Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Tragic Trajectory of Tony Campolo

I love my wife.  She always knows how to get my day started off the right way.  Having already listened to yesterday's edition of The Briefing, with a little twinkle in her eye and in an almost-comical tone, she asks me, "Guess which evangelical came out in favor of same-sex marriage this time?"  It only took me two guesses because as others have already observed, the very term evangelical means next to nothing these days.  By now, you don't have to guess since it's all over the place: it's Tony Campolo.

I'm always amazed by how the mind works (or doesn't).  When my wife confirmed my guess, I could see Dr. Campolo in my mind's eye.  Sometime  during my Gardner-Webb years, he came to speak for a couple of nights on campus.  If memory serves, I was either a sophomore or a junior which puts those speaking engagements somewhere between 1994-95.  If you've heard Dr. Campolo, then you know the story he would frequently end his talks with.  If you've never heard him, the Campolo Classic, when paraphrased, goes something like this,

"I was leaving my missions work in Haiti and when I was waiting for the plane.  Suddenly, a poor lady came with her baby in her arms and told me, 'Take him!  Please take him with you!'.  I said, 'No, no, I can't, put him away.  Take him away from me.'  But she insisted all the more, "Take him with you- please take him!  You can help him!  Take him!  Take him!'  But I was determined to get away and refused over and over again.  I told her I was sorry, but I couldn't take him."  

"And then it happened... I got on the plane and with the image of the woman and her baby in my mind, I finally realized what I had done.  I finally realized who I had left behind.  Do you know who I left behind?  I left Jesus!  Because it was Jesus who said, 'Whatsoever you do to the least of these--you did it to me!'  I left Jesus behind!  I didn't want the baby because he was sick and smelly but it was Jesus who I was rejecting!  It made me feel like sh*t because I left Jesus.  The problem now is, that a bunch of you are so holy and righteous that you care more about a four letter curse word than that precious life that I refused!"

I remember feeling so ashamed of myself that night.  I was one of those that he mentioned.  When I heard the preacher curse, I really did pull back because I didn't think it was right.  I was struggling in those days because I myself was struggling to maintain the purity of my own speech.  But here was an evangelist in the context of preaching, using universally-recognized obscenity in the English language.  As a 19 or 20 year old, Dr. Campolo had done a masterful job at making me feel guilty for recoiling at his cursing and letting his choice of foul language distract me from his message about how a little Haitian boy was really Jesus because he was "the least of these".

But by God's grace, I've grown a little wiser.  I recognized only years later that what Dr. Campolo did was to present a logical fallacy called, "The False Dilemma" or "The Either/Or Fallacy".  This wrong way of thinking presents two solutions when there are or may legitimately be several other options.  That night, I was essentially told that I had to choose between love for the poor and pure speech that is free of obscenity and coarse joking.  Immature in my faith and thinking, I was misled that night.

I thought of all that when my wife told me of Campolo's new stance.  And then, I came across this line in his official statement from his website explaining the rationale behind his position, 

"As a Christian, my responsibility is not to condemn or reject gay people, but rather to love and embrace them, and to endeavor to draw them into the fellowship of the Church."  The whole article can be found here.  

So the beat goes on.  As a U.S. citizen born to two Haitian parents, I really admired Dr. Campolo's passion for the Haitian people and was, at one time easily swayed by what I'm sure was a very sincere desire to energize what must have appeared to be lethargic lovers of Christ to get to the business of loving "the least of these" (by the way, there's a helpful article identifying who "the least of these" is).   But at this point of my life, whether I'm listening to a preacher, reading an article, or following the upcoming elections, I'm listening carefully to discern whether or not the presentation of a "solution" is really an honest evaluation of all sides.  

Unfortunately, Dr. Campolo's tendency to present false dilemmas in the 90's has led to another false dilemma:  either you show love to gays/lesbians by letting them marry or you're condemning and rejecting them.  In his reasoning, it is NOT loving to warn persons of God's righteous wrath against sin.  It is NOT loving to call all persons to a life of repentance from sin and faith in Christ. It is NOT loving when, as a local assembly of believers, we recognize that all of us have varying degrees of victory over sinful patterns/desires and call all who profess Christ to engage in that war--not against sinners but sin itself-- regardless of what's comfortable.  Apparently, it's either full acceptance and celebration of what the Bible calls sin, or it's rejection of the individual sinner.  That's the epitome of the false dilemma fallacy.  

Sorry Dr. Campolo, but enough is enough.  I don't doubt your sincerity in terms of feeling love for gays/lesbians, but as a faithful son of Jenny Geddes, this Creepie Stool is thrown at your head!