Rob Bell supports gay marriage. He said so this past Sunday as he spoke at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, during which he responded by saying “I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs — I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.” Is this one more step in the evolutionary process of Rob Bell’s challenge to Christianity or has he jumped the shark entirely?
I’ve been a big fan of Rob Bell for years. I’ve read all his books, seen all the Nooma videos, and prior to his leaving Mars Hill I hadn’t missed a podcast sermon in two years. His book Velvet Elvis awakened my spirituality to long for and know Jesus beyond the dogma’s of organized religion. With that said what is he doing throwing his hat into the gay marriage debate? After the angst that Love Wins created, doesn’t he realize this could be the deathnail for him professionally? After all, he wound up leaving his own church that he had founded and many Christian book stores including Family Christian Bookstores pulled all of his material (I subsequently stopped shopping there because of it).
What I appreciated about Rob Bell for so long was that he didn’t pick a side. He challenged the premise of both sides with questions, but few answers. He was a pioneer heading into the wilderness who responded to questions as to where he was headed with “Let’s find out together, it should be fun”. His well formulated hypothesis never seemed to fit what anyone wanted, which is what made so many people like myself want it all the more. But rather than apologetically stepping into the middle of the foray to question both side’s motives, he has become an instigator. The Rob Bell I thought I knew would have left out the “whether it’s man and woman, a woman and woman, a man and man” part entirely end concluded with “Can’t we all agree on Marriage, fidelity, and love?”.
Maybe it’s something else entirely. Maybe it’s the continued evolution of a theology Rob Bell preaches that’s beyond sterotypical Christianity. Bell later explained
“I think we are witnessing the death of a particular subculture that doesn’t work. I think there is a very narrow, politically intertwined, culturally ghettoized, Evangelical subculture that was told “we’re gonna change the thing” and they haven’t. And they actually have turned away lots of people. And I think that when you’re in a part of a subculture that is dying, you make a lot more noise because it’s very painful. You sort of die or you adapt. And if you adapt, it means you have to come face to face with some of the ways we’ve talked about God, which don’t actually shape people into more loving, compassionate people. And we have supported policies and ways of viewing the world that are actually destructive. And we’ve done it in the name of God and we need to repent.”
Does the man for whom “Love Wins” have a point in that marriage is more than a religious institution? He does not mention whether he feels homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of God. He is speaking to marriage as a social construct. One which has been increasingly marginalized within heterosexual marriages long before gay marriage became an issue worthy of debate. Is the church so fixated on a “politically intertwined, culturally ghettoized” message it can’t see the plank in it’s own eye which prevents it from spreading the message of “love God and love your neighbor”?
Is Rob Bell a prophet (and I use that term loosely here)? Maybe he is not trying to make an inflammatory statement to boost book sales, but rather once again making the statement that makes you stop and wonder. Maybe he has not jumped the shark and evolving a new brand of Contemporary Christian ideology. Maybe he is who we always thought he was, just without the confines of a church structure to restrict him.
Is he a prophet or a heretic?