Popular Christian Author Rob Bell Comes Out in Support of Marriage Equality

When I wrote I Sold My Soul on eBay, Rob Bell was the one pastor my publishers were hoping would write the foreword to the book. He was young, popular, on the rise, and someone who (they figured) would understand me. Rob not only spoke with me during the writing of the book, he ended up writing a really nice (and very Christian-y) introduction for it. He didn’t have to do it, so I really appreciated the gesture (and still do).

Last year, Bell ignited a firestorm when, in his book Love Wins, he suggested that it was “misguided and toxic” for Christians to believe that only those who accepted Jesus would go to heaven while everyone else burned in hell. Traditional pastors basically called him a heretic — though it’s not like they were all that enamored with him in the first place — while Bell’s younger audience smiled and nodded along with him.

And now, it’s happening again.

Over the weekend, during a talk at Grace Cathedral church in San Francisco, Bell answered a question (around the 42:27 mark) about whether he supports gay marriage this way:

I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. And I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs to just — this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.

Without explicitly saying it, that’s about as supportive of gay marriage as most popular Christians will ever get.

(Meanwhile, the rest of us are wondering when we get our cookie for supporting marriage equality long before it was merely trendy.)

I’m glad he’s saying what many younger Christians already know — that gay marriage is good for the institution of marriage that they claim to care about so deeply and not the bogeyman “traditional” Christians make it out to be. It’s not a formal statement (or even a tweet), but it’s a public answer that’ll no doubt piss off older Christians. So yay for that.

Stay tuned for the whines from True ChristiansTM claiming that Bell, with his message of love, is soooo not like them.

Which, for what it’s worth, I think he already knows and accepts.

(via Theoblogy)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Traditional pastors basically called him a heretic…

    they’re basically right. I love how Christianity works. Some guy with
    absolutely no authority to speak for Jesus can just come out and say
    that there are no ramifications for rejecting Jesus and it sounds
    awesome to a bunch of people and he gets a huge following. Meanwhile,
    they still cling to the same book where Jesus constantly reiterates that
    there are in fact huge ramifications for rejecting him. There must not
    be a lot of money in new start-up cults these days.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Who, precisely, does have the authority to speak for Jesus? Is it the Pope? Was it Paul? Perhaps James. In the last 2,000 years, who had actual, nonselfbestowed authority?

  • C Peterson

    That’s how all religion works. Somebody with no authority to speak on behalf of a non-existent god says something that his followers like, and so his viewpoint gains status. What other possible way is there for religions to form, to grow, or to die?

    Ultimately, religion is a democracy. Any given cult only survives as long as people willingly follow it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sean.prophet Sean Prophet

    Hemant, this just proves once again: the less “True ChristianTM,” the more humane.

  • http://twitter.com/Red_Rabbit2 Red_Rabbit

    And who said Jesus had the authority to speak for anything? He was just another failed doomsday prophet who thought the world would end sometime during his lifetime in the 1st century.

  • Sven2547

    Yeah. Give me a “fake” Christian any day.

  • coyotenose

    I don’t quite get this. It’s easy to refute claims that the Bible says that Jesus condemned homosexuals, or that God hates abortions, but not “accepting” Jesus being okay? I think it requires a disingenuously bendy reading of the text to come up with that.

    Granted, since Christianity is a religion about Jesus and not the religion of Jesus, you can work your way to that, but not from the Bible itself. You have to be aware that the book is not actually a compilation of things he said or things inspired by a god, and once you know that, why are you using it as the basis of mystical belief in the first place?

  • Art_Vandelay

    Well, yes…that’s a fine point as well but it seems to me that if you’re a person that pretends to have the authority to speak for Jesus and you’re still trying to maintain a shred of intellectual honesty, you should at least somewhat try to stick to what he says in that old book. I mean I agree with the guy wholeheartedly but if you’re going to be a heretic, just embrace that shit. Go with it. Don’t do it under the guise of Christianity.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Yes, I am aware. I was responding to the poster above me who claimed something about people with/without authority to speak for Jesus. I was trying to get clarification.

  • C Peterson

    Hell isn’t much discussed in the New Testament, and it’s easily seen as being metaphorical. Many Christian sects believe in universal reconciliation, the idea that all people, of all beliefs, who committed any acts while alive, ultimately end up in the presence of God. That isn’t a new belief in Christianity. And there are Christian sects that don’t even believe in Hell.

    I don’t see why a Christian can’t reasonably believe that they are right, and still not believe that those who aren’t Christian will be punished in some way.

  • DKeane123

    Couple of Items:

    “I think it requires a disingenuously bendy reading of the text to come up with that.” This is already done with slavery and genocide, so why not hell?

    Also, there is a nuance here. I don’t think they are saying “not” accepting Jesus is necessarily okay, just that you might not go to hell for it. Now, where you would go and what would happen to you there is another problem entirely.

