The Campolos on Homosexuality
In this post, I am continuing a discussion on Homosexuality which was begun with the post, “The Homosexuality issue as a litmus test of orthodoxy,” continued through Sin Lists and Why We (Should) Love Them,” “Reflections on the Interview, where Jennifer Knapp “Comes out of the closet”.
In previous discussions with Don, I said I would take in more of “the other side,” and, although time is limited I have done so by listening to the Campolo’s take on the homosexuality issue, (available here). There are a few more resources here I would like to listen to, but I will respond to this one while it is fresh.
When I saw the Campolos’ audio available on this topic, I was instantly interested. It was Tony Campolo who has influenced my beliefs on this topic several years ago. In one of the first “emergent” books which I read (entitled, “Letters to a Young Evangelical”), Tony spends a lot of time encouraging the next generation to not get on the political band-wagon of their parents. Older Evangelicals, he complains, are concerned about nothing other than abortion and homosexuality. Are they unaware that there is more to Christianity than this? In this book, I thought Tony provided a good and probably needed counter-point to the over-emphasis on these topics, and especially how they are pursued in politics. However, the application which I took away from this book was, “Homosexuality and abortion are not important. Don’t think about them or focus on them at all.” Was this what he was saying? No. Was this his intended result? I don’t know. However, this is the impact it had on me. (Note: the post “My Stand On Abortion” represents my pendulum-swing back, away from Campolo’s influence on abortion).
In Letters to a Young Evangelical, (a book which I would, overall, recommend) Campolo mentions that although he holds a traditional Christian view of homosexuality, his wife does not. At the time they were attending separate churches due to this issue, although he claimed it did not affect their marriage. I had since heard that Tony now affirms homosexuality and was saddened to hear that. I was saddened because the overall impression I got was that this was an example of a man convinced in his conscience on an issue, who was then swayed against his better judgment to hold something different. Such an inconsistency would have been tragic. I brightened considerably, then, when the audio here was advertised as representing both sides of the debate – Tony still on the conservative side, Peggy on the liberal side.
When I actually got into the content, however, it sure sounded for all the world like the two believe and were teaching the same thing, and operated like a tag-team, to convince their audience of their one belief: that homosexuality should be accepted as an ethical option, and that Christians should not “condemn” (aka. state the conservative Biblical teaching) those who practice homosexuality.
SUMMARY OF CONTENT
Note: This is a series of talks delivered at a gay-Christian event.
Tony begins his talk by mentioning hours and hours spent interviewing gay men. After over a hundred interviews, he concluded – in harmony with the prevailing scientific consensus on the issue – that homosexuality is not a choice. Some people do not “choose” to be homosexuals, while others choose to be straight. Later, Peggy mentions that Christians often teach that people “choose” homosexuality (in opposition to “the facts”) simply because that lends credence to their idea that homosexuality is a sin.
I will freely admit that my experience is limited. I have very close relationships with two men who struggled for a time with homosexual urges, which they overcame and became heterosexual. I know of another person (as I mentioned, a fellow-class-mate) who was a functioning heterosextual, before becoming homosexual. In school I heard several taped testimonies from homosexual men (including “the Sy Rogers Story“), and I sat in on a lengthy in-person interview with one person who had come out of homosexuality and now assisted in a gay-recovery program out in Vancouver BC. All of the people whom I have known well, or seen interviewed had “chosen” homosexuality: some “chose” to get out of it, although not all have “chosen” to enter into heterosexual relationships. Granted I have not done all of the research which Tony has, but I just have a hard time believing him when he says, “it is a scientific fact that nobody chooses to become homosexual” – especially when the Bible so clearly seems to imply that homosexuality is a choice.
1. Dismissing the Old Testament (Levitucus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”)
Using phrases we are all familiar with, such as “I don’t think many of us eat kosher in here, do we? And look – I see you there wearing clothes with mixed threads!” Tony draws attention to the fact that we do not follow all of the Old Testament laws. He explains (following Calvin) that some of the laws in the Old Testament are ceremonial, some are legal, and some are ethical. He then places homosexuality into the “legal” category, and dismisses it along with excommunication of lepers., and other legal teachings
My response: 1) why would Tony remove homosexuality from the list of “ethical” teachings? Isn’t ethics about basic human morality? And is there anything more basic than human sexuality? Tony’s choice to call homosexuality a “legal” commandment seems arbitrary and exceedingly strange. Laws change with technology, philosophy, politics, education and the shifting sands of time: however, the human body has always “worked” the same way.
Furthermore, my Old Testament professor – as well as some other recent sources I have read – have rejected Calvin’s “legal, ceremonial, ethical” distinction. Rather, they state that we do not dismiss any of the Old Testament. All of the laws – including the Kosher laws, and the laws about not mixing the threads in one’s clothes – teach us something about God’s character. For example, many of these laws spoke of keeping God’s people clean from sin and separate from the gentiles. The principles of Kosher and separation live on in passages such as James 4:8, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded,” and 2 Corinthians 6:14, “14Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” We follow the spirit of the law, if not the literal manifestations of it. But how can one be “spiritually” heterosexual, while being in practice homosexual? This just doesn’t make sense.
