Wake Up, Tony Campolo!

It is with much sadness that we report to you that Dr. Tony Campolo has fallen further into the errors he displayed in the book he wrote, “Twenty Hot Potatoes Christians Are Afraid to Touch”, released in 1989. At the time, we were so appalled by the false statements in the chapter on homosexuality that we wrote a rebuttal, “Homosexual Covenant – Good News?” which was publicized by Christianity Today. Being very concerned about the impact of Dr. Campolo’s misleading “teaching” in that chapter, we wanted to do all we could to counteract it. He was strongly confronted by the leaders of Exodus International and Cornerstone Magazine at that time also, and we hoped he had learned more about the issue.

When we had our booth this January at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Washington, D.C., we were told that Dr. Campolo would be at a booth close to ours for an appearance to promote the re-release of his book, “Wake Up, America!”. Since I was hoping to find that his outlook had changed since 1989, I came up to him after his radio interview, gave him a copy of our article, and asked if his position on homosexuality were the same as it had been in “20 Hot Potatoes”. He said yes, it is. I gently but firmly protested that the chapter was full of false information; he countered with saying he wasn’t telling lies; puzzled at that, but trying to remain diplomatic, I said the chapter was not true, and that it had the effect of discouraging those who want out of homosexuality, confusing the church, and fortifying those in opposition to the church. He said, “you have your opinion, and I have mine”. I said this was not a matter of opinion, and he countered, “I know many people who have been in ex-gay ministries and are now back in the gay life!” I asked, “So, what does that tell us?”. He couldn’t respond right away, and the woman who came with me to question him broke in, asking him if it were true that his wife, Peggy, is working with the group, Evangelicals Concerned, a support group for those who believe they can be Christians and retain their homosexual identity and/or activity. Dr. Campolo verified that she is; my associate then asked if that fit his idea of a Christian marriage. Campolo responded testily, “I know you think a Christian wife is supposed to be her husband’s puppet!” My associate denied that, but he went on to accuse, “you didn’t object when President Regan’s wife was into astrology!” (how does he know she didn’t object?) “you didn’t object when Bush’s wife…” the rest of the remark was obscured by others speaking up – I tried to point out that we were speaking of the Kingdom of God, not politics, but he moved on.

Definitely a very sad and rather bizarre dialogue. We hear that Dr. Campolo speaks over 300 times a year and though we don’t know what subjects he speaks on, in homosexuality he is essentially preaching humanism and adapting Biblical principles to it. If we are offended when freedom from homosexuality is offered, that is humanism. It is grievous that his wife is working with Evangelicals Concerned, whose material claims the Bible does not speak against contemporary homosexuality (“same-sex affection”) and who are “dedicated to… providing support for Christian growth and discipleship among homosexual Christians”. We are giving time and space to the work of Dr. Campolo because it is a vivid example of the confusion and compromise that hinders effective ministry to persons caught in homosexuality. Of course, the church should care about people who are hurting, alienated, and misunderstood; who feel harassed by family, society, and the religious institutions. We need to consistently show God’s love, but let’s look at what is being promoted here…

A human being finds himself with feelings he doesn’t want and has very likely had since childhood, hasn’t been able to change through sincere effort, and may have taken the identity. Two options are available:

1. Tell him there is nothing wrong with him, (ignoring the factors that affect our emotional responses) that’s the way some people are, and change the values of the persons and institutions that claim his feelings are unhealthy. In other words, “sensitivity training”, and “more light” on the Scriptures. OR,

2. FIND OUT WHAT MORE CAN BE DONE to bring freedom from the feelings and identity, and teach persons and institutions to have loving, godly responses to those they don’t understand.

There is a clear choice here between two opposing philosophical stances.

1. Absolutes don’t exist or don’t work, and all values should focus on making people feel better about themselves. What should be heard as good news –freedom from bondage – is heard as bad news because of the investment in a life of pleasure and deception for consolation, meaning, and identity.

2. Absolutes do exist, whether everyone has found them or not, and they are the source of our redemption, healing, peace, joy, and hope. Wisdom advises us to seek absolutes and adjust our lives by them, rather than make our feelings and personal happiness the standard for right and wrong.

