By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist leader expressed sadness but not surprise at Tony Campolo’s announcement June 8 that he supports full inclusion of gays and lesbians into the life of the church.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said in a podcast June 9 that given the trajectory of Campolo’s thinking across the years, the surprise is not the conclusion he reached but that it took him so long. The difference between his new statement and previous views, Mohler said, is the lack of “any serious engagement” with the Bible.
Mohler cited articles from 1999 where Campolo said he believes Paul’s writing in the first chapter of Romans rules out moral acceptance of same-sex eroticism.
“I believe that the Bible does not allow for same-gender sexual intercourse or marriage,” Campolo said in Sojourners Magazine in May 1999.
“We can argue over this interpretation or that interpretation, but we must take the church very seriously,” Campolo said. “The fellowship of believers called the church of Jesus Christ has stood from the time of Christ to the present day, and I believe it speaks with authority. For almost 2,000 years, the church has read Romans 1 in a particular way. People who knew the Apostle Paul personally have written about what Paul meant when he wrote those verses.”
By comparison, Mohler said, Campolo’s explanation of why he changed his mind “has no serious engagement with Scripture at all.”
“To put the matter bluntly, Tony Campolo was right then and he’s wrong now,” Mohler said. “But he speaks very differently about Scripture now. He doesn’t say that he believes Scripture to be very clear in authorizing same-sex marriage. Rather, whereas in 1999 he said that Romans 1 very clearly says that all homosexual sexual acts are sin, and that same-sex marriage would not then be legitimate in the eyes of the church, in the year 2015 he says that the Scripture can be interpreted in different ways.”
In a 937-word statement titled Tony Campolo: For the Record, the 80-year-old leader of the evangelical left said he believes the Bible is divinely inspired and that he gives highest priority to words of Jesus in Matthew 25 concerning care for the poor and oppressed.
“Because of my open concern for social justice, in recent years I have been asked the same question over and over again: Are you ready to fully accept into the church those gay Christian couples who have made a lifetime commitment to one another?” Campolo wrote.
“While I have always tried to communicate grace and understanding to people on both sides of the issue, my answer to that question has always been somewhat ambiguous,” he said.
After “countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil,” Campolo said, “I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the church.”
Campolo said “people of good will can and do read the Scriptures very differently when it comes to controversial issues” and acknowledged that he could be wrong about this one. He said he is old enough to remember, however, when the church made strong biblical arguments for keeping women out of teaching roles in the church and excluded people because they were divorced.
“Not long before that, some Christians even made biblical cases supporting slavery,” Campolo said. “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.”
Mohler said he does not doubt that Campolo believes his new statement on homosexuality is an act of compassion.
“This is where biblical Christians who are committed to the inerrancy of Scripture and are committed to that steadfast moral tradition based upon that Scripture must understand that compassion will never actually take the form of denying anything that Scripture clearly says,” Mohler said.
“It will never take the form of in any way subverting what Scripture reveals, and in this case we have to be very clear — as in every case — that even though something may be claimed to be compassion, if it confuses the gospel and if it confuses sin; if it confuses the Bible, then it isn’t really compassion.”
Mohler said he and Campolo have clashed publicly on various issues over the years, but in private conversations he has always found him to be “very gracious and always engaging.”
“I grieve yesterday’s statement by Tony Campolo most because I believe it comes at the direct cost of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Mohler said. “I also fear this statement will be most dangerous to those to which he has sought to be most compassionate.”