2. Dismissing 1 Corinthians 6:9: “Do not be deceived, neither fornicators, nor adulterers…nor homosexuals shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
Tony: the Greek word here translated “homosexual” is an exceedingly obscure word, occurring only once in the entire Bible. During the middle ages, the Roman Catholic church interpreted this verse as “masturbators,” making masturbation an unpardonable sin. Because this word has been abused and, at any rate, is confusing, this verse should not be used.
Answer: okay, granted – this is not the strongest verse. However, it is far from the only verse on this topic. Because: 1) Scriptures interpret Scriptures, and 2) neither Leviticus 18:22, nor Romans 1 have adequately been cast into doubt, shouldn’t “homosexuality” be at least one acceptable option for this word? More importantly, however, all of the major translations (NIV, NASB, NKJV, CEV, ESV, etc.) agree on this translation. Should we accept the translation of one very vocal sociologist, against the combined intellectual resources of the best linguists the past century of scholarship has to offer?
3. Unable to get around Romans 1
Tony admits defeat when it comes to Romans 1. Although he admits that he would like to dispense with the teaching in Romans 1 that homosexuality is condemned by God, he says that he believes it is very important to honor the traditions of the church. From ancient times, no Christian has ever interpreted Romans 1 in such a way as to allow homosexuality as a possible lifestyle for Christians. Still desperate for some ambiguity, however, Tony told his research assistants to re-read the early church fathers entirely – scouring it for any signs of weakening on this point. They drew a blank.
Tony concludes hopefully, however: the Early Church Fathers did not speak very much on this point. Tony concludes by saying that he is weakening on this point, towards allowing homosexuality.
Answer: Does this one even need an answer? Tony just said that, 1) Scriptures are clear, 2) tradition is iron-clad, and yet 3) he desperately, against the evidence, is “weakening” in favor of endorsing homosexuality. Where does the pressure towards ambiguity on this one come from? From his wife? From culture? From some unseen spiritual force? At any rate, it obviously does not come from Scriptures themselves, or tradition.
4. Peggy on Romans 1
Having thus admitted defeat in regards to Romans 1, Tony sits down and lets his wife say what he cannot in good conscience say. She speaks of an ancient shrine to a certain deity (who was a hermaphrodite) in which the worshipers engaged in all manner of sodomy, homosexuality and self-mutilation. She notes the many ways in which the worship of this deity very closely fits the words in Romans 1. Therefore, she concludes, this passage is referring to worship of an ancient deity, and doesn’t apply to monogamous homosexuality, as practiced today.
Answer: For one thing, one wonders why Tony is silent on this point? In his words and actions, he has implied that he finds Peggy’s arguments unsatisfactory. If he doesn’t think his wife’s words are correct, why does he encourage her to follow up his arguments with arguments which he knows are false? Why does he not even mention his reservations on this topic when it is again his turn to speak? Don’t his actions prove that he is just getting his wife to say that which he wishes he could say, but is unable to due to conscience and right reason? But the line seems incredibly small between saying a thing one’s self, and encouraging one’s wife to say it.
In regards to Peggy herself, I would offer these points of argument: 1) the other passages of Scripture, which Tony was unable to silence, provide a good context for this passage, 2) just because Paul may have had a certain temple especially in mind, this does not mean that he did not condemn the actions themselves. In addition to homosexuality, Paul also here condemns, “greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful;” (Romans 1:29-31). Let’s just say that everyone who participated in the worship of this certain temple had all of these spiritual characteristics. Would that then mean that disobedience and boastfulness (etc.) is acceptable for Christians? Would it not be better to say that Paul may have been holding up a certain temple as an example of the extremes to which lawlessness can go? In this case, even much lesser forms of these evils would be condemned.
4. Personal Experiences.
The Campolos relate numerous experiences of real-life homosexual men who were very cruelly treated. Both of them had formative events in their childhood when a homosexual man close to them was treated very cruelly (in one case, he was so degraded by his abuse that he went home and hung himself.) They also relate frustration at the “Evangelical right” which rails against homosexuality as a “plague” and “sign of the times” without realizing that these are real people who have hearts, and who are hurting.
Answer: This was one portion which I really benefited from. My wife often reminds me that I have somewhat of a sheltered perspective which I need to work against: this was one instance of that. As a Canadian in a small town, I have never witnessed any form of homophobia. I have never heard a sermon “condemning homosexuality as a sign of the times,” and on the government-sponsored radio (which I listen to fairly often), homosexuality is a sign of the times in a positive way – our acceptance of it (is everyone aware that Canada allows same-gendered marriage?) proves our forward-thinking and liberal values. Growing up in public school, there was one very prominent class-mate who came out of the closet. I was not aware of any sort of abuse towards him, and he seemed to be a very popular kid who – if anything – got preferential treatment from teachers and staff. And so when I speak out against this topic, I am (in my own context) a tiny squirt-gun shooting against the mighty torrent of Canadian culture. I think there is actually a law on the books which could get me into legal trouble for even posting on this issue – although I am not sure whether that motion has passed yet, or is still in deliberations.
