Rob Bell is Gay Affirming but not everyone is happy about it

Rob Bell, among others, has come out as open to Same Sex Marriage (SSM) - but not everyone is on-board with it. SquareDesign_ver1

David Fitch (with a Canadian connection) posted this:

Who is Rob Bell speaking for/to in affirming gay marriage? His (former) church? Christians at large? The press? Culture observers? Gay Christians (in Grace Church SF)? Why or who should be paying attention to him? and Why?

More and more I’m seeing Christian leaders who have no congregation/people they’re accountable to (who yet carry media/publishing driven leadership) create division with pronouncements. This results in damage to the church’s wherewithal for witness in a world that sees all this. I don’t know if Rob Bell is to blame (for the media) but I do think we Christians should not encourage this nonsense. (On the other hand, I can listen to the Pope differently because he stands within 2000 years of a tradition so that he cannot make statements without being accountable to it).

When we listen to a Christian leader we should first and foremost look at place of ministry/accountability from which he/she speaks. What say you? agree?

Jason Postma (another Canadian connection)  added this:

Newsflash: Neither is Rob Bell is not the first Christian to “come out” in support of marriage equality nor is he single-handedly destroying the Church in sharing his opinion.
I would go as so far as to say that the culture-warrior saber rattling in response to Bell is more divisive than anything else precisely because it serves to marshal support and draw lines in the sand, none of which is helpful for unity or for opening the possibility for a charitable discussion.

I should point out that Postma added many bold posts including:

Question: when did support for marriage equality become a theology boundary that could not be crossed when there remains a robust theological pluralism on things that are central to the faith, like, I don’t know, the atonement, justification, ecclesiology, etc.?

Here is my thought on the issue: 

It can be difficult as a local church pastor to speak out on a very controversial issues.

  • You feel the weight of your congregation’s expectations.
  • You feel a responsibility to your denomination/ ordaining body.
  • You feel the pastoral/shepherding responsibility to your community.

Those 3 things weigh heavily on you. SO when you are in the pulpit/in the employment of a local congregation – you might not feel all that free to share where you are on any given issue.

Rob Bell, then, being independent of his official responsibilities and obligations, is free to say what he really thinks – and by doing so – to further the cultural conversation in a way that helps those of us who are currently employed at churches within denominations that may not allow us (at the current time) to say such things.

I, for one, am glad that Rob Bell came out as affirming.

No – he is not employed at local congregation any more.  But that should not disqualify him from weighing in on the matter.

In fact, his willingness to do so may be the exact opportunity that some of us who have:
A) a smaller spotlight and
B) responsibilities at a local church
to speak up for something that we have deep convictions about but don’t want to assume our entire congregations are with us is.

What do you think? 
Is Rob out-of-line as a out-of-work minister?
How do we give voice to issues that our congregations may not be 100% with us? 

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50 comments
gregBob
gregBob

Actually, Scripture inturprets culture, not the other way around.  Culture historically, is a poor judge of morality. A dramatic example was Hitler's Germany.  Here, an entire culture condemned Jews to be exterminated, along with the handicapped.  How could the Bible be contextualized to fit that culture?  It couldn't. So incongruent was the Bible in that culture that they banned and burned it.  Hitler came up with his own religion and sacred text to replace the Bible.  The Bible always speaks to the human heart to rebuke or to comfort (depending on what the heart needs).  


Some clergy that want the approval of people will agree that the Bible is out of date and needs revision or elimination.  As such, they are left without any objective truth and only give people their own shifting opinions on the waves of current trends.  That is sad.  How quickly we forget the fickle nature of the current culture.


On your comment about it not being your job to Judge.  You are right in one sense.  If you mean you shouldn't be condemning, I absolutely agree.  We should love those who disagree with us.  


But if the things they do will separate them from God forever, how is it judging them to tell them of the danger?  


