Evangelist Tony Campolo welcomes same-sex partnerships

By Savi Hensman
June 11, 2015

Tony Campolo, an influential Christian speaker and writer, no longer regards same-sex partnerships as wrong. Several other well-known evangelicals in recent years have also changed their views on sexual ethics.

Campolo, who is a retired sociology professor and Baptist minister, cares deeply about social justice as well as personal faith. He has long called for churches to become more welcoming towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. But until very recently, he believed that the Bible ruled out same-sex relationships.

His wife Peggy disagreed, and together they modelled loving dialogue across theological differences on sexuality. But in June 2015, after “countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil”, he called for “the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.”

He is 80 years old and his change of heart was based on both biblical reflection and his own experience of 57 years of marriage.

“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?” he wrote. While some, in the tradition of St Augustine, emphasised procreation, he recognised the supreme importance of “a more spiritual dimension.”

He and others who share his view think that “God intends married partners to help actualise in each other the ‘fruits of the spirit,’ which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, often citing the Apostle Paul’s comparison of marriage to Christ’s sanctifying relationship with the Church. This doesn’t mean that unmarried people cannot achieve the highest levels of spiritual actualisation – our Saviour himself was single, after all – but only that the institution of marriage should always be primarily about spiritual growth.”

His “wife Peggy has been easily the greatest encourager of my relationship with Jesus. She has been my prayer partner and, more than anyone else, she has discerned my shortcomings and helped me try to overcome them. Her loving example, constant support, and wise counsel have enabled me to accomplish Kingdom work that I would have not even attempted without her, and I trust she would say the same about my role in her life. Each of us has been God’s gift to the other”, he stated. “I have come to know so many gay Christian couples whose relationships work in much the same way as our own.”

He was aware of the biblical arguments against same-sex partnerships – indeed he had made some of these himself – and the possibility that he was wrong. But he pointed out that the Bible has also been used to argue for slavery and against women teaching in church.

“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,” he wrote.

Some have condemned his statement while others have welcomed it. David Neff, another evangelical who had been the editor of Christianity Today (CT) and a Seventh Day Adventist minister, declared that he agreed with Tony Campolo.

The current editor, Mark Galli, was quick to distance himself from this view. “We at CT are sorry when fellow evangelicals modify their views to accord with the current secular thinking on this matter,” he wrote.

However as Michael Stark, an affiliate professor at Colorado Christian University pointed out, “While some secular arguments might be invoked (as conservative Christians do on many issues), Christians who advocate for marriage equality do so based on their commitment to scripture and God’s love.”

In various denominations, where sexuality has been freely discussed, growing numbers of Christians have come to believe that churches should support faithful self-giving partnerships. Tony Campolo’s announcement is part of that shift.

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© Savitri Hensman is a widely-published Christian commentator of politics, religion, welfare and allied topics. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the care and equalities sector.

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