Tony Campolo Came Out! Now What?

Derek Ouellette —  June 14, 2015

Last week renown progressive evangelical thinker Tony Campolo came out of the closet as an open supporter of gay marriage within the church.

The backlash was felt immediately as evangelics bid the poor chap “farewell” (yes, I half expected to see that tweet), while liberals pointed out his contrast to Franklin Graham who also came out last week to boycott LBGT-friendly Wells Fargo Bank by moving The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s ministry bank accounts to BB&T – which incidentally happens to also be a big supporter of the LBGT community.


All of this combined with State after State domino-ing for support of gay rights and gay marriage and it is my conviction that we’re gonna look back at 2015 as a key turning point in the controversy.

The reason for this article is because when I reported on this on Facebook someone asked, “Just for the record, do you agree with him?”

But there was no way in good conscious I could answer that question in a Facebook comment box. If you think that question called for a simple yes or no response, then you’re part of the reason I didn’t respond.

The problem with questions that call for a yes or no answer on controversial subjects is that they are polarizing and grotesquely negligent in their lack of nuance.

If I said “Yes” I’d instantly put myself at odds with most of my evangelical friends (many of whom see this is an “in or out” issue). If I answered “No” I’d instantly align myself with the thoughtless and insensitive attitudes most evangelicals have on this subject.

So here is my attempt at a nuanced answer to the question, do I agree with Tony on this subject:

1. I still feel Tony Campolo is a godly man who has done and (I believe) will continue to do great things for God’s Kingdom.

It’s a shame that I even have to clarify this point. But I do because so many are anxious to write him off over this issue.

Here’s the thing, if our godliness depended upon us being right on every point all the time, either none of us would ever be godly, or whoever thinks he’s godly is really obscenely arrogant (and therefore disqualifies himself of godliness).

Now I can hear the objection already: “Derek, we’re not talking about a small thing here. This is a central issue today!” You’re right, this is a central issue in our culture today. But by the way evangelicals react to this issue you’d think that it were central to the scriptures. You’d think that Paul and Jesus and the prophets would be talking about the evils of Homosexuality all the time.

But here’s the thing. Not only is this subject not central to the scriptures, it’s not even mentioned in the Bible at all!

That’s right. The Bible doesn’t even mention homosexuality.

Now I know what you’re thinking. What about Leviticus 20:13? you ask as you quickly and with shaking hands flip through your NLT Bible to prove to me it’s there…

“If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman…”

Um, ya… you know the phrase “practices homosexuality“? Well that’s not even in the Bible. The New Living Translation added it. As a Bible believing evangelical we should be ashamed for trying to endorse a phrase that God didn’t even inspire just to bolster our own arguments. Shame on us for not being truly Bible Christians.

The NIV has it right:

“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman…”

The same thing is true of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 where he says that “men who have sex with men” will not inherit the Kingdom of God (NIV). The NLT and some other translations add “homosexuals,” but that’s not in the Bible. Paul did not write “homosexuals.” Paul wrote “men who have sex with men.” This isn’t rocket science. It’s just not there.

I know we evangelicals love to pull out a translation that uses a word to defend whatever point we’re trying to make, but that’s like putting letters on a scrabble game board to make up a word that doesn’t exist and then claiming that because it’s on the board, it must suddenly be a word.

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

The Bible doesn’t discuss homosexuality. It merely discusses “men who have sex with men.” And contrary to popular opinion among evangelicals, those are not the same thing which leads me to my second point.

2. Evangelicals are prone to shallow and naive opinions about what the Bible and our culture says about this subject.

For some reason we evangelicals want to reject the idea that there’s a difference between orientation and action. “Men who have sex with men” describes an action. Having a “determination or direction toward something or someone” is an orientation. This is not a hard concept to get, but for whatever reason evangelicals hate this truism.

A couple of Christmas’ ago I got into a discuss with a pastor on this point. I tried to explain that there’s a difference between orientation and action and that “homosexual orientation” is not the same as “homosexuality sex,” to which he replied “I’m not using the world’s definition, but God’s definition.” I shook my head and dropped my jaw in disbelief. You just can’t make up your own definition and then call it “God’s definition.” Language doesn’t work that way. You can’t just make things up as you go along to fit your argument.

And this is exactly why I didn’t want to answer the woman’s Facebook question with a “yes.” Because by doing that I’d be lumped into these kinds of naive views on the subject.

As an evangelical I need to put God’s Word ABOVE what I WANT God’s Word to say.

And in this case, God’s Word doesn’t address homosexual orientation. It merely discusses men who have sex with men (and women who have sex with women).

If you’re still unclear about how orientation works, this crude illustration might help.

If you place every woman on planet earth to my right and every man on planet earth to my left and then asked me which group I am attracted to, I would say women. This has been true for my entire life. Does having an orientation toward the female segment of the human race make me a sinner? No, obviously not. Doesn’t lusting after them make me a sinner? Yes, Jesus said as much. Does sleeping with women outside of marriage make me a sinner? Yes. Does sleeping with my wife make me a sinner? No.

What does this mean? It means I am a heterosexual. Hetero- meaning opposite. I am attracted to people of the opposite sex. This is not difficult to understand. I have a heterosexual orientation.

A homosexual is just the opposite. Homo- means same and thus a man who is in the same scenario as me – with every women on earth to his right and every man on earth to his left – he would say that he is attracted to the male segment of the human race, not the female. So that question we have to ask – the same we asked for me above – is this: does having that general attraction – that orientation – make someone a sinner? I don’t see a single reason to suggest so. Does lusting after them make him a sinner? According to Jesus, yes. Does having sex with them outside of marriage mean they sinned? Yes, as it does for heterosexuals.

And so the big question becomes, what about within marriage?

Is it a scripturally wrong for men to have sex with men in the bonds of marriage or for women to have sex with women in the bonds of marriage?

This is where Tony and I disagree.

So no, I do not share Tony’s final conclusion.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.