July 2004--Evangelical leader, sociology professor, and Baptist minister Tony Campolo made headlines in the 1990s when he agreed to be a spiritual counselor to President Bill Clinton. A self-described Bible-believing Christian, he has drawn fire from his fellow evangelicals for his stance on contemporary issues like homosexuality. He talked with Beliefnet recently about his new book, Speaking My Mind.

Editor's note, December 2004: In response to reader interest, Beliefnet is making available additional material from the July 2004 interview with Campolo.

It's a common perception that evangelical Christians are conservative on issues like gay marriage, Islam, and women's roles. Is this the case?

Well, there's a difference between evangelical and being a part of the Religious Right. A significant proportion of the evangelical community is part of the Religious Right. My purpose in writing the book was to communicate loud and clear that I felt that evangelical Christianity had been hijacked.

When did it become anti-feminist? When did evangelical Christianity become anti-gay? When did it become supportive of capital punishment? Pro-war? When did it become so negative towards other religious groups? There are a group of evangelicals who would say, "Wait a minute. We're evangelicals but we want to respect Islam. We don't want to call its prophet evil. We don't want to call the religion evil. We believe that we have got to learn to live in the same world with our Islamic brothers and sisters and we want to be friends. We do not want to be in some kind of a holy war." We also raise some very serious questions about the support of policies that have been detrimental to the poor. When I read the voter guide of a group like the Christian Coalition, I find that they are allied with the National Rifle Association and are very anxious to protect the rights of people to buy even assault weapons. But they don't seem to be very supportive of concerns for the poor, concerns for trade relations, for canceling Third World debts. In short, there's a whole group of issues that are being ignored by the Religious Right and that warrant the attention of Bible-believing Christians. Another one would be the environment. I don't think that John Kerry is the Messiah or the Democratic Party is the answer, but I don't like the evangelical community blessing the Republican Party as some kind of God-ordained instrument for solving the world's problems. The Republican Party needs to be called into accountability even as the Democratic Party needs to be called into accountability. So it's that double-edged sword that I'm trying to wield. Are the majority of evangelicals in America leaning conservative because they see their leaders on TV that way? Or is there a contingent out there that we don't hear about in the press that is more progressive on the issues you just talked about?

The latest statistics that I have seen on evangelicals indicate that something like 83 percent of them are going to vote for George Bush and are Republicans. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's just that Christians need to be considering other issues beside abortion and homosexuality.

These are important issues, but isn't poverty an issue? When you pass a bill of tax reform that not only gives the upper five percent most of the benefits, leaving very little behind for the rest of us, you have to ask some very serious questions. When that results in 300,000 slots for children's afterschool tutoring in poor neighborhoods being cut from the budget. When one and a half billion dollars is cut from the "No Child Left Behind" program.

In short, I think that evangelicals are so concerned with the unborn-as we should be-that we have failed to pay enough attention to the born-to those children who do live and who are being left behind by a system that has gone in favor of corporate interests and big money.

So as an evangelical, I find myself very torn, because I am a pro-life person. I understand evangelicals who say there comes a time when one issue is so overpowering that we have to vote for the candidate that espouses a pro-life position, even if we disagree with him on a lot of other issues. My response to that is OK, the Republican party and George Bush know that they have the evangelical community in its pocket-[but] they can't win the election without us. Given this position, shouldn't we be using our incredible position of influence to get the president and his party to address a whole host of other issues which we think are being neglected?

Like what you just said-poverty, or our foreign policy?Exactly. And we would also point out that the evangelical community has become so pro-Israel that it is forgotten that God loves Palestinians every bit as much. And that a significant proportion of the Palestinian community is Christian. We're turning our back on our own Christian brothers and sisters in an effort to maintain a pro-Zionist mindset that I don't think most Jewish people support. For instance, most Jewish people really support a two-state solution to the Palestinian crisis. Interestingly enough, George Bush supports a two-state solution.He's the first president to actually say that the Palestinians should have a state of their own with their own government. However, he's received tremendous opposition from evangelicals on that very point. Evangelicals need to take a good look at what their issues are. Are they really being faithful to Jesus? Are they being faithful to the Bible? Are they adhering to the kinds of teachings that Christ made clear? In the book, I take issue, for instance, with the increasing tendency in the evangelical community to bar women from key leadership roles in the church. Over the last few years, the Southern Baptist Convention has taken away the right of women to be ordained to ministry. There were women that were ordained to ministry-their ordinations have been negated and women are told that this is not a place for them. They are not to be pastors. They point to certain passages in the Book of Timothy to make their case, but tend to ignore that there are other passages in the Bible that would raise very serious questions about that position and which, in fact, would legitimate women being in leadership positions in the church. In Galatians, it says that in Christ there's neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, all are one in Christ Jesus. In the Book of Acts, the Bible is very clear that when the Holy Spirit comes upon the Church that both men and women begin to prophesy, that preaching now belongs to both men and women. Phillip had four daughters, all of whom prophesied, which we know means preaching in biblical language. I'd like to point out that in the 16th chapter of Romans, the seventh verse, we have reference to Junia. Junia was a woman and she held the high office of apostle in the early Church. What is frightening to me is that in the New International Translation of the Scriptures, the word Junia was deliberately changed to Junius to make it male. I'm saying, let's be faithful to the Bible. You can make your point, but there are those of us equally committed to Scripture who make a very strong case that women should be in key leaderships in the Church. We don't want to communicate the idea that to believe the Bible is to necessarily be opposed to women in key roles of leadership in the life of early Christendom. What position do you wish American evangelicals would take on homosexuality? 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. So you mean homosexual activity?That's right. What I think the evangelical community has to face up to, however, is what almost every social scientist knows, and I'm one of them, and that is that people do not choose to be gay. I don't know what causes homosexuality, I have no idea. Neither does anybody else. There isn't enough evidence to support those who would say it's an inborn theory. There isn't enough evidence to support those who say it's because of socialization. I'm upset because the general theme in the evangelical community, propagated from one end of this country to the other--especially on religious radio--is that people become gay because the male does not have a strong father image with which to identify. That puts the burden of people becoming homosexual on parents.

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