Bert and Ernie?

Some nice thinking on the subject of the “Campolo Approach”

Recently I received an e-mail from a guy who asked whether or not it was sinful for two Christian guys to become “exclusive spiritual boyfriends.” I have to admit that I found the question a bit odd, but then I remembered reading and hearing such a relationship being suggested by Tony Campolo as a solution to helping Christians with SSA solve issues of loneliness so long as they are committed to living celibate lives. [1]

One of the things that Christians who struggle with same sex attractions (SSA) find themselves also having to deal with is loneliness and the desire for close (even non-sexual) intimate relationship. By “intimate” I do not just mean touching, hugging and so forth. Most people have a very strong desire to have a close personal relationship with someone that you can spend your entire life with who is more than a friend. Someone you can grow old with, share the holidays and be there during the good and bad times.

I have to admit, I share these feelings and most people do. This is the primary purpose for which God designed marriage. Marriage was not initially designed not for having children as an end in itself, but for solving the problem of loneliness. [3]

What has been suggested by some is that Christians who have SSA come together as partners in every way but sexual. [3] There are those who have SSA and yet recognize the Biblical prohibitions against homosexual sex (Greek: “Arsenokoitai”; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9) but wonder if perhaps it might be legitimate to live a life of celibacy and avoid the trappings of loneliness that can go along with it by forming lifelong nonsexual bonds with another Christian man who also has SSA.

This would not be unlike a marriage between a husband and a wife who cannot have sex for a particular medical reason or physical handicap. The personal lifelong relationship is there, just not the sexual intercourse.

Admittedly, it is difficult to find a simple Bible proof text that explicitly forbids such a relationship or that provides any support for it.

There is however Biblical construct and definition for such a relationship – it is called marriage. Whether the couple is male/female or male/male such an exclusive covenant relationship is by definition a marriage even if the union is contrary to Scripture. [4] While those who have promoted the notion of “exclusive spiritual boyfriends” may not have called it such (Campolo calls it a “covenant union”), the idea of it meets the definition of such a commitment.

A marriage is one in which a couple “leave” their parents and “cleave” to each other by means of a covenant (commitment) sworn to by a vow or promise “until death do us part.”

But, without even having to get into a long discussion how the definition of a marriage, let us consider a few other issues that I believe Scripture raises against the notion of a male/male exclusive lifelong commitment.

First, is deciding to become life long “exclusive spiritual boyfriends” not a self resignation that the SSA cannot or will not ever be overcome in this life time by either individual? In other words, are not saying to yourself and the partner, “I give up, I can’t (or won’t) change so I am going to commit myself to going as far as I can with these attractions and feelings without having sex.”

Second, does not the commitment to be “exclusive spiritual boyfriends” then exclude that one partner might leave the relationship for a Biblical marriage with a woman? How can you bind a person to a non-Biblical relationship and require that they never leave it for a Biblically ordained relationship? Does not such a commitment amount to making a vain oath?

Third, does not this type of relationship promote, rather than help fight, same sex attractions? Scripture does not merely prohibit sinful actions; it also excludes the desires to commit those sins in the heart (Matthew 5). So, while Biblical male-male friendships and non-sexual bonding can help meet the emotional needs of someone who has SSA, will not resigning yourself to be with someone FOR LIFE who shares SSA further those sinful longings?

Fourth, while we will not be completely sanctified in this lifetime I do not think that it is WE who can pick and choose which sins we will continue to struggle with and which the Lord will set us totally free from, or at least give us victory in fighting against, homosexual lust. I believe we can change enough to have our most intimate emotional needs met by a woman, even if we are still battle SSA. In fact, it was the thought “I’ll have to struggle with this for the rest of my life” that kept me from fully seeking to overcome SSA and making use of the Biblical means to do so. Is this not unlike an obese person saying, “Well, I’ve always been fat, I will always be a glutton so I just ought to accept that I’ll always be this way and stop seeking to change my desire to eat too much and not exercise enough!”? [5] If THAT is your mentality, you will never overcome ANYTHING. The truth is, resigning yourself to be “exclusive spiritual boyfriends” is a choice to not learn to control your thoughts, not to transform your mind and instead choose to further rather than fight the sinful desires of your heart and choose the identity “I’m an SSA Christian.” This is like an obese person saying, “I’m a fat person, I was born this way and I can’t change!”

Fifth, some might take what I have written here as being unsympathetic to the loneliness that many Christians who struggle with SSA go through. Trust me, I couldn’t empathize with you more. But I do not think that for a Christian man to become “clingy” (or should I say “cleaving”) to another man is Biblical nor is it mentally or emotionally healthy. Even in a man to woman relationship it is only healthy if both are content (rather than “needy”) persons who come together to give to, rather than take from, the other. What is needed is two whole persons who come together to make a wholesome marriage.

Sixth, since there is no real legal or Biblical warrant for such a commitment, if one person should become better friends with another man and decide to “hang around” with him, would not the other who in his heart really thinks of this relationship as a marriage then become jealous? If such were the case between a man and a woman, the jealousy would be justified for there is a Biblical warrant for a lifelong exclusive man and woman relationship. But this is not the case for “exclusive spiritual boyfriends.”

I have many male Christian friends, some are closer to me and know me better than others. Two of which are my best friends who I rely on for their counsel. But I don’t have an “exclusive” relationship with them and nor do I, or should I, expect any one of them to meet all my social needs. In fact, I need MORE close Christian friends – not a singular exclusive one to call my “boy friend.” Furthermore, one of my friends is married and the other wants to get married. I pray he finds a wife because I want what is best for him, not what I think will meet my own selfish needs.