If a doctor can save a life of a man with cancer with an operation, it's not unloving tell him the truth of his condition, even if  he hates you for doing so.   To do otherwise, ...for the doctor to suppress the truth of the disease that will kill the man, would be a horrible judgment on the man. That doctor would have judged the man not important enough to save.


Tolerance is the great virtue of this culture.  But, tolerance has been redefined by our culture.  Tolerance used to mean, to be kind and patient with those with whom you disagree, or hold opposing viewpoints or beliefs or philosophies.  Today tolerance  means you must agree that all viewpoints are equally valid.  This philosophically has no intellectual credibility. It means we refuse to think critically about issues and take stances, even unpopular  ones, if we feel they are right.


Culture will often embarrass it's self in the light of history 

gregBob
gregBob

That's so true susanst824,


But, Rob Bell isn't espousing an alternative Biblical interpretation, He's simply saying that the Church should get in line with the culture in which they find themselves. 


How many ways are there to interpret 1 Corinthians 6:9-11?


Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor [f]effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.


You can think it's not God's Word but you can't misinterpret it in Greek or English.

Those who practice homosexuality are not singled out as being different than anyone else in sin.  The list is long and most of us have made the list in multiple ways.  Paul here says, "And such were some of you, but you were washed ... sanctified ... justified ... by Jesus."  Christ's sacrifice on our behalf.  The just dies for the unjust.  Paul gives means the hearer/reader hope that they will not be excluded from God's Kingdom because of their past or with what they currently struggle. For a pastor to say, "this one isn't sin any more", is to nullify the entire list.  If nothing is wrong then, Christ died for nothing.


If God created all things, including human sexuality, doesn't he have the right to be upset if we re-define his purpose for sex?  


If a pastor says that sin is ok, even when God says he will exclude that person from his kingdom for practicing it, is he a good pastor to them?



gregBob
gregBob

That's so true susanst824.  


But I haven't heard Rob Bell espouse an alternative Biblical stance at all.  He simply states that it's time for the church to join with society's take on this issue.  


How many ways are there to interpret  

1 Corinthians, 6: 9-11?


"9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor [f]effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.


I don't believe the practicing homosexual is singled out in this verse for exclusion from the Kingdom of God, nor do I believe that this is a sin worse than the others in the list.   But Paul in saying, "Such were some of you", gives the listener/reader hope that God wants us all to repent and be washed by Christ's sacrifice on the cross.  Something we all need.  But, If society, or a pastor, singles a sin out and says, "this one is now ok", then how can he say that anything is wrong?  If nothing is wrong then, Jesus died for nothing. 


Imagine if God, having created all things, had an purpose for sex.  Would He have the right to express displeasure over our re-definition of His design?  


If God said,"There are things I don't want you to do and if you do them, there's a penalty." Is it a good pastor that tells people that God's not unhappy in the least?  What has he set them up for?




gregBob
gregBob

Is Rob Bell "Out of Line?"  

I think the question behind that one is, Is the Bible our authority for life or not?  If it's not, then no he's not, and how could he be?  On what basis is he out of line?  If the Bible is the word we follow, no matter the turns and changes in society, then yes he is out of line.   

We need to remember that societies and cultures land on the wrong side of issues all the time.  The abolition movement of the 1860s was a move back to a biblical understanding of human dignity,  back from a christendom view.  In the christendom world of the 1800's you were assumed to believe in Christ and as such, the society as a whole, adopted symbols and rituals that corresponded to the majority belief.  Abolitionist (using the Bible as their guide), led a counterrevolution in this religious but foundation less culture, insisting that all men are created equal.  This is the society that bred the Dred Scott decision (The supreme court in that decision declared that Africans weren't citizens so they are our property Dred Scott v. Sandford case of 1857).  Do we really think that our society sees clearer than previous generations?  What huberis!  We are the generation that has redefined when life starts aren't we?  We look back at the slavery movement and see these generations mistakes so clearly. We base our assessment of them on what?  We base it on OUR culture of course.  That's the problem.  If there is no objective guide, no Truth, then anything can pass as moral or righteous.  Rob Bell has taken verses in the Bible that offer a warning that homosexual behavior will not lead one to God's Kingdom (1 Cor 6:9 for example) , and offered to them a re-definition that fits his culture. Based on this method, nothing is ever wrong.  If nothing is ever wrong, unless our culture says it is, there can be no salvation. Salvation from what? With no Truth in the mix, Jesus dies on the cross, not to fix our relationship with God but for something less.

