Baptist Faith Leader Comes Out in Support of Inclusion of Same-Sex Couples

This week, Dr. Tony Campolo, a leading Baptist evangelical activist, sociologist and teacher, released a statement publicly expressing his support for marriage equality and the inclusion of same-sex couples in the church.

Dr. Campolo is the founder of “Red Letter Christians,” a movement intended to shift Christian conversation away from partisan interpretations of social issues and more towards the teachings of Jesus Christ.

“Because of my open concern for social justice, in recent years I have been asked the same question over and over again: Are you ready to fully accept into the Church those gay Christian couples who have made a lifetime commitment to one another?” Campolo wrote. “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.”

Growing up a Baptist minister’s child in Alabama and Georgia, I quickly learned to tell people we weren’t those kinds of Baptists. We were cooperative and modern Baptists. We were Baptists who believed in soul freedom, Bible freedom, church freedom and religious freedom. We were also Baptists who believed women had a place in church pulpits and we had a social conscience rooted in a church-wide commitment to global missions, justice and reconciliation.

And like many other Protestant denominations of the early 2000’s, we were Christians unsure of how to talk openly and lovingly about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the church.

In 2003, while I was learning to understand my own sexual orientation and my connection with the church, Dr. Campolo was emerging as one of the few Baptist voices willing to even touch the LGBT community and their relationship with the Church. At that summer’s General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Campolo challenged those in attendance to think more deeply about how the church could, as he explained, “show love and understanding to our homosexual brothers and sisters.”

My 16-year-old ears also heard him discuss the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, and that it did not allow him to support what he called, “same-gender eroticism.” Like a deflating balloon, I slumped back down in my seat. “Maybe there won’t be a place for me here after all,” I thought to myself.

Eventually, my countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil brought me to a place where I could no longer continue to deny the holiness of my relationship for the security of a church I had loved. Ultimately, it is those Baptist tenets of Bible freedom and soul freedom that have given me the courage to openly seek a space of belonging.

As faith organizer for HRC Alabama, I work with many Baptist leaders throughout the state on building safe and inclusive faith spaces. I applaud Dr. Campolo and the growing list of evangelical leaders who have, and I hope continue, to come out in support of a wide spectrum of LGBTQ inclusion in faith communities.

I admire Dr. Campolo’s willingness to tell his story of personal, theological and moral journeying. I have come to respect that we are not of one mind as to how far the Church’s affirmation of LGBTQ persons should go, but that isn’t enough. Our work is not done until those Baptist traditions of spiritual freedom create truly inclusive spaces not just for committed same-sex couples, but also for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith.


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