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    “I don’t see why a Christian can’t reasonably believe that they are right, and still not believe that those who aren’t Christian will be punished in some way.”

    When I was a liberal Christian, I justified my belief that everyone would eventually wind up in heaven with these verses: “Who then can be saved?…With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” I had a hard time really convincing myself that was what Jesus meant, however, given some other verses that pretty much say a great many people are going to hell. This is one of the many reasons I wound up an atheist *shrugs*.

  • Art_Vandelay

    I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. The idea that as a human, you require being saved, and the only way to be saved is via Jesus is pretty much the central tenet of Christianity. If there’s nothing else, there’s that. “Christianity” is already the most watered down word I’ve ever heard. What you’re basically saying is that someone can just believe anything and still be a Christian. Sure…they can call themselves a Christian, but words mean things.

  • coyotenose

    (Gah, HTML fail on my part.)

    Of course a Christian can believe that. I think my point stands, that they have to look outside Biblical text and effectively outside the religion itself for that interpretation, and that doing so inherently invalidates the text.

    Yes, it invalidates itself anyway and oh well there’s the solution, they just dissonate their cognates* a little more than usual.

    *Yes I know, but it amused me to write that.

  • http://twitter.com/UncredibleHallq Chris Hallquist

    I look at this, and I really wonder what’s going on with Evangelicals and gay marriage.

    You say, in reference to Bell’s previous statements about Hell, that his younger audience nodded along with him, and it’s happening again. But the young evangelicals I’ve talked to really don’t seem to have figured out what to say about homosexuality.

    With coming out being the standard thing for young gay people to do, young evangelicals are likely to have gay friends. That affects them, so they don’t want to be too anti-gay. But the ones I’ve talked to don’t seem able to buy gay-friendly interpretations of the Bible either. They come across as kinda stuck.

    Yes, Bell has quite a following, but I wouldn’t assume he speaks for all young evangelicals. The Campus Crusaders I knew when I was in college were still more likely to be reading Josh McDowell than more liberal types like Bell (even though I *did* also meet the “emerging church” types who flock to Bell).

  • The Other Weirdo

    You mean, apart from nowhere except the grave?

  • The Other Weirdo

    Well, unless you’re rich. Then you’re definitely going to hell. Jesus really hated the rich.

  • http://twitter.com/Ro542124 Gideon

    I know a few who are “evangelical” by doctrine but also extremely reluctant to evangelize about any topic. If pressed they’ll say that homosexuality is a sin, but otherwise they’d never mention it. In most contexts, including around gay friends, their evangelicalism is as private as a lamp covered by a bowl. (And their politics skew libertarian instead of deep-fried conservative.)

  • Claude

    The Gospels are unreliable as to what Jesus may or may not have said (if you accept that he was a historical figure in the first place). They are a record of what people who lived decades after Jesus died thought he said.

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    Bell is one step away from becoming an atheist. I would very much like him to come over to our side on the whole “God” issue.

  • 3lemenope

    One step away? Having a heterodox or non-conformist view of Jesus or God (or hell) is not really any “closer” to atheism than orthodoxy, on the level of belief. Socially, perhaps, there’s a case to be made, but as far as beliefs go, small-u universalists are no closer to atheists than the Pope.

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    I disagree in the case of Rob Bell. He is clearly evolving his position on religion and his current view of God is no longer based on the Bible. He is a smart guy and it won’t take him all that long to realize that he can be a good person without God. In fact, I think we can be better people without deities. Only time will tell is I am correct, but I’m predicting he will make a full de-convertion within the next two or three years.

  • Art_Vandelay

    I’m aware of that. Not to mention they’ve been scribed a zillion times. Last I checked though, Christians still consider it the divinely-inspired word of the dude that blinked the universe into existence. At least, when it’s convenient.

  • Claude

    Ha! OK.

  • C Peterson

    The opposite of “being saved” isn’t necessarily “burning in Hell forever”. That’s where I think your reasoning is going astray. Christians who believe in universal reconciliation (which includes many mainstream Christian sects, and has for hundreds of years) don’t believe you must be “saved” in this life, but that everyone will eventually be “saved”, regardless of their temporal beliefs or actions. That is, there is no torturing hell, just an isolation from God that will be rectified eventually for everybody.

    While this is probably a minority Christian viewpoint, it is far from a fringe interpretation.

  • C Peterson

    All Christian biblical interpretation is found from analysis outside the biblical text. It can’t be otherwise! And nearly all Christian dogma is based only very loosely (and very selectively) on anything found in the bible, but was rather created by specific sects, and often in very historical manners (such as conferences where lots of church leaders sat down and decided what their dogma would be).

  • LesterBallard

    Just more evidence that Bell is not a true Christian.

  • Pseudonym

    I don’t know what “other verses” you mean. If by “hell” you mean eternal torment, there is exactly one verse in the Bible which can be interpreted as saying that “a great many people are going to hell”.