In his book, Dr. Campolo does an effective job of pleading for compassion for those who have tried hard to get free of homosexuality and failed. He also accurately points out that many are very hungry for the Word of God and acceptance in the church, and rightly admonishes us to treat them with love when they come to church. However, the chapter is so full of wrong conclusions and advice, it somewhat defies critique. It will be simplest if we just summarize where he goes astray.

() He minimizes the healthy response the church is giving, speaking in harsh generalities, and expresses his views rashly.

() He makes an irrational parallel between physical healing and being freed from homosexuality.

() His writing is confused, he contradicts himself twice, his reasoning is erratic and he is ignorant of the issue.

() Though he seems sure that homosexual behavior is wrong, he isn’t convinced that homosexual orientation is a disorder!

() He accepts the testimony of those who are not free of homosexuality, but not the testimony of those who are. I wonder why?

() Since he doesn’t know the answer to the problem, he doubts that there is an answer. Is this wise?

() The one book he recommends for biblical perspective, Robin Scroggs’ “The New Testament and Homosexuality”, is endorsed by those who believe the Scriptures do not prohibit homosexual relations!

We are aware these statements are blunt, but appropriate, we believe, because of the gravity of the issue. All of us are known by our public speaking and writing and we must give account of our work. The spotlight is on Dr. Campolo in this instance, but the point of this focus is that there is too much compromise in the name of compassion by church leaders around the country. It is a grave matter to tell someone they don’t have a problem when they really do, or they have a problem that can’t be fixed!

We strongly recommend that, for the health of the church, the hope of those seeking freedom, the instruction of those caught in deception, and to avoid further profaning the name of the Lord, Dr. Campolo, since he maintains the outlook declared in the book, should not be speaking on homosexuality under Christian auspices until he has learned more about it. Too much damage is being done, and this is truly a matter of LIFE AND DEATH. We earnestly hope that he and his wife can grasp that point. Dr. and Mrs. Campolo, and all others who, in an effort to be caring and compassionate, are telling less than God’s truth that sets people free, are in fact endorsing a lie. This lie asserts that since some do not get free, we should not offer freedom to any, but rather make things pleasant for those who are still caught in homosexual feelings and identity. Do we know enough truth to offer truth to them? It is certainly available. We are aware that individual pastors and church leaders have not known enough about the problem and have, in many instances, caused serious harm to those seeking help. This is reprehensible and calls for a public repentance. This never was just an issue of sin, and shouldn’t have been treated as such. Of course, the behavior is sinful, but many have the unwanted feelings and have not acted on them. When someone comes to a Christian for help for something they want to be rid of, merely telling them to get rid of it is ignorant and harmful. They already want to be free – it’s the MEANS of freedom they are seeking, and that the church has not known. This is being corrected on a significant scale in the last decade or two, which is good, but we are very late.

Frankly, the secular discipline of psychotherapy has known more about the homosexual problem for decades than the church has, and gets substantial results in their work even without a reference to God and His word. They have worked on the basic premise of buried attitudes and trauma that have led to compulsive behavior. The church is guilty of not looking for answers wherever answers could be found, then applying God’s wisdom to findings. We could have been ministering more life and freedom instead of confusion, condemnation, and, in a few cases, despair and death. Terrible as all this truly is, it is equally terrible to take another extreme of unbelief and say there is no real cure, no Balm in Gilead, no help from the Wonderful Counselor for those caught in this trap. If only ten people in the whole country found freedom, wouldn’t we interview them to find out the principles? We certainly would in a medical or technological problem! Jeremiah 32:27 says: “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” He has shown that He will share His wisdom with all who truly seek it, and marvelous results are being seen.

Though Campolo speaks against homosexual intercourse in the book, he has said otherwise in public. He may be approving of it now, because his admirers in the gay community wrote of him:

“The outspoken support of Peggy Campolo and her husband for the monogamous gay and lesbian cause is deeply moving… we are seeing an alliance formed between concerned, non-judgmental Evangelicals with equally concerned government leaders (Clinton), to ensure that gays and lesbians no longer must stay in the closet, denied the most fundamental rights… we are deeply indebted to Dr. Campolo and his wife Peggy for their tireless work on our behalf. We look forward to a time when monogamous gays and lesbians will be able to transcend the current barrier to pastorships, Sunday school teaching, and the other ministry related opportunities denied us for so long.” (from sheet entitled “Wake Up, America!” distributed at NRB convention by gay activists).

