Tony Campolo on Abortion and Gay Marriage

I was in 7th grade the first time I ever heard of Tony Campolo. Our Sunday school teacher played a cassette of Tony Campolo after repeatedly telling us that he is "so funny!" Well, Tony Campolo may be an entertaining speaker to an adult, but certainly not to a 7th grader.

I got to hear Campolo as an adult this weekend at the National Youth Workers Convention (though I was still only 33 on Friday afternoon!) and he was definitely engaging. The title of his seminar was "Becoming Red-Letter Christians."

The label, "Red-Letter Christians," he said, came from a DJ on a radio station who used that expression to refer to people like Campolo and Jim Wallis--people whose life-hermeneutic is based on the words of Jesus, the red letters in many Bibles. Red-letter Christians, Campolo said, interpret the rest of the Bible through the words of Jesus.

In his lecture, he covered a pretty wide range of social issues: poverty, abortion, gay marriage, war, torture, and the Israel/Palestine issue. The two subjects that really stimulated my thinking were abortion and gay marriage. I'll try to summarize briefly what he said about each of these.


Campolo's argument was that simply making abortion illegal will not in itself eliminate abortion. While he didn't cite a source for this, he said that there were just as many abortions being performed in the 1950's as there are today--even though it was illegal back then.

The problem, he said, is primarily economic. He gave us this scenario...

A young girl is pregnant ("And don't tell me she shouldn't be pregnant in the first place," he said. "She's pregnant!"). She lives in inner-city Philadelphia and her family is among the working poor (those who earn enough money to be just above the poverty-line, effectively excluding them from any state assistance). If she has this baby it will cost at least $2000 at the hospital. This is money that her family doesn't have. In addition, she'll most likely have to get childcare for the baby, which will cost her at least $10 per day, or $200 per month. Again, this is money the family doesn't have.

For a family in this situation, the only way to stay afloat financially is to end the pregnancy.

This, Campolo said, is the problem. We can legislate against abortion all we want, but people living with these conditions will do what they must in order to survive even if it's illegal. "And we think," Campolo said, "that putting this girl in jail is the right thing to do!"

Gay Marriage

This is an issue that I've been struggling with for some time. I'm conservative in my view of gay marriage. However, the culture is clearly moving toward the legitimization of gay marriage. I don't think it's effective for the church to fight against this, because in so doing we damage our credibility with those to whom we are trying to minister. That said, I think that within the next 10-20 years gay marriage will be a reality in our culture.

The question I ask myself is this: "How can we authentically be the church in a society in which gay marriage is a reality?"

Campolo said that he, too, is conservative in his view of marriage. Marriage, he believes, is a sacred gift for a man and a woman. He said that he does not believe that the government should legitimate gay marriage. However, he also said that he does not believe that the government should legitimate heterosexual marriage.

He said that any two people should be able to go to a courthouse and enter into a legal contract with one another and be able to enjoy all the rights and privileges that go along with being bound by a legal contract. This is not marriage. It's a contract.

If those two people wish to get married, they should then go to a church (or other religious institution, I suppose) where they can be united in marriage.

Campolo added, "Some of you will say, 'But wait! Won't they be able to go to a church that will marry them?' Yes, they probably will."


As to abortion, Campolo's insights helped me to get a better understanding of what's really going on. If we're to help mothers bring their unborn children into the world, then we need to deal with the economic issues that are at the root of a big chunk of the problem.

I'm not sure yet if I completely embrace his solution for the gay marriage issue. But I do like his distinction between a legal contract and marriage. The challenge for us as Christians if (and probably when) gay marriage becomes a reality will be to figure out how to maintain our integrity and our convictions without becoming judgmental and exclusionary. How will we be like Jesus, who was neither neither of those?

Finally, I want to share a brief quote from this seminar that I thought was pretty funny. In regard to the mixing of politics and Christianity (in terms of Christians taking office and using their political power to impose their religious beliefs), Campolo said, "Mixing Christianity and politics is like mixing ice cream and manure--it's not the manure that's gonna get messed up!"


Dustin Reynolds said...

