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The Gospel of Social Activism: Is Evangelism Sexist?

Tony Campolo tackles the controversial issue of ordaining women despite attacks from Christian conservatives, in his 29th and latest book ‘’Speaking My Mind.’’
( [email protected] ) Aug 16, 2004 05:31 PM EDT

Tony Campolo, the American evangelist well known for his vociferous proclamations on the “gospel of social activism”, came out with his new 29th and latest book, accordingly named, “Speaking My Mind.” In his new and thoroughly impassioned critique of today’s church, Campolo freely takes on the controversial subject on evangelical sexism.

“Is Evangelism Sexist” is the title to the chapter where he elucidates his oft-criticized but oft-praised viewpoint: Yes, indeed evangelims is sexist.

“Sexism,” writes Campolo, “is especially reprehensible when it is carried out in the name of biblical Christianity."

Right wing evangelicals, who use snippets of biblical passages to support their view, have called Campolo blasphemous to the point of being destructive in the past.

Last year, in a speech made out to the members of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship – a “progressive” wing of the Baptist family – Campolo said people who keep women out of the pews are an “instrument of the devil.”

"It's one thing to be wrong, but that isn't wrong, that's sinful. The Bible says, 'neglect not the gift that is in you,' and when women are gifted with the gift of preaching, anybody who frustrates that gift is an instrument of the devil," Campolo said.

Campolo’s charge was especially controversial because his statement was in apparent reference to the largest denomination in the nation, the Southern Baptist Convention, which had been at odds with the CBF for over a decade on the same issue.

Some 25 years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention went through a “conservative resurgence,” during which the leadership, constitution and faith-statements were altered to reflect more fundamentalist views on social issues. Ironically at that time, the SBC, which was among the first Christian denominations to ordain women, made a complete about face and barred women from the pulpit completely. Several decades later, after several failed attempts to once again reverse the trends of the SBC, the liberal leaders left the denomination to form their own groups, namely, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Texas General Baptist Convention.

Campolo, in his June 2003 speech, seemed to pick at old wounds by mentioning that the CBF exists because “another group” said it would not endorse the idea that women can serve ad pastors. In addition, he called the “other group’s” statement as “about as evil a statement as one can make.”

Not surprisingly, SBC leadership fired back, saying that Campolo had “hit a new low” in his “Pugnacity.”

“I read with regret the unwarranted and unnecessary remarks of Tony Campolo. For some time now, those in evangelical circles have observed with sadness his drift from biblical authority,” SBC executive council president Morris Chapman commented.

"Tony Campolo is known for bombast and overstatement, but I think this may be a new low for him. His remarks are unbecoming of one wishing to be recognized as a Christian spokesman. Pugnacity should not be mistaken for the prophetic spirit,” he continued.

Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, added to Chapman’s criticism, saying that Campolo is in “no position to judge the SBC or its institutions.

"Unfortunately, Dr. Campolo is a sociologist rather than a theologian. His venom toward the Southern Baptist Convention and his advocacy of liberal positions on social and moral issues puts him in no position to judge the SBC or its institutions," said Mohler.

"Controversy follows Dr. Campolo wherever he goes, and it seems to be as much for his enjoyment and publicity as for any constructive purpose. The fact that the CBF would have him as one of their major speakers says everything,” continued Mohler.

Consequently, Compolo issued a statement of apology to the SBC and other conservatives for the “intemperate manner in which I spoke of those who differ with me,” on issues of sexism.

However, in his apology, Compolo reinforced his initial statement that “organizations and social structures that deny women the right to exercise spiritual gift and actualize their spiritual potentialities are sinful, evil, and even instruments of the devil,” thereby sparking yet another round of shots from the conservative camp.

Chapman said he lamented Campolo’s “characterization as ‘evil’ and ‘sinfil’ those who take what they believe to be a biblical position on the issue of female pastors."

Campolo apparently would deem as evil "the majority of Christians of all ages who have held to the teaching of the Scripture on this topic," Chapman stated. "Southern Baptists have plainly stated what we believe New Testament teaching on the issue to be. For that, we have no apologies to offer Mr. Campolo."

Campolo himself acknowledged the “New Testament teaching” fundamentalists so often upheld at the core of their dogma on female ordinations.

“My fundamentalist friends” cite the passage from I Timothy 2, where Apostle Paul says, "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” However, Campolo noted in his new book, “they do not enforce the preceding verse that tells women not to braid their hair or wear jewelry.”

Campolo went on to say that while fundamentalists feel Paul was literally “silencing all of the women,” in actuality, he was “scolding some of the women.”

The early church had "abolished the second-class religious status that women had in Judaism," Campolo writes in his book, and historians believe some women had begun making "exaggerated use of their right to speak at church gatherings." Paul, he said, "was simply saying that they should show respect when men were preaching and teaching and not interrupt them."

Campolo himself cited several verses to support his view as an “evangelical feminist.” Acts 2, he writes, says the “outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church on the Day of Pentecost had led to women receiving the call to preach.” Additionally, Campolo notes, in 1 Timothy 4, Apostle Paul, who in the same book “silenced” women, warns Christians not to “neglect the gift that is within them.”

At that end, Campolo said women pastors are a necessary asset to the current day church – a part the church cannot survive without.

“The Christian church at this stage cannot afford to lose half of its most talented people, which is what excluding women from key roles is all about,” writes Campolo.

Campolo also reiterated his view on other social-Christian issues.

"I believe that the evils Satan wills to exercise in this world occur often through those social structures that the apostle Paul calls the 'principalities' and 'powers,' " Campolo writes. Among these "structural evils" are slavery, the military-industrial complex, the tobacco industry - and "the sexist attitudes that deny women the right to express their vocational gifts as preachers."

Campolo’s own denomination, the American Baptist Churches USA, had long-since accepted women as preachers and teachers. Most other large Baptist denominations, with the exception of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, also accept women to preach on their pews.

For more information on “Speaking My Mind” or the author of the book, please visit: www.tonycampolo.org. For more information on the Southern Baptist Convention, please vist: www.sbc.net.