tony campoloHave you ever asked yourself “Why does it take so long?” “When will we reach the tipping point?” Tony Campolo’s journey  gives us insights into what the journey can be like. Two weeks ago, 80 year old Evangelical leader, Tony Campolo came out in support of full inclusion of LGBT people in the church. But it’s been a journey spanning decades.

I heard Tony speak in Sydney in the late 70’s. I was a closeted, married, preacher, believing one day I’d be completely straight, and wouldn’t come out till over a decade later. Homosexuality, as a topic, was not discussed then as it is today. As far as I can recall the controversial topics were whether women could take leadership roles in the church, or could Christians be demon possessed or did everyone need to be baptised in the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. Heavy stuff.

As a budding young preacher myself Tony inspired me. I’d read that when he was speaking at an affluent, conservative church in the US he opened his sermon with these words.

“I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night”

Tony’s honesty, courage and boldness inspired me as a Christian preacher. Could I ever speak the truth without fear of what others thought?.


A prolific author of over 40 books, Tony first tackled the topic of homosexuality when he released Twenty Hot Potatoes Christians are afraid to touch’ in 1988. One of those hot potatoes was a chapter titled “Does Christianity have any good news for homosexuals?”. In this chapter Tony raps Christians over the knuckles about harsh and judgmental attitudes towards gay people although he always used the word homosexual, much like Fred Nile and other Christian conservatives do.

His position on homosexuality was clear. He saw it as a sin not an orientation.

“Unlike other sins {theft, adultery, gossip) homosexuality is a sin based in a desire for which I do not see any legitimate outlet.”

There was no doubt in his mind that God’s intention for all of humanity was for the wholeness of heterosexuality. Tony raised the point that praying to become a heterosexual is like praying to be healed. God can do it, but he doesn’t always do it. Yep, Tony once believed in “pray the gay away”.


In 1996 Tony and his wife Peggy gave a presentation (read transcript here) at North Park College Chapel where Peggy came out as totally affirming of LGBT people and their relationships but Tony held the position that they must remain celibate. I often wondered if this was a good cop/bad cop type presentation to give more credence to the dialogue. Because of the significance of the individuals and that they differed in their positions on homosexuality, the transcripts and audio were widely circulated.


This talked was revamped into an article in 1999 for Sojourners magazine once again that they had very different views but were “Holding it together” as the title suggested. Tony made it clear in 1996 and 1999 that “the Bible does not allow for same-gender sexual intercourse or marriage” But in 1999 he was stronger in his condemnation of judgmental Christians.

“PEGGY AND I are concerned because Christian leaders as well as politicians are playing on the homophobia of people to gather support and raise money. We cannot let this go on. Remember, after you say, “You can’t live in our community, you can’t teach in our school, you can’t come to our college, and you can’t be part of our church”—after that you cannot say, “But we love you in the name of Jesus.” Do not allow discrimination and hatred to be directed at people who never chose to be homosexual and cannot change their orientation as easily as many Christian preachers say they can.”

Peggy was at #7 (advocacy) on the acceptance continuum whilst Tony on #4 (tolerance) moving to #5 (acceptance).


In his public statement on June 8 Tony has now moved to the final position of advocacy.

“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.”

“As a social scientist, I have concluded that sexual orientation is almost never a choice and I have seen how damaging it can be to try to “cure” someone from being gay’

“I am old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases for keeping women out of teaching roles in the Church, and when divorced and remarried people often were excluded from fellowship altogether on the basis of scripture. Not long before that, some Christians even made biblical cases supporting slavery. Many of those people were sincere believers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong. I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again, which is why I am speaking out.”

Tony Campolo is joining a growing number of evangelical leaders who are calling for full inclusion and acceptance of LGBT in the church and supporting marriage equality. Steve Chalke, Rob Bell, Jim Wallis, David Gushee and in Australia, Rev Rowland Croucher have all made similar declarations over the last two years. Like others who made statements, experienced a backlash and then backed down, these men will hold firm because of the place they have reached on the continuum. Yes there is a point of no return. It’s the point where you actually are involved in the lives of LGBT people and ignorance and misinformation has been replaced with truth.

Obviously not everyone is happy with Tony Campolo’s new stand. In Australia, the Christian conservative group the Salt Shakers, and others have spoken out against this move suggesting that it is dangerous to listen to the lived experience of LGBT people, particularly those from Christian backgrounds.

Tony Campolo is 80. Rev Fred Nile is 81. On the ABC’s Q&A last week Fred Nile demonstrated once again that he has never budged an inch on sexual orientation. Will he ever change? Some would put him at #1 (hatred) on the continuum but I he is more likely at #2 (dislike). He has a long way to go. I know what it would take for him to change.

Whilst changes are happening and acceptance growing exponentially on the other side of the scale we have some Christians so riled up over marriage equality they are doing crazy things.

© Anthony Venn-Brown