gklimovitz
gklimovitz

I don't think Rob is out of line at all. We only demonize those we fear. So that's what is happening here. Evangelicals fear he is right and are unsure how to adapt in light of his insights. I also wonder if we are as expectant in regards to ecclesial accountability for those authors who have a more conservate and border-line bigoted theology? Do we expect all to write their church affiliation on back of books? Also, who's to say Rob is not a part of a church? On a related note and to borrow his metaphor, I think Bell and Barth are dance partners in his latest book :)

http://gregklimovitz.blogspot.com/2013/03/rob-bell-has-come-outwith-new-book-o.html?showComment=1364077337236

MarshallPease
MarshallPease

It could be argued that if Rob is ever to be considered for a parish position again, he has an ethical requirement to say what he thinks, lest he be hired under false pretenses. 

Beddard731
Beddard731

It seems a little unrealistic to say that statements made by Bell are somehow more divisive than those made by someone working in a local congregation. I've seen many congregations split up over things said by a minister, but Bell is in a position where he can say potentially controversial things without having to worry about causing nearly as much division as before (let's not forget that lot's of people left his church after Love Wins came out). There is a need for prophetic voices who are outside of institutions to speak into them. It seems like if Fitch was being honest he would have just said that he disagreed with Bell's opinion, and left it at that. It's absurd to think that he would not answer a question asked to him simply because he's not a pastor anymore.

stephenmk
stephenmk

"2,000 years of tradition" didnt seem to prevent (or even punish) systemic child abuse. Fitch's claims are just empirically false on every level. Only a blind allegiance to the goodness of institutional Christianity despite the evidence would cause someone to say something so stupid.

lizdyer55
lizdyer55

I am actually more interested in what he has to say now that he isn't employed by a local church as I know too many ex-pastors who have confessed that while they were employed by the local church they couldn't always say what they really believed because they might lose their job and then not be able to find other employment.

David Miller
David Miller

In 1992 the General Conference of The United Methodist Church was held in Louisville, just a few hours from where I was serving my first full-time appointment as pastor.  As it was within easy driving distance, I went to the Conference a few days. When I returned, one of the prominent members of the tiny, rural, United Methodist Church where I was the pastor asked me if I had put those delegates straight about homosexuality (yes, we as a denomination have been arguing about this since before then).  I answered, "Yes, I did.  I told them they were sinning by excluding people based on their sexual orientation and that they should repent and follow Jesus."  His eyes widened, but he didn't respond in any way, and he never brought it up again.

When I was doing my paperwork for ordination, way back when, I said that I felt that my calling and my request for ordination was multi-leveled.  I am certainly called to present the faith as it has been historically passed down through the centuries.  I am also called to present the faith as uniquely expressed in my specific tradition, that of The United Methodist Church.  In addition, while I am not called to be Reverend Lone Ranger, I have a calling to speak from my own individual conscience, which may or may not align with official pronouncements of the church at large or of the UMC in particular.

As it relates to homosexuality, I said, I will obey the rulings of my denomination, but I will do everything within my power to overturn those rulings in order to minister to all people and to allow all people to minister, regardless of their sexual orientation.  When I met with the ordination committee, not one question was posed to me about this.  This surprised me because Kentucky is the home of the most conservative stream of United Methodism.  I asked my counseling elder about this, and his response was that the committee was satisfied that I had wrestled with the issue using all the resources of the church and that agreement with official positions of the church is not a requirement for ordination, while obedience is.

