tony campolo isn’t “out.”

Another black man is shot, water in my city is still a problem, and a horserace required a righteous response, so I’m a little behind. But here is the headline:

Tony Campolo “Comes Out.”

I suppose the best thing to do with this would be ignore it. Campolo chose to be a non-player in this social revolution a long time ago.

But I resent the headline. Because coming out means something way more substantial than being grudgingly ok with gay people in your church, in your world. Tony Campolo hasn’t Come Out. But maybe Tony Campolo has Caught Up. With majority of the rest of the world. He has finally concluded that gay people are not an abomination to God and a detriment to society after all.

This makes me tired.

Though differing in so many ways, I have had a bit of respect for Campolo over the years. He has long been an advocate of social change on a variety of fronts. I sat in workshops with him more than a decade ago, and heard him talk about creating social change by buying stocks and then refusing to give up proxies in board meetings; heard him tell of chastising a former student who became a physician, specializing in cosmetic surgery. (The student, Campolo said, in focusing on breasts, noses and face lifts, had sold out.) His writing is where I first heard critique of the racism of the GI bill.

In the case of the LGBT faithful, however, he has been less quick to see injustice. “It has taken countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil to bring me to the place where I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.”

I would like to say “hogwash.” I don’t want to dismiss his prayer log, but I would like to suggest that he waited, not for the spirit of God to lead, but for the spirit of popular opinion to change. Which is too often what the church does.

Years ago, as a member of a self-described progressive Episcopal congregation, I was invited to sit in on a book group. The book was This Far By Grace: A Bishop’s Journey Through Questions About Homosexuality. The inviter celebrated that the church was “ready to be inclusive,” a church, mind you, that had a lot of gay members. I declined. I said to her, and I’ll say it again, the church is still playing catch-up. I am tired of celebrating a willingness to include people; what I wanted then was a church that was willing to lead, to say to the world around that tolerance isn’t enough. Inclusion in church isn’t, wasn’t, enough. Not then, not now.

Campolo said he was patiently trying to help the LGBT community by being a liason, an advocate: “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.”

But he undoes this bridge thing with the next sentence: “The other reason was that, like so many other Christians, I was deeply uncertain about what was right.”

You cannot be an advocate for someone if you aren’t willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. A “bridge” is supposed to be more than the one who delivers hate mail unilaterally. Even if the hate mail is disguised as “love mail,” as in, “we love you, but…”

And, as another writer has pointed out, he still is not speaking of our Bi and Trans brothers and sisters, and many others in the fluidity of human sexuality. This invitation is still limited. So, not full inclusion.

In all fairness, Campolo didn’t write the headline. But in issuing a statement, he seems to suggest that his changed attitude is pivotal. Maybe it is, for some of the minority of Americans who are still lingering on the homophobic edges, though it is hard to imagine most of them will do anything beyond continue to linger. Tony can be wherever he is in his personal beliefs. But he is not “out,” and can’t possibly know what that means for those of us who have lived outside the church or buried deeply in the church’s massive closet – buried there in no small part because of faith leaders who have refused to do the prophetic thing. Let his faith struggle be his alone, and let’s not celebrate publicly that he finally gets it. What he seems finally to have gotten, frankly, is that the storm is nearly passed and it’s safe to seek the daylight.

So this is not “exciting,” as one poster claimed. I’m not willing to stipulate that Tony’s joining the parade has made it more powerful. But I will welcome him. That’s what we do.

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About Deb Conrad
I’m Deb Conrad, pastor, teacher, photographer, writer, antique-lover, cat-mom, wine-drinker and old-house-seeker. I have a bike by Burley and knees by Stryker. I play guitar marginally, bowl when I can. I live in Flint, Michigan, with previous lives in SC, NJ, PA, MD, Washington DC, TX, CA and KY. I founded and still help run UrbanSpirit, a poverty education center in Louisville (link below), where I meet interesting people and try to do what I can to change the world. I'm pastor of Woodside Church in Flint, a groovy place if ever there was one.

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