Rob Bell is back in the news lately. He has a new book (CaPC review forthcoming!), in which he teaches that there are ways of speaking about God that are going to go the way of the Oldsmobile. Apparently, one of the things that is going to fall by the wayside is the church’s opposition to homosexual marriage. “That ship has sailed,” says Rob Bell recently.
Bell may be correct. At least, he is correct that the evangelical conservative political machine is a sputtering mess right now. If conservative evangelicals are going to have any political clout moving forward, they are going to have to learn how to live in a democracy where everyone gets a voice, not as if they are living in a great big church where appeals to the Bible are able to end the discussion. If they are going to win votes, they are going to have to persuade, not demand, what they want. That means that we have to get better at thinking and articulating our arguments.
Many activists for homosexual marriage do not identify as Christians and don’t care one bit what the Bible says about homosexual marriage. They live in a country that guarantees their right not to be Christians, and we affirm them in that right. Bible arguments, threats of eternal damnation, law-making, and general rudeness are not going to deter them. If Rob Bell had said that, the debate we might have had would look quite different.
But instead, Bell said:
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.
We cannot be sure what Bell is actually trying to say about homosexual marriage. Rather than making a case for homosexual marriage as a valid lifestyle choice, he might be simply saying that because the culture is embracing the concept, the church should embrace that move of culture or it will come across as unloving. To me, this is the greatest of Bell’s sins. I find it disconcerting for a Christian leader to say that the church should simply get in line with whatever the culture says, but most damning is his reluctance to be absolutely clear. Is he saying that homosexual marriage is moral and should be supported? Is he saying that the church should just get behind the cultural trend and affirm it?
The universal church simply cannot follow Bell where he is going. The church has to be clear, and her leaders ought to be clear about the Bible’s teachings. It is possible to make an argument for the legalization of homosexual marriage from within a conservative, Bible-believing framework. If Christians want to make an argument against homosexual marriage, they are going to have to do a better job of presenting arguments that demonstrate why this is a bad thing from a general stand point, not just from a ‘Biblical’ standpoint if they are going to persuade their fellow Americans. But one thing the Christian cannot do is ask Scripture to take a back seat to cultural whims. That is what Bell is asking of us.