January 14 – May 31, 2019
July 13, 2010
KEUKA PARK, NY—Tony and Peggy Campolo spoke in a panel discussion titled “Christians, the Church and Sexual Orientation: Advancing the Conversation” today with members of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA). It was the second day of the BPFNA’s summer conference, held this year at Keuka College in upper New York state.
BPFNA board member Lucas Johnson of Atlanta, GA, moderated the two-hour discussion. Harry Knox, founding director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith program, also spoke.
Photo: from left, Harry Knox, Peggy Campolo and Tony Campolo (BPFNA/Lem Arnold)
Johnson said the BPFNA’s Gatherings committee, which oversees the planning of the week-long summer conferences, said the committee was hoping to bring Christian dialogue about sexual orientation to a more respectful level.
“The committee understood that there are congregations and individuals that still need to have this conversation,” Johnson said, referring to the ongoing debate about whether homosexuality is a “sin.” The BPFNA took a controversial stand on the issue 15 years ago, in a statement calling for the full inclusion of Christians who are part of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) community.
“People were tired of the vitriol and lack of respect in discussions around this topic,” Johnson said. The committee came up with the idea of inviting Tony and Peggy Campolo to come to the summer conference and “model a nonviolent way to communicate about topics like this.” The Campolos have led discussions about the biblical issues surrounding sexual orientation for a number of years, mostly with evangelical groups.
Peggy Campolo, whose stance on the issue is somewhat more progressive than her husband’s, has been passionate about speaking out on behalf of her GLBT friends for many years. The couple say they continue to hold these public discussions to bring evangelicals to a more just way of thinking and dealing with their Christian brothers and sisters.
“Sometimes I feel really good about the progress we have made,” she said, “but then one phone call makes me understand how much more work we need to do.”
“A social movement can exist without a god,” Tony Campolo said, “but it cannot exist without a devil. For the political right wing of the United States, that devil is homosexuality.”
The Campolos include in their discussions a number of biblical texts that fundamentalist Christians use to justify their attitudes toward homosexuality—such as the description of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the book of Genesis. Tony Campolo points out that the prophet Ezekiel identifies the sin of Sodom as neglecting the poor.
The Campolos agree that most of these “clobber” texts can be dealt with in a similar way, but they come to a point of disagreement with the first chapter of the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.
“What frustrates me,” Knox said, “is that people have not done the depth of exegesis in chapter 2 [of Romans] that they have in chapter 1. They are missing the real message of Romans, which is that we can live together in peace as the beloved community.”
Knox went on to say that the Christian community must come to the point that they will say of the GLBT Christians, as the Apostle Paul said of the non-Jewish churches of his day, “These people are so much alive with the spirit of Christ that to deny them the name of Christian is to deny Christ.”
Tony Campolo, who has been chided by evangelicals for “not making my wife shut up,” said he has often wanted to stop talking about this issue. “I feel very conflicted about this,” he said. “I know that some of the things I say hurt people. The reason I keep saying these things is that I know that most of the places we go are evangelical churches that will never listen to a word my wife says, however lovely and gracious she is, unless I’m there.”
Peggy Campolo said that, many times, the discussions are difficult for her. “My hope,” she said, “is that some of these people will go home and wake up at two o’clock in the morning, thinking, ‘That woman might be right.’”
Knox stressed the importance of continuing conversations like today’s. “We need to keep saying to intolerant Christians, ‘what you’re saying does violence to people I care about,’” he said. “Communities of faith want that kind of truth-telling to happen.”
Tony Campolo urged the audience to stay engaged in the ongoing discussion with more conservative Christians. “Don’t cut yourself off from people like me, because I love you,” he said.
Johnson said, “The Gathering committee’s aim was to advance the conversation. I think we accomplish that today.”
—Katie Cook, based in Waco, TX, is editor of Baptist Peacemaker.