Rob Bell, Homosexuality, and the New Cultural Acceptance

So the new thing today is to publicly support same-sex marriage. Hillary Clinton just did; Rob Bell just did.

Here’s what Bell was quoted as saying in the Huffington Post:

In response to a question regarding same-sex marriage, 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.”

Bell went on to say that while it used to be fair to equate evangelicals with social conservatism, that assumption no longer holds true. More pointedly, he said, “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.”

I’m sorry to hear this for the sake of Bell’s soul. I hope that he repents and turns to the truth.

With that said and meant, this shift is altogether unsurprising. The new mark of being culturally acceptable is affirming homosexuality as virtuous (not merely okay, but virtuous, even exemplary). This is the litmus test. I don’t think many of us expected that it would so quickly fill this role, but it has. The mark of being a progressive, kind, socially courageous person today is simply this: affirming same-sex marriage. There are other cardinal virtues of a contemporary¬†au courant identity, but this is the lodestar, the one that hangs one’s personal moon.

This shows us that the cultural middle is indeed vanishing. The space where broad-minded people could hang out is rapidly disappearing. Either you are for same-sex marriage or not. If you’re not, and you’re a known commodity, you’re now behind the curve in a public, image-driven sense. Expect in coming days to see a veritable torrent of declarations of affirmation of SSM. Celebrities, news anchors, intellectuals, politicians, religious types, tycoons, and many more are heading to the pro-marriage exits. They’re going to be calling press conferences as quickly as they can. They’ll be getting into line with the value that drives the New Cultural Acceptance: affirming same-sex marriage.

We are witnessing in these very moments the propulsion of the New Civil Rights movement: the homosexual lobby. A decade ago–five years ago!–it seemed unthinkable that this issue would have vaulted into the cultural mainstream. But it has. Not only is affirming same-sex marriage part of our cultural conversation, though. It has become the moral pearl of great price. Public figures like Rob Portman, Bell, and Clinton–a strange assortment, admittedly–will deny prior statements, their own personal commitments (to marriage, that is), and the will of many of the people they serve or lead to be on the right side of history on this issue.

This has major implications for evangelicalism. A soft middle has developed as evangelicalism has become culturally popular. It’s very on trend in certain circles to occupy this space. Past generations have prayed, with Proverbs 30:8, “give me neither poverty nor riches.” Today’s generation modifies the prayer for our own situation. “Give me neither conservatism nor liberalism,” many evangelicals seem to have whispered. “Let me be an evangelical, but an inoffensive one.”

Perhaps you don’t want to breathe fire in public discourse. Whether you do or not, though, you’re going to be seen as very clearly on the wrong side of history if you continue to back marriage (and don’t affirm SSM). If you’re a pastor who has distanced himself from the Religious Right, and who regularly digs it in a pulpit aside or two, you’ve now got to go one better. To be truly progressive, truly open-minded, truly relevant, truly savvy in your cultural engagement, you need to now affirm same-sex marriage, with all that represents (the moral purity of homosexual acts, for example).

It will, to be sure, take time for this shift to shake itself out. But it’s here. What does this mean for people whose first love is not the culture, but God? It means that we really are behind the times now, and will be so in increasing measure. We’re backward. We’re mean. We hate people not like us. That’s how we will be interpreted. And make no mistake: this is not a quest for some rights and a piece of paper. We will, most assuredly, face the threat of losing our religious liberty.

How should we respond to all this? By being afraid and attacking those who oppose our biblical convictions? Not at all. We need to be like the Proverbs 31 woman. We need to laugh at the days to come (Prov. 31:25). Our hope is in Christ. He has already rescued us from the only peril that really matters, our condemned state (Rom. 4-5). We are set free from sin and hell and death. We have triumphed over the grave through vicarious participation in the resurrection of Christ.

What we must do now is gear up for persecution of varying kinds (per Matthew 5:1-11). And we must set our faces like a flint to speak the truth and to love our neighbor, including those who would silence us (Matt. 22:37-39). Do you see this? People are going to watch us. They’re going to see if we respond to those who call us bigots with hatred and anger. Will we lash out?

I believe that we won’t, many of us. We won’t budge a millimeter from the Word of God. We know that sin, in whatever form, only brings pain and destruction, and that the gospel, however demanding its call of transformation, only brings life and joy. So we will proclaim the truth without any fear or hedging. And we will love our neighbor to the utmost.

This is not a new problem. It’s a new face to an old problem. The church is being called to capitulate. Professing believers have done just that, with prominent examples coming to mind from the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries. We know full well how this plays out. If we acquiesce to the culture, we will soon become a more religious version of the culture. On the other hand, if we stand fast in the power of God’s Spirit, we may lose some influence, some cache, some power. But we will honor the Lord.

We will show the coming generation that God’s people are not made out of sand, but solid rock.

No matter what we lose, we will glorify the Lord as in olden times. Perhaps our connection with Isaiah and Jeremiah and the Minor Prophets will no longer be expository, a matter for our devotions. Perhaps we will walk in their paths and experience their sorrows. If so, we know their God, and he will bear us through.


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