However, I need to recognize that my post may be read by people who are living in a very different contexts. Many homosexual people are very cruelly treated and discriminated against. Although I feel like the minority when I hold the conservative position on this topic, I need to recognize that many of my readers may feel like they are the minority. There needs to be a delicate line walked here. Also, since so many homosexuals have lived almost their entire lives with insults hurled at them, I need to be careful because even stating the truth in a not very loving way can be hurtful.
5. An Offensive Remark
Near the end of their talk, Tony made a remark which drew applause from his audience, but which I found very offensive. He said, “Most homosexual people feel that evangelicals despise them. And this is because most evangelicals despise them.”
What? REALLY? Tony, do you really believe this? I have listened to several sermons on this topic, and I know quite a few Evangelicals. None of them “despise” homosexuals. They all – as the saying goes – do their best to “hate the sin, love the sinner.” As I said in a previous post, it is very similar to fornication. In our day and age everybody sleeps together before they get married. The Bible says this is wrong. Does that mean that we Christians hate anybody who doesn’t live God’s way? No! Certainly not! We love and we do our best to serve, even while standing up for truth on certain issues.
Tony here makes the great mistake which secular culture has been making against us Christians: equating our non-acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle with our condemnation of individual homosexual persons, or hatred of anybody who is not “straight.” Maybe this is an acceptable misunderstanding for someone who is unfamiliar with our beliefs. But from someone who claims to be a Christian leader? Even someone who claims to believe as we do?
This comment is just very much out of place and not right.
6. A few interesting remarks
In another place, Tony again makes a comparison between divorce and homosexuality. He cites the well-known statistic that divorce rates among Christians are slightly higher than among non-Christians. He they asks why the churches can disregard such a clear teaching of Jesus on the point of heterosexual divorce, while emphasizing a teaching which Jesus did not address directly, on homosexual marriage? I would agree wholeheartedly with Tony that there needs to be more emphasis on the permanence of marriage in our churches. However, does two wrongs make a right? Does the fact that many churches fail to teach truth on one issue mean that we should be deliberately lax on another topic? I may be unfair in saying this, but it seems like Tony just likes to point out where Evangelicals are “wrong,” whether it is helpful or not. If the tables were turned – say, for example, the Evangelical church embraced homosexuality, but condemned divorce and remarriage – would Tony be going on record as saying, “The Evangelical church embraces homosexuality – which is clearly condemned in Scriptures – but then they condemn those who remarry. How can they be so cruel!? Why, take the highly emotional case of my third cousin once removed, who not allowed to remarry….” With his treatment of this topic, one wonders whether Tony is trying to push the church back to center, or whether he just likes “pushing”?
Tony recalls speaking to a group of Episcopalians/Anglicans. He said (something to the effect of), “I don’t understand you Anglicans. You have a pastor over in Ohio (or somewhere) that denies the virgin birth, and you say, ‘we have to be accommodating.’ You have a pastor over in California that denies the authority of Scriptures, and you say, ‘we need to be pluralistic.’ You have a pastor over in Seattle (or somewhere – don’t remember the details) who doesn’t even believe in God anymore, and you say, ‘we need to accept people where they are.’ But then when you have a pastor who decides they are gay, you all rise up and say, ‘we’ve got to draw the line somewhere!'” In response I would say, “Yes, we do need to draw the line somewhere. The line should have been drawn long ago in that denomination – but the fact that they have gone that far down the slippery slope does not mean that they should go on indefinitely without taking a stand.” Christianity is about a certain set of beliefs: it is not a sin to state one’s beliefs and even to cause divisions because of faithfulness to one’s conscience. That is, after all, how we got the Reformation and – if we had but memory to recall it – how we preserved the Christian doctrine from the great in-flooding of heresy in the second and third centuries, and all through the ages.
In conclusion, I did learn some things from listening to this audio. For one thing, as I mentioned, I realized again that this is one point where being a Canadian versus being an American is a very significant difference in context. I need to be conscious of that in the future. Furthermore, I heard some very heart-wrenching stories about homosexual people being hurt, hated-on and abused. This makes me think that I need to be super-careful about this issue at times, so that I do not sound like I secretly have those same desires to, for example, spit on someone in a gay pride parade and call them names.
I don’t hate anybody, least of all somebody who has such a hard lot in life as a homosexual. However, I do believe that Scriptures have the answers for the thorny questions of life. I believe it is love to present truth to people hurt and struggling with sin and its effects.
The other thing that I learned was that I was basically right, in my thesis “homosexuality is a good litmus test of orthodoxy.” That thesis should have been explained better in my previous post. I was not saying that a Christian endorsing homosexuality could not be a Christian. What I meant was that when a Christian leader, church, denomination or seminary publicly declares that they endorse homosexuality, it is a very telling sign. I said this in my previous post simply because Scriptures are so very clear on the topic, that I assumed people would have to do exegetical gymnastics to get around them. After listening to the Campolo’s, I would consider my thesis “confirmed” – at least in their case.