I am frustrated with the slow movement of my church on this matter, and I am less inclined to obey than I was as a young man.  But I still feel that a multi-leveled calling and authority are operative for me.  Sometimes I am called and have authority to say, "Thus says the Lord."  Sometimes, "Thus says the church."  And sometimes, "I personally feel the church is wrong about what God is saying in this context."  I think it's important to be clear about what level of authority I am exercising at any given time, but all three, I think, are indispensable.


(I think I may turn this into a blog post.  Yep, here it is.  http://divinesalve.blogspot.com/2013/03/clergy-authority-and-controversial.html)

The Itinerant Mind
The Itinerant Mind

Bell isn't out of line.  He's entitled to his opinion like everyone else.  His opinion just needs to be contextualized.  He doesn't speak for a denomination (as does the pope) or even of a gathered body of Christians (as would an employed minister).  He speaks as an individual, and his opinion should be weighted accordingly.  The problem is not with Bell speaking but with the assumption, by him and others, that his voice should have a weight disproportionate to his position as a Christian-at-large.

MarkSimon1
MarkSimon1

All I heard from David Fitch was (from the city I grew up in), "What set you claiming Rob... throw your gang sign up or we will kill you... but don't throw up the wrong sign in my hood, dogg." 

iamstillrobdavis
iamstillrobdavis

We're condemned if we say what we really think. And cowardly if we don't. Such a weird conversation. I'm bored again.

malakhgabriel
malakhgabriel

I'm just having a hard time reading Bell's statements as being "gay affirming." His choice of words, this "I think the ship has sailed," sound more like resignation to the fact that the larger society is moving away from the standard evangelical stance on gay marriage. Further, just saying that gay people ought to be able get married isn't "gay affirming." I've seen the same stance from homophobic libertarians who still maintain that queer people and relationships have no place in the church.


I'll believe Rob is "gay affirming" when the issue at hand is more than marriage. If he advocates for the full inclusion and participation in the church for queer people then we might have a start. If he takes note that gay marriage ain't the be all end of of GSM issues (hello, homelessness, abusive parents, violence) then maybe we've got something to talk about. But "the ship has sailed"? That doesn't sound like the sentiment of someone who is affirming anything.

ReneeGoodwin
ReneeGoodwin

Oh, fer cryin' in da beer, that's just plain foolishness. I seem to recall a FIVE fold ministry, which includes evangelists as a separate office from pastors, and the Spirit made it that way for a reason. We need folks who are called to stay home and nurture local congregations and be accountable to them and to their denominations. They provide groundedness and stability. We also need folks who are radical and independent and accountable to no one but God, whose purpose is to cross-pollinate ideas and shake the rest of us up. Monoculture is never a good idea.

I agree with wg23--Rob Bell (and everybody else) can speak because others are listening. If and when people quit listening to him, it will cease to be fun and he'll quit doing it. But I'm glad he's out there, witnessing to the idea that there's more than one way to be a Christian.

CollinSimula
CollinSimula

In response to Fitch — I listened to the actual audio recording (and maybe he did), and who is Rob speaking for/to? The person who asked him the question. Someone asked if he had an opinion on SSM and he actually answered directly (which, for every Bell detractor should be VERY welcome). I don't think he had any ulterior motives in regards to his lack of congregation, other than the fact that I'm sure he doesn't feel the pressure of getting in "trouble" now. 

But in the end, someone asked a question and he answered it. 

HollyCardoneStauffer
HollyCardoneStauffer

So, I went to one of Rob Bell's gatherings in Laguna Beach with 49 other evangelicals, I am assuming, mostly young white males from Fuller Seminary (assuming again,) and it was during a question and answer session, (I don't remember the question, but I will never forget the answer) when Rob said, regarding GLBTQ and same-sex marriage, I am paraphrasing, "That train has left the building and the church needs to get on it."  As a leader in the evangelical community, ( I guess that's what Rob is) I was ecstatic that he so freely shared his opinion with us and all those fresh-faced pastors.  And again, I have to thank God that I am Episcopalian, a very progressive Episcopalian who belongs to a very progressive, emergent, diverse community.

