Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Well, Bless His Heart

I’m happy for Tony Campolo. Really. I am. I just don’t get the fuss over his finally coming around, coming out, coming over, or whatever other phrase you choose to describe his declaration of support for the acceptance of gays and lesbians in the life of the church.
In a statement released this week, 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.
When I read that, there was big (ol’ southern) part of me that just wanted to say, “well bless his heart.”

I don’t doubt the sincerity of Campolo’s current conclusions nor of his struggle. Though we’ve met once, I do not know him personally and I’m certain he has no recollection at all our meeting. Seven or eight years ago, I provided transportation at some event where he was a speaker. I wound up driving him and his wife, Peggy, from their hotel to the venue. He was charming, as was she. I have no memory of the content of any conversation. It was probably traffic or weather. That’s what we talk about in DC when we don’t know what else to talk about.
I’m certain that I did not press him on his views on GLBTQ concerns even though I could have. It’s not like everything that he needed to study wasn’t already widely available at that point, and it certainly wasn’t like there hadn’t been countless years of prayers from marginalized sexual minorities around the world suffering oppression and outright persecution.
Christians who take scripture seriously know that God hears the cries of the oppressed. That’s what God does. The cries of the oppressed penetrate the heart of the Divine. Alas, God’s servants, as faithful as they may be, often do not hear those same cries because we tend to be deafened by our privilege. That same privilege often blinds us to others around us, and deaf and blind we stumble through life trying to stay safely within the protective bubble of our own privilege.
Campolo writes about his hours of prayer, study, conversation and turmoil. I suspect the conversation and turmoil are deeply entwined, and probably central to his change of heart for they are marks of relationship. In my experience, nothing bursts the protective bubble of privilege more effectively than authentic relationships with people who do not share the same privilege. My bubble gets burst like that all the time. Campolo goes on in his statement to describe both the importance of his own marriage and of the relationships that he and his wife have with same-sex couples. He writes,
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. We in the Church should actively support such families. Furthermore, we should be doing all we can to reach, comfort and include all those precious children of God who have been wrongly led to believe that they are mistakes or just not good enough for God, simply because they are not straight.
Amen to all that.
At the same time, though, there is that part of me that just doesn’t get the fuss being made about the turmoil that some evangelical leaders are in now that marriage equality appears poised to become the law of the land. Why all the public hand-wringing about their struggles in 2015, when so little attention was paid when the first brave Mainline Protestant leaders began working for the full inclusion of GLBTQ folks in church and society back when I was a teenager? That was news.
My own beloved tells me that I’m the big brother in the prodigal son story here – the one who stayed faithfully at home and resents the party being thrown for the son who went walkabout. She’s probably right. She usually is.
But I still don’t understand the attention that gets paid to evangelicals who finally catch up to where their Mainline sisters and brothers have been for so long. I don’t understand the attention paid to Tony Campolo right now. I didn’t understand it when Rob Bell declared that he no longer believed in a literal hell. I didn’t understand it when Rachel Held Evans declared her acceptance of evolution.
These positions are nothing new under the theological sun, so I don’t understand why they are news.
It’s not that I want a pat on the back for learning about hell as an important myth from a Presbyterian Sunday School teacher in the early 1970s, nor special commendation for embracing Darwin’s worldview as a teenager. It’s not that I want a party to celebrate my support for marriage equality – support, by the way, that cost me a job years before I chauffeured Tony and his wife around DC.
To the contrary, I’ve been blessed by the education my Presbyterian family encouraged, and I’ve been all the more blessed to be in a rainbow party for many years now. I treasure the relationships that are the bearers of that blessing. The education led me to seek relationships with people who do not share my privilege as a straight, white, Protestant, married, middle-class, educated, American man.
I still don’t have nearly enough bubble bursting relationships, and I have lots of bubbles that still need bursting. Such bubble bursting comes as a great blessing, and maybe that the news.
So, I reckon I’ll pass the blessing along, and when Tony declares his support for same-sex marriage, and Rob leaves behind a literalist understanding of scripture, and Rachel pushes for women’s ordination in evangelical circles, I’ll just say, “why bless their hearts.” And I’ll mean it. Blessings on these fellow travelers, sojourners seeking broken truth one broken-open and thus blessed heart at a time.