If you believe that “gay” is WHO YOU ARE, then all the arguments for acceptance and full Christian fellowship make sense. However, “gay” is a psychosexual CONDITION – making it an identity complicates the issue.

We have two assertions then:

(1) People are born homosexual, and do not change;

(2) No one is born that way, and change is possible.

The simple facts:

There is NO genetic or biological evidence for assertion #1, and MUCH available evidence from psychotherapy and personal testimony in favor of assertion #2.

THEREFORE, since there is no evidence of a biological source for homosexuality, and since many people are getting free of it, the assertion that it is in-born and no one changes is basically a POLITICAL LIE. It is a lie that is killing many people, but, as always, the truth will bring life if we want it.

Whether he knows it or not, Dr. Campolo is reinforcing the lie. His sincere statements of compassion for those who have found no relief from their torment is overshadowed by a serious compromise of principle. He offers “creative” ways of handling same-sex desires by suggesting people live as “covenantal” homosexuals without sexual activity. Surely, this offer is not popular in either camp! To be “romantically” involved but not made one flesh? This would be torment instead of the freedom that God offers.

When we ask God for wisdom, we can see that freedom is won by understanding that the condition is involuntary at first, developing in childhood when we are so vulnerable. It is basically an emotional and psychological wound from alienation or abuse and other circumstances of life in a fallen world. This condition being involuntary causes many to say later in life that they were “born that way”, though many say they knew all along they were not. For many it has been a thorny path of hurt, anger, self-hate, rebellion, compromise, envy, and despair, causing a great need for affirmation as a worthwhile person. Sexual relations become a quick fix; the pain is covered with pleasure; we receive what seems to be love; we idolize and are esteemed, however briefly, by someone like us; there is some relief from confusion of identity and self-hate, and we defy, and have some refuge from, a hostile society.

When we apply the Lord’s acceptance, love, and truth to all these areas of alienation, hurt, and deception, freedom is found! THIS IS NOT A THEORY – many have been changed and are leading new lives.

Further along in the chapter, Dr. Campolo contradicts himself twice when grappling with the matter of environmental factors in the development of homosexuality. We cannot take his research seriously, but the issue is serious because of his prominence. He is not THE author of confusion, but he is certainly AN author of it. He also perpetuates the oxymoron term, “evangelical homosexual”. We presume he means a person who is born-again but still struggles with homosexual feelings and/or temptations. This is common, and indicates how the emotions have been affected. Again, effective counsel is available to bring insight and finish the process. We must agree with Scripture when it states that we are “new creations” and “children of God” when we are born-again. That is our identity, and all conflicting thoughts and feelings must yield to that truth. To refer to a child of God as a homosexual is biblically wrong and detrimental, continues the error of taking identity from our feelings, insults the gospel, and confuses all who hear the term, “evangelical homosexual”. Many Christians are in the sanctification process, overcoming old sin-habits like gluttony, pride, anger, and gossip, to name a few. We have a new identity, and we need this firm place to stand (Psalm 40:1-3) and fight our way to freedom. We have no “homosexual brothers and sisters” (Campolo’s phrase) – we have brothers and sisters in the Lord who are battling the world, the flesh, and the Devil. There is no such thing as an “evangelical homosexual”.

We can honestly say we find no joy in critiquing Dr. Campolo’s work or reporting his folly, but the issue is literally a matter of life and death for those who want out, and we must speak. He is sowing confusion, unbelief, and compromise. It is our sincere hope that he will be removed for a time from church activity so that he and his wife can have a time of repentance and instruction. Then they could use their gifts for valid ministry of God’s truth and redemption.

Ronald Highley
LIFE, Inc. New York City, February 1994

“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
(II Timothy 4:1-3)

Topic: Historic Articles | The Truth About Homosexuality