An Open Letter to Tony Campolo
I read your statement about SSM. You won't remember me but I have met you a couple of times when you came to my city, Dundee. You are a fine speaker with a gift for stirring people up and getting them interested in social justice. There are so many things I have heard from you that I say 'Amen' to. Unlike so many I cannot write you off as some leftwing, liberal pinko – perhaps because I often get accused of that myself!
The last time you were in Dundee, in September 2013, you came with your wife Peggy to hold a dialogue about SSM. I'm sorry I missed that meeting, one of several you were holding together with Signposts International. As you told us in this video, your wife was pro SSM and you were against both it and homosexual relationships:
As late as April this year you spoke at the Open Church conference organized by Steve Chalke on this same subject and professed your adherence to the traditional biblical view. But now a couple of months later you have changed your mind and you now assert your support for SSM. What are we to make of this? What brought you to this change of mind?
Having read your article and the arguments you put forward, your reasons can be summarised as follows:
1) You used to think that marriage was just about procreation, now you have come to realise that it is about "actualising the fruits of the spirit" and spiritual growth. So why should gay people be denied this?
2) The influence of your wife.
3) Coming to know many gay couples.
4) The realisation that sexual orientation is almost never a choice.
5) What you consider to be past 'mistakes' by the Church on issues such as women in leadership, divorce and that old caveat 'slavery'.
And that's it. Not a word of Scripture. Just the standard (easily refuted) arguments put round by every advocate of SSM who talks about their 'journey'. And here is the problem. I'm sorry but I don't believe you. I don't believe that you ever believed that marriage was just about procreation. I don't believe that you've only known gay couples for the last couple of years. I don't believe that these arguments which you have known about for years caused you to change your mind in the past couple of months. The truth is that for years you have accepted homosexual relationships and SSM and when you said you didn't you were I'm afraid being 'economical with the truth'. Robert Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, writes this: "I have known for about a decade that Campolo accepted homosexual unions. In my view, he kept it quiet so that it wouldn't affect his book sales and speaking engagements in an evangelical context."
I don't know your motivation and would be reluctant to attribute money and fame as your goals. I prefer to take you at your word when you write "One reason for that ambiguity was that I felt I could do more good for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters by serving as a bridge person, encouraging the rest of the Church to reach out in love and truly get to know them." This is a stunning open admission of manipulation. Despite the coded language it is clear that what you are saying is that it has been your intention and practice to try and lure evangelicals into accepting the liberal position on SSM, and it would be more effective for you to do so while pretending to uphold the traditional position.
I don't think that is too harsh an interpretation and I'm afraid that you have form for this. Remember the first time I met you in Dundee? You were speaking at a rally for Signposts International and I was also involved. I really looked forward to sharing with you and to hearing you speak. But sometimes you meet your heroes and they turn out to have feet of clay. You really disappointed. Not because of the main event but because in the dressing room before you asked the Signposts Leader a question to the effect of 'how many signups [for child sponsorship] do you want me to get?' I was shocked and stunned. You were in effect saying that you could manipulate the audience in such a way that you could get them to sign up. I don't care that it was for a good cause, this was manipulation of the worst sort. The kind I associate with right wing American tele-evangelists. And here you were a good old-fashioned left wing American evangelist and you were behaving in exactly the same way. I didn't say anything, either to you or anyone else. But when I heard that you were returning to Dundee I could not help but think, he's at his old tricks, trying to manipulate the people of God. I thought similarly when I heard you were speaking on the 'traditional' side at the Open Church conference.
At least with the Signposts event it could be argued that you were manipulating people to give money for a good cause. This time you were seeking to deceive and manipulate the people of God to turn away from the Word of God. You are using the age-old trick of the ultimate father of lies – "did God really say?".
Even your latest statement is full of manipulation and emotional bullying. You want the church to be more 'welcoming' thereby accusing those of us who hold to the biblical position as being unwelcoming. That is just simply not true. It does not follow that you cannot welcome sinners into the church if you do not agree with their particular sin. We are welcoming to all people, because all are sinners who need a saviour. But please do not ask us to excuse sin, whether in ourselves or others, in order to be welcoming. I actually think it is 'unloving' to our homosexual and lesbian brothers and sisters to welcome them and then distort the Word of God.
Of course your 'coming out' won't end the discussion. You have not gone far enough for some people and you will be called to repent for your refusal to repent of your homophobic past.
I agree that there is a call for repentance for you (as there is for me in many things). But it is not to crawl in sackcloth before the 'gay lobby' and repent of your previous views, it is to go before the Lord and repent of your deceit and manipulation. I don't believe that 'lying for Jesus' can ever be justified. I don't claim to have never done that. But I know there is forgiveness at the foot of the cross, and that is where I would plead for you to turn. Turn away from the manipulation, lies and false teachings of our culture. Be radical. Return to the cross. Return to the Christ of the cross. Return to the word of the Christ of the cross. May the Lord have mercy on us all.
David Robertson is the moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. Follow David on Twitter.