Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Love Bell's Ringing For Gay Marriage?
Bell, you'll recall, is the author of Love Wins, a hotly contested book in which he questions the orthodox, Biblical view of Hell, and preaches a humanistic gospel of love for all.
Once a rising star among some factions of evangelicalism, Bell rapidly lost his credibility among most theologically-conservative Christians in the aftermath of this particular book's publication. His name became a byword for flirting too deeply with contemporary secular culture. Bell is Christianity's waxen-winged Icarus (from Greek mythology) who flew too close to the heat of relativism.
So perhaps it's surprising to few evangelicals that this past Sunday, at a bastion of theological liberalism in none other than San Francisco, Grace Cathedral, Bell pronounced his blessing on same-sex marriage.
According to the Huffington Post, this is how he put it:
"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."
And then he went even further:
"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."
Adapt or Perish? Which Did Christ Do?
Now, technically, Bell is correct in identifying the reality that we evangelicals need to be more loving and compassionate in the ways we minister to other people. The attitudes and language that many of us use to categorize, describe, and analyze people - both within our faith, and outside of it - has been destructive to our testimony to God's broader Gospel. We've been narrow-minded, but not in a good way, because we've been too eager to model Christ when He cast out moneychangers from the temple, and less willing to turn the proverbial cheek.
But that's about as much legitimacy as can be Biblically found in Bell's critique of our reaction to the prospect of gay marriage. Otherwise, if he ever believed the Bible to be utterly true, Bell should know that no one can "adapt" truth to fit new ways of wanting to do things. For example, we don't "adapt" the theory of gravity to suit our needs, although we can artificially defy it, just like most people do with Biblical truth.
And yes, it's entirely possible that evangelicals may face persecution for adhering to a strict interpretation of God's Gospel. It's a tough likelihood to accept, especially if you don't believe Christ suffered even worse things on our account.
Yet should we simply resign Bell's moralist liberalism to the rapidly-accumulating pile of public sentiment calling for gay marriage? At some point, that pile of affirmation towards something we evangelicals believe to be wrong and detrimental to society will likely topple over and suffocate our protestations. We can't believe the falsehood right-wing political wonks seem bent on sustaining: that we're the silent majority in America. Bell's probably capitulating on the Gospel because adjusting to political reality is easier than standing up in its face.
That's what we evangelicals are going to have to do. Stand up in the face of what is wrong.
But we need to stand up to wrong in the right way! Because, in addition to gay marriage being wrong, hating gays is wrong, too. Even hating Rob Bell is wrong. We should sympathize over his misdirection, and use it as a cautionary tale for the rest of us. Indeed, how sobering to realize how somebody as well-educated theologically as him can soar so high and fall so hard? And he doesn't even recognize that he's falling!
Marriage Tax? How About Marriage Franchise?
The issue of gay marriage is going to challenge evangelical Americans on a variety of fronts. It's even possible that Christians will need to request that our government relinquish the franchise we've lent it for legalizing the union of husband and wife. After all, marriage isn't a government institution, but God's. We've just let governments use it over the millennia since it's such a basic form of social management and regeneration.
If the homosexual community now wants to mimic God's ordinance for sexual relationships - what we call marriage - we might not be able to stop them, but we could revoke the term. While in practice, a "civil union" approximates marriage, using the different term for legal purposes could re-designate what we believe to be God's covenantal claim on the institution of holy marriage.
Of course, we evangelicals would need to re-commit ourselves to the institution of marriage as well. With rates of divorce and adultery within the church that closely mirror those outside of it, we've done an atrocious job of preserving what "sanctity" we claim homosexuals would violate by sharing the term "marriage." Sometimes when you abuse something, you lose the privilege of owning it, and that may be what's happening with marriage. Let's just not bring persecution upon ourselves through our own misdeeds, instead of faithfully modeling the Gospel.
So before we bash Rob Bell for his acquiescence to popular trends regarding same-sex unions, let's remember that we're all accountable to God for how we view marriage - and gays - in our hearts.
And that we're probably more guilty of acting out the bad things in our hearts regarding marriage and gays than those holy things God expects of us. Not that we should get what we deserve, because even God doesn't give us what we deserve. But that God expects us to demonstrate His love while we testify to His truths.
It's not what Bell meant with his controversial book, but it's the way love truly wins.