Prominent pastor and author Tony Campolo has said he fully supports same-sex marriage and has called for greater inclusion of open homosexuals within the Body of Christ.
"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," he wrote in a statement posted to his website.
Campolo, 80, served as the spiritual mentor to President Bill Clinton in the 1990's and also as one of the leaders at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in West Philadelphia. In the past, he expressed a belief that the practice of homosexuality is a sin and refused to support anything other than civil unions for gay couples.
However, in his statement, Campolo revealed that he changed his stance on the issue after interacting with gay couples and studying the Bible. Ultimately, it was through the influence of his wife Peggy, that he concluded that "marriage should always be primarily about spiritual growth" and that Christian gay couples can effectively reflect that goal.
"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 outlined. "One reason I am changing my position on this issue is that, through Peggy, I have come to know so many gay Christian couples whose relationships work in much the same way as our own."
"Our friendships with these couples have helped me understand how important it is for the exclusion and disapproval of their unions by the Christian community to end," he continued. "We in the Church should actively support such families."
Campolo said that because he believes homosexuality is not a choice, he does not have the right to condemn those who engage in a gay lifestyle.
"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," he explained. "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 pastor charged that the hymn "Just As I Am" should be considered as including "my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters" to be however they want. He recalled how, in the past, the Church "made strong biblical cases for keeping women out of teaching roles in the Church" and and "excluded from fellowship" those who were divorced and remarried.
"I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again [in our interpretation of Scripture], which is why I am speaking out," he wrote. "I hope what I have written here will help my fellow Christians to lovingly welcome all of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters into the Church."
Dr. Michael Brown, president of FIRE School of Ministry and director of the Coalition of Conscience, offered an open letter to Campolo regarding his changing worldview and urged him to reconsider his decision before he "brings further reproach to the gospel and hurts the people he's trying to help."
"You have offended the Lord, rejecting the clear testimony of His Word and - as could be expected, given your stance - not citing a single scripture in support of your new position," he writes.
He continued, "I recognize that it may be too late for any of us to reach you at this juncture in your life...Still, I join my voice with others, in the spirit of James 5:19-20, and urge you to recognize that you are committing a grave sin against the Lord, against His church, and against your LGBT friends by espousing this new position. In fact, you are now complicit in the potential deception and destruction of both believers and unbelievers alike."
Brown added that while he "absolutely joins" Campolo in calling on the church to "have a heart of compassion for those who identify as LGBT," he cannot join the elderly pastor in his "apostasy from God's Word in terms of the meaning of marriage and the standards of sexual morality."
"I pray that our Lord would have mercy on you (and Peggy) and grant you repentance," Brown concludes.
While Campolo has described himself as an evangelical, Christiannews.net writer Heather Clark notes that the pastor asserted in his 2008 book "Partly Right" that the Bible is not without error, as "an evangelical has a very high view of Scripture though not necessarily inerrancy," and has also commented to reporters that he believes non-Christians might go to Heaven.
"[W]e do not know who Jesus will bring into the Kingdom and who He will not," Campolo told the Edmonton Journal in 2007. "We are very, very careful about pronouncing judgment on anybody. We leave judgment in the hands of God and we are saying Jesus is the way. We preach Jesus, but we have no way of knowing to whom the grace of God is extended."
Politically, he has also long been a liberal: in an article entitled "Why Christians Should Vote for Hillary" published in April, Campolo called upon Christians to vote for Clinton as president.