224th Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — July 3, 2010
Bridge-building. It’s a useful metaphor for conversations in communities, in churches, and even in the home. Peggy Campolo’s message at the Voices for an Open Spirit (VOS) dinner Saturday evening offered personal testimony to the power of bridge-building, particularly regarding the controversial issue of human sexuality.
Campolo has been a long-time ally to the community of “God’s children who happen to not be straight,” as she puts it. An active member of the Council of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, she affirmed in her talk that “God’s people of the rainbow” remain a model of Christ’s love for the wider church, through their willingness to keep knocking on the doors others lock to keep them out.
She asked that those gathered remember that the entire church of Jesus Christ is suffering when valuable members are excluded from its midst, and that the lack of wholeness is real pain for the church, even if it is self-afflicted.
Campolo and her husband, Tony, share a deep, abiding faith in Jesus Christ. They share many points of common ground: respect for the dignity of all persons, care for the poor and disadvantaged, and their commitment to return to each other for dialogue and growth. Yet their disagreement about one issue–the role of monogamous, covenanted same-gender relationships in the church–is often the subject they wrestle with publicly, demonstrating the power of bridge-building even over rough waters. Church groups invite them to speak, to show the possibility for such a couple to find common ground without divorcing, even while many denominations seem ready to split over similarly passionate disagreements.
Campolo offered the gathered VOS members various practical suggestions for building bridges in the church, such as respecting others on your side of the bridge and refusing to put up “drawbridges” by ending conversations in a way that it cannot be resumed. She reminded the group that laws cannot remove prejudice, although there are many “sky-scrapers of justice” in the United States today, which she encouraged VOS members to “look up from bridge building from time to time” to see.
As one of the first events of the official Annual Conference session, VOS hopes its dinner will set a hopeful tone for progress throughout the Conference, according to VOS Council Member Dave Witkovsky of Huntingdon, Pa. “This is a core mission for VOS,” Witkovsky said, “to continue to provide new understanding and help people bridge gaps” in the church and elsewhere. He said he was surprised and pleased at the size of the turnout–evidence, he sees, that people in the Church of the Brethren “want new direction and new ideas.”
Tony, who was present to hear her address, is a well-known evangelical preacher whose work focuses on simple living and ending global poverty. He has received some letters from would-be supporters who refuse to work with him unless he makes his wife stop speaking publicly about human sexuality.
His wife’s continuing boldness in proclaiming the good news she hears in Christ’s word reveals that neither he nor she have decided to follow such suggestions. Their example may in turn be a model for the Church of the Brethren.
–Audrey deCoursey is associate pastor of Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Ill.
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