wg23
wg23

Aren't the years of faithfulness and accountability to the congregation he served the reasons Rob Bell continues to have an important voice away from that congregation? He became the public figure he is, because he gained the trust of many beyond his congregation while he served. Rob Bell was a pastor when I, as well as many, many others, came to trust him as an honest voice seeking to communicate the goodness that he saw in the good news. Through his honest and accountable voice, Rob Bell gained our trust; which means we still trust him to speak. Leaders are leaders, because people follow. Speakers have voices, because people listen. Rob Bell continues to speak, because there are many who trust him and want to listen. What other reason does he need to speak?

BoEberle
BoEberle

I'm just going to repeat what I said to Fitch here...
Talking to another conservative/ reactionary theologian (I use the term loosely, the point was made on Twitter  that to be a Christian is to be held accountable TO the Nicene Creed not just to affirm it, i.e. be a part of some kind of structure that carries out the authority of the creed and makes sure you believe it (because, this guy said, even though I affirm the Creed that does not mean I am IN the Church... which I was arguing doesnt then exist). In both Fitch and this theologian saying that what is required is "accountability" to a tradition or institution that is formal, has authority over you, etc. what's really going on is making up criteria that inherently excludes liberals who, broadly speaking, can be marked by a rejection of external authority as being the most legitimate kind of authority. Logically, it's basically the form "to be a christian is tobe a part of these 'communities of accountability i.e. authority,' conservatives in general affirm this kind of authority while liberals reject it, so to be a christian is to be conservative (Twitter theologian claimed conservative ="Catholic"). So there's this little sinister move that universalizes a particular in order to simply exclude those who disagree on various issues from the discourse. Here, a very basic issue like GLBTQ inclusion is now shifted to an issue about the acceptance of a basic conservative dogma, i.e. external authority. Since these are the kind of structures conservatives still control (conservative churches and schools that make people sign statements of faith) while they have lost influence in most political spheres and have lost the culture war, it is not surprise that many now simply lament that people like Bell who are in line with national attitudes and politics are also "not accountable" to a conservative governing church body... if only they would accept this ONE conservative premise then they would be back in the sphere of control of our people!

susanst824
susanst824

Rob Bell can't express an opinion because he's out of the pulpit?  So am I.  So are most of us.   So what? 

David Miller
David Miller

@gregBob  It took almost a year, but Godwin's Law has been vindicated once again!

ReneeGoodwin
ReneeGoodwin

@gregBob So if Scripture interprets culture, how far are you willing to take that? Arranged marriages and the buying and selling of wives? Silent women with heads covered and no jewelry? Slavery? Pacifism? Anyone who says that they use Scripture to interpret culture rather than the other way around is not being completely honest.

Jesus himself allowed culture to interpret Scripture (e.g. divorce, sabbath), so as his followers I believe we can do the same. We have made great advances in the areas of human rights, psychology, and science that help us re-interpret Scripture to be better able to love all our neighbors. So let's do that!

David Miller
David Miller

@gregBob  The problem here is that we just don’t know exactly what these Greek terms mean. Instead of  “effeminate . . . abusers of themselves with mankind," the NRSV says, “male prostitutes, sodomites.”  Some translators say these words have to do with slave boys who are forced into male prostitution, or, which would make more sense, those who take advantage of slave boys who are forced into prostitution. The Message says, “Those who ... use and abuse sex."

So, while it's not the case that any biblical passage can mean anything, the notion that any passage of the Bible can mean one and only one thing is not one that makes sense to me.  There is a range of possible interpretations.

susanst824
susanst824

@gregBob I'm not a biblical scholar, but aren't we supposed to read and interpret scripture in its cultural context?  In other words, who was Paul writing to?  How did they practice homosexuality in his time? 


