By LAWN GRIFFITHS, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE/SCOTTSDALE TRIBUNE
It's ironic that Peggy Campolo could -- or would -- develop a ministry advocating for gays when she is married to one of America's fiercest critics and motivators of the Christian church, the Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo, who argues the Bible forbids all homosexuality activity.
Their differences have made the couple, married 45 years, a "tag team " on the speaking circuit, taking the divisive religious debate into the corridors of the church.
"I have asked God, in tears, why this issue that does not even touch our family personally has to be a major area of disagreement for Tony and me," Peggy Campolo said Sunday night in a talk at First Congregational Church of Phoenix, sponsored by No Longer Silent -- Clergy for Justice, which seeks full inclusion of gays in religious life and society. "I get no answer in words, but because I know our dialogue is helpful to other people, I believe God is using Tony and me to model something that is important, however difficult it may be to endure."
It may be daunting to be married to the brazen, outspoken, much-in-demand Tony Campolo, the author of 28 books, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University in Pennsylvania and a TV commentator who, until recently, was doing more than 400 appearances a year. Peggy told her audience the respect, love and integrity between her and Tony let them continue to speak out from their conflicting positions in a way that might parallel that married political odd couple -- Republican strategist Mary Matlin and Democratic political adviser James Carville.
The lifelong American Baptist has told her views in the essay "In God's House, There Are Many Closets," which is part of a book by Walter Wink, "Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches" (Fortress Press, 1999).
In Phoenix, Peggy Campolo, 66, shared her faith journey, noting that even as a pastor's daughter, she rejected God until about 19 years ago when she sat with an 86-year-old friend who was dying. "Helen held my hand for dear life," she said. "I decided I would tell Helen everything I had ever heard about Jesus Christ and going to heaven. . . . As I shared the stories of God's grace and love to a dying friend, the presence of God came near to me. . . . God came into my life as I sought God for Helen."
She shared stories at First Congregational about witnessing the mistreatment of gays. One was a classmate 50 years ago in Philadelphia, named Tom, who was taunted by boys. "I heard evil in their voices, 'Tommy! Tommy!' they called out, silly grins on their faces, eyes darting around to see who was watching their games."
"I tried to pretend it hadn't happened, but I felt afraid and sad, and I knew that he did, too," she said. "I knew that Tom was being harassed, not because of anything he could have done, but because of who he was." She looked back with regret that she had not stood up for Tom, another preacher's kid and a kindred spirt.
"I didn t have what it took to turn my sadness into righteous indignation on Tom's behalf, and it was not until Jesus became real to me that I found out it was God I needed to give me the courage to come out of my own closet," she said.
About 25 years ago, the Campolos began making Provincetown, Mass., on Cape Cod, a summer destination for whale watching. But Peggy said the vibrant gay community there gave her the firsthand opportunity to come to know gays and lesbians in depth. "The people there changed my life," she said.
As the wife of a college professor, she reached out to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people in the campus community. "As I listened to their stories, a rage began to build in me," she said. "In all my life, nothing had ever been so unfair as the lies some of these young people are living. Many of them are deeply troubled because they were unacceptable often by those they loved most."
She told of the "last time I was ever silent when I should have spoken out."
The Campolos were riding in the back seat of a car headed to a speaking engagement for Tony. The couple in the front seat "wanted to talk to Tony about the ills plaguing society," Peggy said. "Guess what was first on their agenda?" It was homosexuality.
"As they began to describe the evil, I began to feel sick, she said. I desperately wanted to be somewhere else. I thought about the college kids who sat and cried in my kitchen. That couple talked on and on and I knew they were wrong, wrong, wrong. They were probably nice, but grossly misinformed people. I sat in silence, misery and anger, doing what I had always done in that situation -- nothing."
"For me, that day, a rooster crowed, not only had I betrayed my friends, I had betrayed my God, too," she said alluding to a passage from Luke 22:61 she had read earlier about how Jesus' friend Peter would deny him three times.
"Tony and I agree on some things like the fact that a homosexual orientation is not chosen, and we agree that people should not have to be in the closet to be part of the body of Christ," Peggy said. Tony and I agree the term 'homosexual lifestyle' is a misnomer because there are many homosexual lifestyles as there are many heterosexual lifestyles. When I speak to college audiences, I like to point out that Madonna and I are both heterosexual women, but we do not share a lifestyle."
"Tony and I are opposed to promiscuous lifestyles, which use and discard people, be those lifestyles homosexual or heterosexual," she said.
The couple differ on the issue of monogamous, committed relationships for people of the same gender, though both agree they should be legally permissible in our pluralistic society.
"I enthusiastically affirm such relationships are Christian; Tony does not," Peggy said. "He calls Christian homosexual people to live lives of celibacy because he believes that that is what the Bible commands. It is in the first chapter of Romans that Tony and I have our deepest disagreement. He believes Paul makes it quite clear that the homosexual relationships of a physical relationship are wrong and any same-gender sexual activity is contrary to what the Bible allows."
Peggy said she reads that passage (Romans 1:27) and concludes that the writer Paul is condemning sexual orgies as part of the worship of Aphrodite, the prevailing religion in Corinth.
"Tony and I have had to agree to disagree, and I admit now to being terribly afraid of what might happen in our marriage if I continued to speak out as I have felt called to do," she said. "It helped that each of us knew the other was praying and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Our marriage became stronger and our conversations definitely got more interesting."
"We love each other, but doesn t God call all his children to love each other?" she said, adding how she wished Tony had been arrested with her in Cleveland two years ago in a demonstration in support of gays. "I wished he belonged to the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists," which includes churches that fully include gays.