As we all now know, Rob Bell came out this week for homosexual marriage. He was on a book tour and when asked whether he supported marriage equality, he replied, “Yes, 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. I think the ship has sailed and I think that the church needs to just … this is the world that we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.”
We could debate about “marriage equality” (whatever that means), the virtues of civil unions vs. marriage, whether marriage is something we define or describe, and if it is something we define, whether we are able to redefine it whenever we want. We could also debate the biblical understanding of marriage and homosexuality, but I think what the Bible has to say about this is fairly obvious for those who aren’t looking for a way around the text.
What I’m interested in dwelling on for a second is Bell’s reason for accepting homosexual marriage. Now granted, he only gave a short answer, and perhaps if we were to ask him to expand his reasoning, he’d say something far more substantial. But it is telling that the first reason that pops in his head as to why he has now accepted homosexual marriage is because the world around us has accepted it, the church needs to catch up, and affirming people is what matters most.
Much could be said about the church’s role in confronting culture where it errs, and being a prophetic voice calling the world to Christ and transformation. Much could also be said about the church creating an alternative culture that should model for the world the redemptive love of God and reconciliation between peoples. I’m not advocating isolationism of the church, nor do I think that blind acceptance of culture and the world is healthy either. The church need not fear the world or run from it, but we must be careful not to be conformed to it when it becomes dangerous (1 John 2:15-17; James 1:27). It seems that Bell’s ecclesiology is severely lacking.
The other problem I have with Bell’s reasoning is that he is using the Western world as his cultural litmus test. But there is a lot of world beyond Europe and America. In fact, the dominant Christian church belief outside of the West is that homosexuality is still a sin and that homosexual marriage is unacceptable and displeasing to God. (For anyone who is interested, I suggest you read Philip Jenkins’s The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity which details the shift in Christianity as the churches in the southern hemisphere are growing rapidly and will soon eclipse the northern hemisphere churches). The point is that Bell is actually far in the minority when he endorses homosexual marriage as a Christian. Not only is he in the minority, but he is going against the rising trend among Christians throughout the world to reject homosexual marriage as being unbiblical.
Now majority-minority statistics and trends should not dictate church theology, but the point is that Bell’s analysis of the “world we are living in” and how the church needs to conform to such is exaggerated and, I think, wrongly biased toward Western civilization. I find his endorsement of homosexual marriage to be troubling, but not surprising. This seems to be the result of sloppy exegesis, the influence of cultural relativism and post modernism, and an unwillingness to say what is true but unpopular in our culture today (among many other things).