(PDF version available here.)
Tony Campolo affirms same-sex couples. On June 8, 2015, he explained: “I have come to know so many gay Christian couples whose relationships work in much the same way as [my marriage]. 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 notes: “Rest assured that I have already heard – and in some cases made – every kind of biblical argument against gay marriage. … Obviously, people of good will can and do read the scriptures very differently when it comes to controversial issues, and I am painfully aware that there are ways I could be wrong about this one.” But, he says, he’s “old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases” against other things we’ve since changed our minds about. “I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again.”
David Neff, Christianity Today’s longtime editor-in-chief and National Association of Evangelicals executive, salutes Campolo’s support for same-sex couples. Neff, who retired in 2013, writes: “God bless Tony Campolo. He is acting in good faith and is, I think, on the right track.” Neff told CT’s current editor, Mark Galli: “I think the ethically responsible thing for gay and lesbian Christians to do is to form lasting, covenanted partnerships. I also believe that the church should help them in those partnerships in the same way the church should fortify traditional marriages.”
Campolo’s announcement wasn’t surprising, but recent shifts on these issues by Neff and other evangelical leaders have caught the conservative religious establishment off guard. Those in charge at Christianity Today, World magazine, conservative churches and other antigay institutions and agencies are frantically pushing back.
Instead, they should be receptive to warnings against, yet again, “making the same kind of mistake” that’s been made repeatedly, and regretted repeatedly, throughout church history. Indeed, what are now seen as atrocities committed by church leaders of the more distant past and cruel and embarrassing mistakes of later eras, even in recent times by CT, World, Southern Baptists, Southern Presbyterians, et al., should be enough of an alert.
Yet, the Religious Right’s Mark Tooley, while easily granting that the church was wrong on issues of women as teachers, slavery, etc., mocks Campolo’s caution: “So …we all know better now and so too on same sex marriage. Let the nuptials begin!” But Tooley misses the point. The words of caution come with sad memories that, in each case, it was always only after the mistakes were made and the damage done that we all admit, “we all know better now.”
Looking Back: Evangelicals and Homosexuality
To put current events in the context of some of the relevant background of evangelical responses to homosexuality – as well as to other social issues in the past and to the shifts on these matters – we interrupt Record’s usual format with the following retrospective.
Much of what’s been written on same-sex issues and evangelical response today suffers from self-serving polemics on all sides and, even more so, by a serious ignorance of history. The following overview is meant to give some corrective perspective.
Bob Jones, Sr. was right: “You can’t move without producing friction.” The moves by Campolo, Neff and other evangelicals are producing lots of friction. Sparks fly as Mark Galli, on behalf of the flagship of evangelicalism, resists these moves. He quickly distanced himself and his employer, Christianity Today, from the empathy shown by Campolo, Neff and other evangelicals who’ve lately joined the evangelicals who, over many decades, have given their support to same-sex couples.
Among these more recent supporters are Baptist ethicist David Gushee, Nashville megachurch pastor Stan Mitchell, former NAE executive Richard Cizik, and pastor Fred Harrell of the (formerly PCA) City Church in San Francisco.
In 1975, Ralph Blair founded Evangelicals Concerned for just such support. He’d written, The Bible is an Empty Closet, and began by saying: “There are no homosexuals in the Bible. Ruth and Naomi were no lesbians. David and Jonathan weren’t gay. Neither were Jesus and John, the men of Sodom, cult prostitutes, slave boys and their masters, nor call boys and their customers. The Bible is an empty closet.” He meant that both antigay and pro-gay propagandists look in vain to find a homosexual in the Bible. Read more →