What I want and what I need is a God-ordained marriage to a woman. I know that if I should meet one she will have to be a special lady and a godly woman who is understanding of my past and my needs. And in the providence of God I may have met such a woman – but for now I have to wait.


[1] See Tony Campolo, “20 Hot Potatoes Christians Are Afraid To Touch” pg.117
[2] See Jay Adams, “”Solving Marriage Problems” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), pg. 8
[3] Tony Campolo, Ibid.
[4] For example, for a Christian man to marry a non-Christian woman is a sin and contrary to Scripture (2 Cor. 6:14-15). Nevertheless, it is still a marriage by virtue of the oath.
[5] I do not meant to be insensitive to people who are overweight and I recognize that some people have medical problems that make it difficult to lose weight. But why is it that the majority of these people are Americans who eat excessive amounts of fast food and spend way too much time in front of the television? And which came first, the medical problem or the excessive weight? Might not eating the wrong foods and failing to take care of your health LEAD to having all sorts of medical problems and further the problem of being overweight?

3 Comments on “Bert and Ernie?

  1. Hi Peter,

    me yet again.

    I heard Tony Campolo speak at Greenbelt in 2001 about his position on the gay issue – or at least on male homosexuality (if he mentioned lesbian women I don’t remember it though it was 6 years back…). His argument was just as Rik Fleming talks about in what you quote above -“What has been suggested by some is that Christians who have SSA come together as partners in every way but sexual”. It’s interesting reading Rik’s comments on this and I’d just like to add a couple of my own.

    Tony Campolo’s approach seems to be a development of the line that ‘it’s alright to be gay [or have SSA but I dislike that phrase] as long as it’s not practised’. (After all, as Rik says in some of his own comments, the implication is that one wouldn’t seek to change same-sex desire, but just not ‘act on’ it). One problem with this is that it lacks logic – it suggests that bad / damaging acts flow from an orientation that might not be positive but is at least neutral. It strikes me that a recognition of this is partly behind some of Rik’s comments – it could be said that there’s a logic in believing that same-sex desire is wrong, and that same-sex acts flowing from that desire are wrong, so one should seek not just to be celibate but to overcome / change one’s same-sex desire, as Rik argues. (Just as it could be said that there’s a logic in believing that same-sex desire can be brought to flourishing and an integration within the person, as heterosexual desire can, and that same-sex sex isn’t always and everywhere wrong…). So oddly enough, if the implication of what Rik’s saying is that Tony Campolo’s approach evidently springs from compassion but is incoherent, I agree.

    The other comment I’d like to make is about Rik’s reference to 1 Cor 6:9. (Am wondering why this is the only reference he cites?). He takes it for granted that this refers to all homosexual sex (4th paragraph – I’m taking it he means all male-male sex as whatever it’s about, it presumably doesn’t involve women!) – but I’d like to suggest that some doubts can be raised about this. For instance, I’m told that in St Jerome’s translation, the Vulgate, ‘arsenokoitai’ is rendered ‘masculorum concubitores’, ie male prostitutes. Moreover different Biblical translations give various other renderings – the Good News version reads “homosexual perverts”, the RSV has “sexual perverts” and the NIV, NRSV and the Jerusalem Bible have “sodomites”. These three phrases all have different resonances and meanings and not all of them overlap. I say this just to note differing interpretations of the phrase and to show that it isn’t instantly clear or obvious that it should be read as referring to ‘all gay men’ or ‘all male-male sex’.

    Am aware that it’s likely that the word ‘arsenokoitai’ is derived from the Greek Septuagint text of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, so it could well be read as referring back to that prohibition. But that would raise the question of how to read the Leviticus text… I’d just like to recommend Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s book, Wrestling with God and men: homosexuality in the Jewish tradition (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004). Steven Greenberg is a gay Orthodox rabbi; the book is the fruit of years of work, scholarship and wrestling with his religion and sexuality. I’m not going to try summarising it now (and am not sure if any summaries are available online), but he offers a reading of the Leviticus text that neither dismisses the text nor reads it as referring straightforwardly to all male-male sex now. His work could be helpful to Christians wrestling with Scripture on this.

    in friendship, Blair

  2. I think the best translation is that found in the ESV, and if the nice ESV plugin works, you’ll find it if you stick your cursor over the reference in the main post. It’s very simple and to the point – “men who practice homosexuality”.

    I genuinely think that’s the best translation of the word, based on it being linguistically rooted in the LXX.

  3. Hello again Peter,

    I note from that the ESV uses the phrase, “men who practise homosexuality”, to cover both ‘arsenokoitai’ and the preceding word ‘malakoi’ – it has a footnote that says, “The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts”. You’ll be aware that ‘malakoi’ isn’t rooted in the Septuagint. I realise I could sound like a bid for some kind of award for pedantry but just want to say again that there is room for ‘reasonable doubt’ here. To translate ‘malakoi’ and ‘arsenokoitai’ as “men who practice homosexuality” is an interpretative decision after all – neither of those Greek words as far as I’m aware have direct equivalents in modern English. So another question that could be raised is, why does the ESV translate them to give such an exact meaning that can be aimed at a specific, contemporary group of people, when other translations do not?

    in friendship, Blair

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