lesbian friends who have long term committed relationships, and marriages where they are allowed to have them.”
Relegating Romans 1 to either relativism or superficial contextualism is at odds with the Church’s historic teaching, of course. St. Paul eloquently describes what happens when God is removed from society. The worship of the creation instead of the Creator is coupled with sexual impurity of all kinds as the climax of human sinfulness and depravity. The beauty of the Christian narrative is that humanity is not left to wallow but can trade a sinful nature for a holy one.
Leaving aside St. Paul’s position on human depravity, Tony asserted Jesus never addressed homosexuality but did talk about divorce. “I don’t know of a church, well there probably are churches that would not accept divorced and remarried people,” he said. “I mean we’ve gone beyond that, haven’t we….and the church has gradually come to the point where it has accepted divorced and remarried people, even in the pulpit. The question is, and it’s a heavy one. If the church can be so gracious to people who are divorced and remarried, can it not be so gracious to people who are in sexual relationships that Jesus never even mentioned?” Maybe Tony should recall that fellow Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon warned about the “down grade” church that submits to the world and gets lost in it.
Having diminished scriptural authority, the Campolos described their experiences with self-avowed homosexuals who suffer persecution. Tony shared his often repeated story of a “gay guy in my high school named Roger, and we humiliated him at every turn. In PE he was always afraid to go into the showers in PE because he was afraid of what might happen to him, and when he did take his turn when he got out we would wait and whip him with our wet towels and sting his little naked body. And I wasn’t there the day that 5 guys took him into the shower and while he curled in the fetal position, the guys, in contempt for his sexual orientation, urinated all over him. I wasn’t there when that happened. He went home, and they say he went to bed that night at about 10, and they estimated it was about 2 in the morning when he got up and he went into the basement of his house, and he hung himself.”
Of course, The Church is supposed to oppose all human degradation while also upholding its call to holiness for all persons. But rather than explain this nuance, Tony’s story was aimed at emotionally compelling Christians to compromise The Church’s teaching about sexual purity. The Campolos have been giving this talk for more than 15 years. Although Peggy’s views have changed very little, Tony has edged away from the biblical position on this issue. And seemingly for both, emotional experiences increasingly are the measure of truth rather than Scripture.