It's not my job to judge anyway, is it?

susanst824
susanst824

@gregBob I think you misunderstood the cultural-context comment.  I meant, who was Paul writing to at the time he wrote those letters?  Was it people of the same sex in committed relationships or was it people who were having sex with temple prostitutes or young boys or whatever?  

I don't know about you, but my gay sister and friends don't want to hear about the penalty for their sin.  Do you?  Are those the kind of friendships you look for, ones where the friends are always pointing out the speck in your eye and ignoring the log in their own?  I know it's a lot easier for me to let God sort it out while I do my best to love (which is hard enough by itself.)  

susanst824
susanst824

@gregBob"If there is no objective guide"...Biblical interpretation is a pretty subjective business.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@lizdyer55 Oh yeah. THat is a real and serious issue. I would go as far as to say that it is pervasive... -Bo 

Beddard731
Beddard731

@The Itinerant Mind I'm not sure it's fair to say Bell is assuming, "that his voice should have a weight disproportionate to his position as a Christian-at-large". I don't know what kind of assumptions he is making about how much weight his opinions should have, but I do know that people look to him as a prophetic voice and he (it seems to me at least) is trying to use that to benefit others.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@The Itinerant Mind I was with you until the last sentence.  I would go as far as to agree about the disproportionate nature of the attention, but you ignore the size and intensity of the spotlight that is on him is to be idealistic. He has a huge platform and his voice is weighty.   -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@malakhgabriel the ship has sailed can be used positive or negative. You might be putting to much stock in the one phrase. I use it in a positive sense often. But I see you point with the libertarians. 

I think it just alludes to the inevitability in regard to the nature of the issue.  But ya - I see your point about gay marriage not being the end-all of the GSM issue. 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@ReneeAxtell What a great point!   This is first time I have seen the 5-fold used in this way and I really like it :)  -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@CollinSimula I gotta be honest with ya: I don't have a clue what Fitch is doing with that line of questioning !   I have some friends - some in the publishing industry - who are always looking for reasons beyond the reasons.   Like a public figure will say something about the local church and they will speculate : "oh that's because they want to switch publishers from Zondervan to Thomas Nelson."  I just want to say "maybe that is just their real opinion" 

 I hate it.  It is rarely helpful.  Or maybe I am just naive ...

And the Pope thing ... that was jus WEIRD for an anabaptist to say!   Beyond weird.   -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@HollyCardoneStauffer yowza. That is quite a story. i am glad that you shared it! 

I am also glad that you are a progressive Episcopalian :)  The next decade is going to be VERY interesting... for ALL of us  -Bo  

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@wg23 Ummmmm... I think you kinda made an amazingly great point here. -Bo  Thanks. 

David Miller
David Miller

@BoEberle Tell that four-initialed Twitter theologian that you affirm EVERYTHING the Nicene Creed says about marriage equality.

BoEberle
BoEberle

@susanst824 Martin Luther King Jr. wasn't accountable to a particular congregation during the Civil Rights movement, why did we ever listen to that rogue? 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@holliebakerlutz it is a good point for sure ! -Bo

Eric G
Eric G

@BoEberle @susanst824 Yeah, it seems Fitch's reasoning would undercut any prophetic voice - couldn't the same have been said about any OT prophet?

BoEberle
BoEberle

@susanst824 Someone else asked Fitch that btw... his response was just "oh, well he had a grounding in the Baptist tradition so..." 

wg23
wg23

@Eric G @BoEberle @susanst824 and John the Baptist. I don't know that I would consider him to be part of an accountable congregation. It seems almost a prerequisite for those who prepare the way for anything to eventually be outside of the groups that are maintaining the norm. I think you are right @Eric G. For a prophet; accountability to the people means either death of the message or death of the prophet. 

BoEberle
BoEberle

@BoSanders @susanst824 yes the "evangelical tradition" (which Fitch also is a part of ) apparently counts for nothing.. but then again there's the evangelical tradition then there's the evangelical TRADITION (i.e. only people Fitch agrees with for the reasons I outlined above) 

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