    Based on what we have, Jesus himself probably believed in something close to what we would now call annihilationism or conditional immortality. We’ll never know Paul’s opinion, because he was completely silent on the topic.

  • Pseudonym

    I confidently predict that your prediction will be incorrect. In five years, Bell will still call himself a “Christian” and pretty much every Christian up the liberal end of the spectrum will agree with that assessment.

    He may become a Phillips-style “Christian agnostic” or a Spong-style “non-theist”, but he will remain a Christian for the forseeable future.

  • Pseudonym

    I know a few people (none of the American, by the way) who use the label “evangelical” to refer to themselves, and define the term to refer to broad assent with the Lausanne Covenant.

    Lausanne famously uses the phrase that the Bible is “true in all that it affirms”. These people are quick to point out that this does not mean “true in all that you can plausibly infer from it”.

    While I think the whole Lausanne thing is more than a little silly, I do agree that Lausanne’s wording was careful and deliberate, and there’s a clear distinction to be made here. The Bible undeniably does not affirm either side for many of the US-religious-right talking points, such as sexual orientation or medical abortion.

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    It is true that I don’t have faith in any deities, but I have from time to time admitted that I do have faith in people. My friend corrected me on that statement and said that what I have in people isn’t really faith, just a reasonable expectation. I’ll accept that. I have a reasonable expectation that Rob Bell will have a full de-conversion within two to three years. I could be wrong and if I am, I will certainly acknowledge that. This is a prediction that will either be proven correct or incorrect and in three years time we both will know. I however am not merely content to allow fate to run its course. I will actively try to de-convert Rob Bell. Will you? Or would you rather just be proven correct?

  • LesterBallard

    He knows what is right and just. Why can’t he get past needing “god” to know what is right and just?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Newsham/1421558174 Michael Newsham

    Then, of course, neither was C.S. Lewis . From “The Last Battle”:

    [Aslan] answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as
    service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and
    understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and
    said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are
    one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not
    against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but
    because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done
    to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which
    is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to
    him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s
    sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and
    it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then,
    though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his
    deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, though
    knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth
    constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said
    the Glorious One, unless they desire had been for me thou wouldst not
    have sought so long and so truly. For all find what the truly seek.

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    Matthew 13:41: “The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all curses of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”

    Matthew 4:11: (not the words of Jesus, but certainly in the New Testament) “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

    Luke 16:19 is too long to quote here, but it paints a rather ugly picture of hell. Jesus says more than once that ANY sin can get you tossed into hell (which bothered me, because as a Lutheran I believed in “saved by grace,” but it really isn’t entirely clear that Jesus was saying you were free of hell as long as you believed in him. John 3:36 says “whoever believes in the son has eternal life,” but other verses– the ones about cutting off your hand and gouging out your eye if they cause you to sin– seem to contradict this).

    Matthew 25:41-46 also has an unpleasant description of what happens to people who do not adequately minister to the poor, the sick, and the hungry (which is probably most of us, as Jesus says elsewhere that we should give everything away to the poor). “Depart from you, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” This also seems to contradict the “saved by grace” idea.

  • LesterBallard

    Uh . . ., yeah, okay.

  • Pseudonym

    None of this contradicts what I said. What Jesus appeared to believe (based on the evidence that we have) is that the Gehenna (“eternal fire”) thing was intended to signify destruction. You burn up, then you’re gone.

    “Eternal fire” is not the same thing as “eternal torment”. The latter is an idea which appears to come into Chrisitanity long after the New Testament, and was a minority opinion around the time of Constantine.

  • Pseudonym

    I think my prediction is more likely to be correct than yours based on the direction that I’ve seen people like him go in the past. Emerging church types seem to go more liberal theologically, but not convert away from Christianity. Yes, I’m sure exceptions exist.

    No, I am not going to actively try to evangelise Rob Bell, partly because I think that’s morally wrong, but mostly because I think he’s doing more good now (in challenging harmful forms of Christianity) than he ever could as an atheist. Right now, fundamentalists have to pay attention to him. As an atheist, they could just write him off.

    Having said that, I do concede that it would be interesting to do the experiment if we had a control Rob Bell.

  • LesterBallard

    Should I imagine that in Liam Neeson’s voice?

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    I said that I think Rob Bell is one step from de-converting. Some how the timeline of within 3 years got mixed in there. You inspired me to reach out to Bell and I accepted. Now, i have interviewed him and I will be sticking with that 3 year timetable. Here is my interview if you are interested: Interview: Rob Bell author of ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About God’ – http://t.co/EAtSjsNGQf

  • Dabdu

    The problem I have is that people who take your view hate other people who sincerly wish to love two people. The only reason you limit it to two people is to push your god on other people by imposing your bible view. The bible supports two or more wives. When you come out of the cave into the light I might think you are with it. Until then, you are just another brand of bigot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sheridanrob Robert Sheridan