Interview: More from Tony Campolo

A Baptist minister talks about gays in church and about the apocalyptic 'Left Behind' series.

 

Editor's note, December 2004: In July 2004, sociologist and evangelical leader Tony Campolo spoke with Beliefnet about his views on the 2004 election, women in the ministry, evangelical attitudes towards gays, and more. The material below was edited from the original interview transcript for space reasons. However, due to overwhelming interest in the interview, we are now making it available.



What position do you wish American evangelicals would take on homosexuality?

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Continuing from earlier transcript

: As an evangelical who takes the Bible very seriously, I come to the first chapter of Romans and feel there is sufficient evidence there to say that same-gender eroticism is not a Christian lifestyle. That's my position. ....what we as Church people have a responsibility to give {homosexual people} is loving affirmation as they are. That does not mean that we support same-gender eroticism.] The overwhelming proportion of gay people in the church are celibate.



Is that statistic really out there?

I think I can come to that deduction from the following. According to the most recent study on sexuality done by the University of Chicago, approximately one percent of the male population are engaged in homosexual, erotic behavior, but about five percent of the population claim to have homosexual feelings.

Now, if those statistics are to be believed in, and I think that they are--I think that is the most solid study made to date on sexual behavior--then we would have to say that four out of every five gay people are not engaged in erotic behavior and that is the reason why I'm saying that. But beyond that, on the anecdotal level, I constantly meet gay people in churches who are faithful Christians who are not engaged in any erotic behavior and who resent being told by the Church that they can change if they just get sincere about the whole task.

Your book mentions a celibate, gay "covenant" between two men who have agreed to live together celibately. You seem to put that forward as a possible "solution."

I get a lot of criticism on this one because the truth is what I'm really doing is reporting. As a sociologist, I interviewed many, many gay people when I was doing a study as part of the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania some 20 years ago. I met several gay men who said that they were in relationships that were nonsexual in the sense that there was no erotic behavior going on between them, and I simply said, "If two men who are lonely are living together and are in fact, not engaging in some kind of erotic exchange, I have a hard time condemning that." I don't see how that's unbiblical or un-Christian.

Now in this particular book I said, I accept this and I accept what they say and I believe them when they tell me that they're not in these erotic arrangements. But I don't recommend it because I think it would be very, very tempting to get into an erotic relationship if you were living with a person with whom you had a deep affection and to whom you were sexually attracted.

What's your perspective on the interest in the Rapture these days, and on Timothy LaHaye's "Left Behind" books?

I have some problems with the whole Rapture theory, as [my] book suggests. It comes out of a particular strand of evangelical thought that was basically generated in the middle of the 19th century in Plymouth, England. It was a theology generated by a man named John Darby. He was the one who really introduced the concept of the rapture-that Jesus comes and doesn't come all the way to earth and all God's people get swept up into the sky leaving everybody else behind, hence the "left behind" issue.

I want to emphasis that I do believe, and it's core to my faith, that Jesus Christ is coming again. That's crucial to what Christianity is about. I believe that Christ is at work in the world through Christians. Trying to change the world that is into the world that ought to be, into what the Bible calls the Kingdom of God--a society of transformed people in a transformed social system--that's the Kingdom. We should be trying to create that Kingdom here on earth.

The Bible makes it clear that we can't complete the job, but one day, this is what most Christians believe, Jesus is coming back and when he returns, he will join all of us as we struggle to bring justice and love to the world. Then, as we sing in the Hallelujah Chorus, the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God.

I would say go to the writings of John Calvin, John Wesley, Martin Luther, go to all the great theologians that have given birth to Protestant Christianity. Go to the Catholic theologians---ou won't find any mention of a Rapture. It is something that came into theological thinking in the middle of the 1800s.

My problem with the "Left Behind" books are many, but these are the most important: First of all, the "Left Behind" books suggest that any church that pays a lot of attention to social justice issues is failing. These churches are kind of condemned for not paying attention sufficiently to evangelism. We must pay attention to evangelism, but social justice issues are not a waste of time for the church.

Number two, in the books we are almost led to believe that the United Nations is some kind of instrument of the devil. I believe that the United Nations can be an instrument for facilitating reconciliation. We need the United Nations right now.

Thirdly, the books seem to suggest--picking up on this dispensationalist theology--that the non-Jewish population has to be removed from the Holy Land and the temple somehow has to be rebuilt, but there are certain political considerations that have to be fulfilled before Christ can return.

I think that's dangerous. It's made [evangelicals] so pro-Israel and so anti-Palestinian that we have nurtured a mentality that is creating war and trouble in the Middle East on an unprecedented level. We've got to be agents of peace and reconciliation. We cannot buy into that mindset that says that the Holy Land belongs only to the Jews. It belongs to all the people that are living there right now. That's what justice calls for.

So the emphasis on eschatology, the emphasis on the Rapture, are issues with which I disagree. However, in the book I make it clear that most of my evangelical brothers and sisters differ with me on this issue. That's OK. We have our own reasons for holding our postures. [But not] all Christians agree on this issue of how Jesus is going to return.

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