Markus...I posted especially for you haha. Ps - Tony Campolo came to APU and spoke about homosexuality, you might want to see if the talk is archived in the videos, it was an interesting one

DGH said...

Finally this is the first time I have heard someone argue my point on Homosexual marriage.... The term marriage is a Biblical one...and so there fore should only be used in the Biblical way with God being a part of it... same sex unions are just fine with me...because it is a government given term... I opposed same sex unions...just like I oppose adultery, but the church has always lived in a culture that is not of the church. In Jesus' day same sex relationships with minors was not uncommon at all in the society...and I see us going back to those times each day. Is it wrong...yes in my mind, and that is why the church must continue to love and become the cultural architects God desires for us to be in a fallen world.

Markus Watson said...

Well said, D.G.!

Feminist for Life said...

Tony Campolo said to not mix politics with religion, and yet he advocates that all the time! What a hypocrite. I am sick of these leftwing "Christians" saying it's wrong to mix politics and faith (especially with such a stupid analogy) and then claim that they are above that and not mixing them. Donald Miller did this in Blue Like Jazz, too, advocating leftwing policies but saying it's wrong to mix politics and religion. As for the abortion argument, that is the appeal to common practice fallacy. First of all, millions of abortions were NOT done before it was legal. Where is his citation for this? What an idiotic remark. NARAL, the pro-abortion organization founded to lower the population of the poor and minorities, made up statistics about abortion, too, in order to legalize it (read Hand of God by NARAL co-founder turned pro-lifer Bernard Nathanson). Yes, abortion happened before 1973, but not in the millions it has today every year, with people too stupid to wear a condom or too animalistic to control themselves and wait for either marriage (christians) or a meaningful relationship (non-christians). 99 percent of abortions now are a form of birth control, not to protect the life of the mother. It's sad and evil, selfish and cruel. Pro-abortion people are nothing more than Nazis. It's the killing of an innocent human being, scientifically, for being disabled or just unwanted. People are going to murder even if there are laws against murder, but that doesn't make it ethical to just allow it and make it "safe, legal, and rare," which causes it to be legal but not rare. If we want to make something rare, like killing innocent human beings, then make it illegal. Campolo is just a leftist moral relativist who does NOT live according to red letters of Jesus, including those where Jesus said he came to fulfill the law, and that the law should not be abolished, etc.... the whole "thou shalt not kill" is probably torn out of Campolo's "bible." Just like Jefferson's deist bible, it's selective. As for the poor argument, there are plenty of people who either refuse to work or are even rich, all across the financial spectrum, who kill their unborn children. Tony pimped out the sad issue of abortion to advocate more of a welfare state, instead of teaching responsibility with yes, some help for those who really need it (children and disabled, not the lazy).

Anonymous said...

Feminist For Life;

Thank-you for saying what your did. May God grant you even more wisdom and chance to speak out.

Spillersman said...

I agree with Campolo's general way of thinking on this issue but would probably approach it a bit differently. I think he is correct in pointing out that the government should not be sanctioning marriage. But I think where I would disagree with him is I believe rather then create a government domestic partnership/civil union system for everyone, we should completely privatize marriage/domestic partnership. Have the government stop issuing any kind of license whether it be marriage or civil union. The government can simply recognize private written "marriages" or "domestic partnerships" that people enter into. The government recognizes all kinds of private contracts but doesn't get into issuing them. For example, people enter into wills which requires no license from the state do so. This is basically the libertarian perspective that empowers individuals to make their own decisions rather then government. On abortion, I consider myself socially pro life but do not support criminalizing abortion because it would impose an affirmative duty on the woman that she remain pregnant. This would be a duty she could not relinquish. I do believe in a "right" to life, but such rights are protections we have from the government. Government should not be involved in promoting abortion via funding or any other way. Access to contraception is the key to reducing abortion rates. The Netherlands like the US has legal abortion but has one of the lowest rates of abortion in the world while Brazil where abortion is illegal has one of the highest. The difference is primarily access to contraception. I do believe as Christians our primary way in helping women/girls already pregnant is to reach out in love and not the force of government by things such as crisis pregnancy centers.

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